Books I Love

Dead Man's Float March 31 2016, 0 Comments

"Conversing with the poet-novelist is somehow akin to watching his dogs work the cover for birds. They race off on tangents, describing broad loops and arcs, or tight circles, always returning in a controlled, if circuitous, pattern that is at once instinct, training, ritual, and play.

Harrison is a man of prodigious memory and free-wheeling brilliance and erudition, as well as great spirit and generosity, lightness and humor; so the reader should imagine wild giggles and laughter throughout, and supply them even when they seem inappropriate—especially when they seem inappropriate. Imagine, too, the sounds and the textures in the background of the tapes: the easy talk of friends and hunting cronies; the light, cold drizzle of the wettest fall in Michigan history; sodden leaves and branches underfoot; and always the ringing of the dogs’ bells, sometimes nearby, sometimes barely discernible, fading into the woods."
Jim Fergus, The Paris Review

"It’s the origin of the thinking behind The Theory and Practice of Rivers. In a life properly lived, you’re a river. You touch things lightly or deeply; you move along because life herself moves, and you can’t stop it; you can’t figure out a banal game plan applicable to all situations; you just have to go with the “beingness” of life, as Rilke would have it. In Sundog, Strang says a dam doesn’t stop a river, it just controls the flow. Technically speaking, you can’t stop one at all."
Jim Harrison, The Paris Review

When I heard of Jim Harrison's passing last Saturday, my heart broke in a million pieces. I broke down in tears in front of my mother-in-law who probably thought that I was downright crazy. Some people will never be able to understand how you can sustain an imaginary conversation with a writer for half your life and consider them your family. Jim Harrison was one of those writers for me.

Above my writing desk in Canada, I had four photographs of writers pinned under glass like butterflies: Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Richard Ford and Jim Harrison. I talk to them when I'm distraught. I sit with them in Adirondack chairs at dusk and watch rivers go by in the roaring silence. I ask myself what they would do in certain situations. I stare at their faces as if they contain all the secrets of the universe, but mostly of a life well-lived, my elusive holy grail.

I cannot think of anyone whose appetite - his celebratory and constantly renewed hunger for life is legendary - is more contagious and more exquisite than Jim Harrison's. The joy he finds in the world, in the wilderness, in birds, in a dog's personality, in movement, in the passing of seasons, in the bodies of women, in the company of dead poets, in tree logs, in fly-fishing, heats up your heart like a floating sun.

The poems in Dead Man's Float are full of mortality and aging and grief and melancholy and yet you won't find more life and vigor and tenacity and attentiveness in any other book you've read recently. Jim Harrison talks to his own beloved poets (Garcia Lorca, Mandelstam, Rimbaud) the way he has his entire life and ends the book sitting with Machado at the edge of a suspended bridge above the sea. This poem both floored me and filled my heart with an animal pulse.

Bridge
by Jim Harrison

Most of my life was spent
building a bridge out over the sea
but the sea was too wide and it didn't
go anyplace. I'm proud of the bridge
hanging in the pure sea air. Machado
came for a visit and we sat on the
end of the bridge which was his idea.
Now that I'm old the work goes slowly
but the material keeps coming as I hang
here in the air. Ever nearer death I like
it out here high above the sea bundled
up for the arctic storms of late fall,
the resounding crash and moan of the sea,
the hundred foot depth of the green troughs.
Sometimes the sea roars and howls like
the animal it is, a continent wide and alive.
What beauty in this the darkest music
which imitates the sky's thunder
over which you can hear the lightest music of human
behavior, the tender connection between men and galaxies.
So I sit on the edge, wagging my feet above
the abyss, the fatal plummet. Tonight the moon
will be in my lap. This is my job, to study
the universe from my bridge. I have the sky, the sea,
the faint green streak of Canadian forest on the far shore.

Now go and read him.


H is for Hawk March 14 2016, 0 Comments

"If birds are made of air, as the nature writer Sy Montgomery says, then writing a great bird book is a little like dusting for the fingerprints of a ghost. It calls for poetry and science, conjuring and evidence. In her breathtaking new book, “H Is for Hawk,” winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Book Award, Helen Macdonald renders an indelible impression of a raptor’s fierce essence — and her own — with words that mimic feathers, so impossibly pretty we don’t notice their astonishing engineering."
Vicki Constantine Croke, The New York Times

I am late to the game with this one. This book sat on my shelf for months, patient, attentive, the delicate bird of prey on its cover looking in my direction every time I walked by.

And then I just dived in. And words will fail me. My words feel bland after Helen Macdonald's chirping and buoyant prose, at once bristling, raw, descriptive and vital. A work that is filled to the brim with the elements, with heart, with grief, with grit, with feathers and blood. I never thought I would care this much about a baby goshawk called Mabel, bought for 800 pounds on a Scottish quayside, and trained in the English countryside.

A wildly endearing feat of nonfiction, a wondrous journey suffused with pain and beauty, elegance and wit (the humor in this book, self-deprecating and wry!), nature and history, wildness and city.

A contemporary journey mirrored by an ancient one, T.H. White's "The Goshawk", an 18th century treatise which echoes the author's awakening in the most touching and mysterious way.

I fail to do justice to the delicate nature of this book, its evasiveness, its frailty, its iridescence, its stupendous command of language. It changes like the weather, it fluctuates like the heart, it grows like a baby goshawk into its tremendous adult self. It will seduce you like nothing else can.


A Little Life November 12 2015, 0 Comments

When I saw the Powells package in the mail this morning, my heart rejoiced and sank at the same time. Never before have I been so excited and terrified to receive a book. I watched the quiet buzz build around this one like a fever from afar and still could not decide whether I felt ready for it. Then I heard Ann Kingman talk about it on the "Books On The Nightstand" podcast. She devoted an entire episode to one single book. She tried not to break down in tears and called reading this novel one of the most extraordinary and harrowing experiences of her reading life.

Then I came upon John Powers' review for NPR: "This new book is long, page-turny, deeply moving, sometimes excessive, but always packed with the weight of a genuine experience. As I was reading, I literally dreamed about it every night. (...) With her sensitivity to everything from the emotional nuance to the play of light inside a subway car, Yanagihara is superb at capturing the radiant moments of beauty, warmth and kindness that help redeem the bad stuff. In A Little Life, it's life's evanescent blessings that maybe, but only maybe, can save you."

That did it for me. I knew I had to get a copy of "A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara.


Under The Volcano November 12 2015, 0 Comments

Inspired by @jillmray and @myowngalaxy on Instagram to post the ten #mostinfluentialbooks of my life... The first one is Malcolm Lowry's "Under The Volcano". One of the most haunted and heartbreaking journeys you'll ever take, a booze-fueled day in a man's life, his slow disintegration as he tries to salvage his marriage and recover his dreams on the infamous Day of the Dead in Mexico. At once poetic, philosophical, exalted, existential, ironic, broken-hearted and lyrical. Some of the most beautiful and feverish language I have ever read. A twentieth century masterpiece.

"The puzzle the book presents has been unlocked many times over the years, but, as is the case with all great works of art, Volcano inspires and absorbs legion interpretations. It can be read as an overtly political, religious, mystical or philosophical novel. It is about damnation, or fascism, or love. It is a tragedy and, at times, a comedy (its flashes of humour are too often ignored). Its metaphors and symbols can be studied and catalogued, but their meanings seem to shift as they recur, or when they are returned to on re-reading. The book refuses to take definitive shape. It is so elaborate that, in a sense, it lives. If you haven't already, you really must meet it."

Chris Power in the Guardian

 


City on Fire November 12 2015, 0 Comments

So last night in DC, I got this beauty signed (Politics & Prose, you rock my world) and was pretty damn lucky to hear Garth Risk Hallberg read and talk about his most buzzed about debut novel. I cannot tell you how charming, unaffected, humble, funny and wise he was, as well as a superb reader. A tall and lanky teenage-looking father of two, he beguiled the audience with stories and anecdotes about characters, craft, life, writing, fate, influences and the mysterious, magical pull of cities. A truly lovely evening. 


Love x Style x Life November 12 2015, 0 Comments

For those of us Frenchies who have been following this delightful creature ever since she began blogging - when she was just a well-known Parisian secret, a super cool (and refreshingly candid) illustrator taking pictures of super cool people on the streets - this day will feel joyous indeed. A book that is as elegant, as radical, as fresh, as classic, as free, as sophisticated as herself.

De toute beauté. Garance Doré, je t'aime!