Friday, July 8, 2016

Should It Stay or Should it Go? Paris Edition

     Aside from two fully employed adults, our home houses several thousand books.  Because we don’t practice the “one in, one out” philosophy in acquiring them, the books overfill the shelves and are stacked on flat surfaces around our home. The books with the best address, upright on one of the sets of shelves handmade by my father, or my uncle, have been with me the longest. Some of the oldest have been through eight moves or more, from my adolescent home to the house where I live with my husband today.
       Yet, I often can’t resist picking up another book I haven’t read from the 25 cent table at my favorite book store or a pile at a library sale.
       Thus this series, “Off My Shelf,” where I take a book from a shelf or a pile, read (or reread it) and decide whether it stays or goes.
     Half a dozen books by expatriates of various kinds populate my “to be read” piles.  Paris in Love by Eloisa James is by an author and professor of English who packs up her family and moves to Paris for a sabbatical year. 
     The impetus for the move comes partly from James’ experience with breast cancer, an early stage case that merited a mastectomy but left James bereft of the clarity that her memoir reading had told her she should expect with a cancer diagnosis.  After the experience, she found herself getting rid of possessions, to the point that she and her husband had some words over a few of his books that found their way into a donation box. 
     Both James and her husband Alessandro are academics, so they took advantage of a sabbatical year, selling off house and car taking their teenage son and preadolescent daughter to Paris to live in the 9th arrondisement for a year.
     James’ goal when she left for Paris was to write four books. She found herself mostly writing Facebook posts, and this book is a compendium of those, some of which have become extended essays. The tone of the entire book is light, and her family stories are often amusing, especially those revolving around her daughter’s transcontinental school shenanigans.
     In general, she puts the best face on their family’s adjustment to another culture.  The stress is apparent only a couple of times, and even then laughter prevails. Of family plans to visit the catacombs, she writes:
Me, at breakfast, to Alessandro: “The catacombs sound so interesting! In 1741, a man wandered off, and his body wasn’t found for nine years. Let’s take the children this afternoon.” Moment of silence…then gales of laughter.
Later, she relates the stressful account of a family trip to the Loire valley to celebrate their son’s birthday.  The trip exposed some marital tension and ended up giving James herself flashbacks to a terrible summer when her parents were splitting and her father provided only beef tongue for his adolescent daughters’ lunches.
     I appreciated James’ love of chocolate, her writer’s eye for the small details of Parisian life (the pink shirted bankers, the grooved limestone facades of the buildings in her neighborhood, the city light that penetrated the curtains of her apartment), and her ability to tell a story without making everything a morality play.
     Yes, there is something to learn from her book. For theatregoers, it may well be “…once the main character is dead, the play is over.”  For all of us, it is to go where you want to go while you can, emotionally and physically.  James writes, finally, and without any fatalistic overtone, “So this book is my phone call---not from the top of a mountain, or even the top of the Eiffel Tower; the “here” is negotiable. It’s so beautiful here. You must come before you die.”
     Again, a book I enjoyed, and one that made me reflect more than most.  But not a book I feel I need to keep. I will pass it on to someone or trade it in for another.

     James also writes popular romantic fiction and her website can be found here.

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