A project I have going to inject beauty in my own life is reading the classics. An idea I came up with the first time I moved home from Paris three years ago, my mother dutifully gave me the Western Canon for my birthday that year. However, upon beginning the book, I decided it was impossible to begin my project without a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare. (Read the Western Canon and you’ll see why.) I did finally procure said copy for this year’s birthday, and now that I have finished my spring and summer reading, I feel ready to dive into the literary canon.
My zeal for the project regained force this spring after reading the life-changing L’élégance du hérisson by Muriel Barbery. This is book so wonderful, and should be required reading for everyone. It follows the intellectual journey and emotional re-awakening of a concierge in Paris’s very chic 7th arrondissement as well as that of a little girl living in her building. Their lives intertwine and are forever changed. The book is available in English (The Elegance of the Hedgehog). I will reveal nothing except to tell you that a box(es) of tissues should certainly be on hand.
The concierge in the book has a great love for Leo Tolstoy and refers to Anna Karenina repeatedly, which classic constituted my summer reading. From the first page of the novel, I was hooked. I could not believe I was reading Tolstoy. Never exposed to Russian literature before, I anticipated difficult, dry and heavy. But got readable, page-turning and heavy. I think you can’t avoid heavy when it comes to Russian literature. At least this is my impression. Reading Anna Karenina felt more akin to a forbidden romance novel than a literary classic. (And that is intended as a compliment.) I will not inflict you with every highlighted passage in my copy, save the following:
“…what had seemed insoluble while he was judging, hating and blaming, had become clear and simple when he forgave and loved.”
This passage’s wisdom is applicable to myriad real-life occurrences, whether they involve family, friends, work or even political or social questions.
The third book I finished (just last night, finally!) is For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway. Normally I love him, but I worked on this one for about two years on and off. Although for me it was dry and at times slow, the last 100 pages made it all worth it. Things picked up speed (naturally) and I felt more drawn to the character development. (For those who haven’t read it, For Whom the Bell Tolls is about an American fighter, Robert Jordan, in the Spanish Civil War. He is given an almost insurmountable mission and over the course of three days falls in love and completes his mission. I won’t tell you the ending except to say the title is indicative.)
So there you have it. Three books that brought me immense joy, beauty and sadness too (with a bit of boredom mixed in there) over the last six months. The sense of completion makes me feel ready to attack my big literary project. That and school starting tomorrow. It’s time for new beginnings.