Sunday Preoccupations

It isn’t often I’ll decide to buy a book based on a cover, but my purchase of Anthony Rudolf’s European Hours was inspired by Paula Rego’s magnificent 1977 painting. Subsequently I learnt that Rudolf is Rego’s companion and her main male model. His autobiographical Silent Conversations looks also particularly desirable.

The other two I picked up on the basis of TLS reviews, intending to make time for both this summer.

Annie Ernaux’s The Years, though I’m not yet halfway through, seems truly brilliant. The publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions term it a collective autobiography of Ernaux’s generation. I’m not sure that captures her project fully. It seems more an act of memory, not as exercised through one individual, but an exploration of how memories are shared and transmitted within and by the interaction between multiple individuals of different generations. As Paul Ricoeur put it in his Memory, History, Forgetting (trans. Kathleen Blaney and David Pellauer), “no one ever remembers alone”. It is only through collective memory that we are able to remember individually. I will undoubtedly revise these early thoughts as I read slowly through this remarkable book.

Those serendipitous connections that lead me from book to book: the Ernaux is translated by Alison Strayer, a childhood friend and reading companion of an old favourite photographer and writer Moyra Davey.

10 thoughts on “Sunday Preoccupations

  1. I’ve read two of Ernaux’s shorter books and didn’t like them so much. The personal nature of the content made me uncomfortable. But I have The Years that I will try. Maybe the longer length of this one will appeal more. The History of Russian Literature and the philosophy book in your photo have intrigued me. Happy reading.

    • Hello Melissa.

      I’ve not been tempted by Ernaux’s work in the past, but this is truly brilliant, so far at least.

      Raymond Geuss was a young colleague of Richard Rorty at Princeton. It might intrigue you further to know this from the TLS review: “Out of his twelve philosophers, Geuss seems closest to Lucretius”, which might also ally him with Jane Bennett, my favourite contemporary philosopher.

      A History of Russian Literature is, at 960 pages, another wonderful monster. My experience this year of reading Michael Schmidt’s The Novel has persuaded me to read more along similar lines.

      • Thanks so much for two wonderful book recommendations, Anthony. I will definitely find a copy of the Geuss book. And on my list of monsters are a couple of Dostoevsky books. The Russian lit book would be just the thing to accompany those. I also wanted to read some Dostoevsky before returning to Steiner’s book on the Russian authors.

  2. I have not read Ernaux for years (as a student in Paris she was wonderful for me), but will find a copy of The Years and dive right in. I like how you describe her project and am very curious.

      • I remember loving Une Femme – but again, this is ages ago, and I don’t know if current me would love it. But worth a try. Also, Journal du Dehors, which I think I might still really love.

  3. A History of Russian Literature looks wonderful, but I think I will have to get it out of the library. It’s $80 some dollars in the States, and while I will spend money on books, that one seems so pricey! I have Silent Conversations (I purchased it in November–I saw it on someone else’s blog, maybe, or on Twitter), and I enjoy it piecemeal the way I have enjoyed Schmidt’s book on the novel.

    And I love the look of your desk. I always enjoy seeing people’s reading spaces and libraries. I read on my couch, and my coffee table and floor beside the couch are in major disarray from my books. I definitely will spend time cleaning this summer.

    • I find it fascinating too, seeing where people read, seeing how and where they shelve their book collections. I spend a lot of time reading and writing at this desk, but also in my library (grander than it sounds) and with my feet up on the sofa.

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