book lover: 3 posts

À rebours (Against Nature) by Joris-Karl Huysmans : Scents in Books

“From black-rimmed plates they ate turtle soup and eaten Russian rye bread, ripe Turkish olives, caviar, salted mullet-roe, smoked Frankfurt black puddings, game in gravies the colour of liquorice and boot-blacking truffled sauces, chocolate caramel creams, plum puddings, nectarines, preserved fruits, mulberries and heart-cherries; from dark coloured glasses they drank the wines of Limagne and Rousillon, of Tenedoes, Val de Peñas and Oporto, and, after the coffee and the walnut cordial they enjoyed kvass, porters and stouts.”

― Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature

His writing inspired Oscar Wilde—and corrupted Dorian Gray. As an art critic, he discovered Degas and Odilon Redon. Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) was one of the most prominent stars of the European art scene at the end of the 19th century, and yet he remains little known to the general public. However, two events this year are putting Huysmans into the spotlight. First, the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, published by Gallimard, has added his works to their prestigious collection of classics. Second, Musée d’Orsay will hold an exhibition from 26th November 2019 to 1st March 2020 devoted to Huysmans’s contributions to 20th century aesthetics.

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Reading for Late Summer Days

It’s the time of les vacances in Brussels. The streets are quiet. The parks are deserted, especially during the week. This summer tourists have taken the warnings of their home countries to heart and have mostly stayed away. I have the city to myself. So I take a book to a park, sit on the grass and read. (It’s a rare luxury in these parts, a fact demonstrated by the distinct lack of outdoor scenery in my picture. It started raining just when I had time for a photography session.)

books summer recommendations

The question then becomes what book to pick. A romance, a detective novel or a great classic? Walt Whitman once commented that the only reason he didn’t become overwhelmed by a steady diet of Sophocles, Homer, Aeschylus, and Dante was “likely because I read them… in the full presence of Nature, under the sun, with the far-spreading landscape and vistas, or the sea rolling in.” My selection is less lofty–simply some of my new and old favorites.

Agota Kristof The Illiterate

It’s fitting that I discovered the work of a Hungarian writing in French while reading a book by an American author writing in Italian. In her explorations of self and language, In Other Words (see my review), Jhumpa Lahiri mentioned being touched by Kristof’s experience. Kristof was born in Hungary and moved to Switzerland in 1956 as a refugee, and while she gained safety, she ended up in a social desert as she lost her language. The Illiterate is a series of stories about her love of reading, her family, her writing. They are tragic but also hopeful, and I related to them. I didn’t cross a frontier as an infant and didn’t have to work at a Swiss watch factory while writing poetry in my spare minutes, but having left the place where I was born, relatives, friends, and the familiar language(s), I can understand the anguish.

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Postcard from Ukraine: My Reading Corner

When a friend asked me about my reading corner, I was momentarily at a loss for an answer. I can easily zone out my surroundings, and I read anywhere–waiting for a bus or on the bus, at the metro station or squeezed among other passengers on a subway car. Various means of transportation are where I get most of my reading done. But of course, the best reading spot is quiet and comfortable, and these days it’s a little nook under a cherry tree in our Poltava garden. During our grey Belgian winters I dream of this overgrown orchard, of reading in the grass or simply stretching on a blanket and absorbing all the details around me–the pattern of veins on cherry leaves, the sweet almond scent of crushed grass, the shade of yellow of buttercup petals. These are the best souvenirs I bring back. So, when the weather cooperates, this is where I can be found with a book and a cup of tea (and less romantically, mosquito repellent).

reading spot

What’s your favorite reading spot? What are you reading these days?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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