Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Summer Reading Project, 2020

(photo credit: quarantine paint-by-number, Satchel White, Mary White)

Let’s face it. We’ve all been locked down and dreaming of travel. Or is it just me? I keep asking people where they would go if they could go anywhere, and I get all sorts of answers from the mundane—the nail salon!—to the exotic—Mozambique! Okay, no one actually said Mozambique, but I would like to go there.

Faithful followers of this blog know I like to choose a summer reading project based on some theme. Last year, I read books that had something to say about trees; in 2018, I read only books by Michael Chabon. I often use this time to pick up a big book I haven’t had the gumption to attempt during the other months of the year.

And so, this year’s summer reading project was sparked when a friend loaned me a big book written by an author we both like; certainly a sense of wanderlust only served to cement the direction of my reading aims. Without further ado, this year’s summer reading project will include books on the theme of…FRANCE. Books set in France, inspired by France, or simply books by a French author.

That big, loaned book is Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety. At 748 pages, it is my greatest challenge and the novel I'll start with. A work of historical fiction originally published in 1992, it involves the events of the French Revolution, as told through the lives of three provincials: Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and Maximilien Robespierre. According to The Seattle Times, a work of “brilliant, edgy historical fiction that captures the whiplash flux of the French Revolution.” Can’t wait. 

Sidenote: Some other summer, I read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the first two novels in Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. With the third, The Mirror & The Light, recently released, this would be a stellar summer project, if you’re looking for one yourself.

Anticipating that I may need breaks now and then from Mantel’s vigorous prose, I chose this lovely Everyman’s Library series from Knopf: Poems from Paris. I will probably read this alongside the historical novel, to accentuate the French mood and setting.

Next is a classic in French literature, published originally in 1954 but still widely read today. Bonjour Tristesse (translation: Hello Sadness) was an overnight sensation written by an 18-year-old author, Francoise Sagan. It’s the story of a precocious teenager who spends her summer in a villa on the French Riviera. Talk about feeding the wanderlust. This novel is a coming-of-age story often categorized as young adult for modern audiences.

Lastly, I chose the psychological thriller, Based on A True Story by Delphine De Vigan. Published in 2017, this international hit sold tons of copies, won awards, and is based on a true story “about a friendship gone terrifyingly toxic and the nature of reality.” This is actually a fairly lengthy read at 384 pages and will round out my summer of French-themed reading.

Total pages: 1,511. Probably overzealous, but I'll give it my best shot. Drop me a note if you'd like to read along at any point. I'll post periodic updates here on my progress.


À vaillant coeur rien d’impossible. -Jacques Cœur


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka