Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reading on the road in France: How Proust Can Change your Life, One Autumn in Europe, Lost in Translation

This blog post is inspired by the general joy of reading, a trip to France, the 7 continents reading challenge, and a blog series. More, at the bottom of this post.


What to read on a road trip through France?
That was the question I tried to answer in August, and looked for books to take to along. Which is always a kind of impossible task – how to figure out now what I like to read in another place and mood? – But when I browsed my bookshelf and my "to read" pile, I rediscovered Alan Botton’s “How Proust Can Change Your Life”, which I started once. Yet somehow, I only read the first chapter back then. So that would be a good book to take, I figured, and also downloaded the first of Proust’s books “In Search of Lost Time”, to read into. And then also browsed my e-reader for books I once started, without getting far. So glad I did - altoghether, this lead to 3 reads that accompanied me through the whole trip.


Alan Botton’s “How Proust Can Change Your Life"
A wonderful and rather unusual book - a combination of literary biography, life reflection and self-help manual. I read other books of Botton before: "A week at the airport", and the "Art of Travel", and am glad I gave his Proust book this second try - it's a wonderful, witty, intelligent and deeply philosophical and reflective read. Botton masters the task of connecting our modern world and Proust's thoughts and considerations of life and time - which indeed, are timeless. Here's an offiicial book review that sums it up pretty well: 

"Who would have thought that Marcel Proust, one of the most important writers of our century, could provide us with such a rich source of insight into how best to live life? Proust understood that the essence and value of life was the sum of its everyday parts. As relevant today as they were at the turn of the century, Proust's life and work are transformed here into a no-nonsense guide... It took de Botton to find the inspirational in Proust's essays, letters and fiction and, perhaps even more surprising, to draw out a vivid and clarifying portrait of the master from between the lines of his work."

To give an idea of the range of topics, here the contents page, starting with the huge theme of loving life right away, and ending with a reflection on writing itself:


"One Autumn in Europe" by Steven Hubbell

From literary big names to a personal, self-published story: traveler Steven Hubbell, who visited Europe with a tiny budget and a lot of faith in fate, hitchhiking, and chance, wrote a memoir that takes the reader along a trip that leads from London to Paris, into the mountains of the Alp, onwards to Rome and Venice, and to Munich, Heidelberg and the Netherlands: 
In the fall of 1979, at the age of nineteen, I flew to London with a backpack and a heart full of questions. Every autumn that voyage has returned to mind like clockwork, revitalizing my perceptions. This book is a coming of age story filled with universal elements of personal discovery; it is a private pilgrimage laid bare.."(goodreads page)
I can't remember how I came across the book, but I'm glad I did - the first chapter is a bit slow, starting with a lengthy description of a first hitchhike trip at home, but it's worth staying with this journey. Here's the page of contents, which offers a feel for the different moods and themes and places explored and experienced in this one autumn:


“Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language" by  Eva Hoffmann

While "One Autumn in Europe" leads Steven Hubbell from America to Europe for a season, this memoir leads into the other direction - Eve Hoffmann migrated with her parents from Poland to Vancouver at the age of 13, and is faced with the task of finding her identity there, in a new language, and in different society. 

Again, this is a book that takes a bit to get into - and again, I am so glad I gave it a second try, and stayed with it. One of the key themes is language, the difficulty of finding the right words in another place, the realization that for some words and things, there is no exact translation: and with it, the realization how language and places shape our thoughts, shape what we say, who we are. 

I looked for an interview with Eva Hoffmann, and found one with a passage that is about place and displacement - here's the question and answer.

Being a Displaced Person

Q: "In your book you talk a lot about finding the inner guide to locate yourself. You're in class and you're looking at the map with your fellow classmates, and you suddenly realize that you're pointing at Poland, which is outside of you or becoming outside of you in the way that the students are looking at it. And you say somewhere, "The reference points inside my head are beginning to do a flickering dance. I suppose this is the most palpable meaning of displacement. I have been dislocated from my own center of the world and the world has been shifted away from my center. There is no longer a straight axis anchoring my imagination. It begins to oscillate and I rotate around it unsteadily."

Eva Hoffmann: "Yes, the sense of geographical topsy-turviness was the most concrete expression of displacement. Of course when I was growing up in Poland, I thought that Poland was the very center of the world, as we all do when we grow up in a place. And that the world existed in relation to it. All of a sudden, I was in Vancouver, and Canada, North America, was the center of the world and Poland was on the periphery and very far away. And that of course, corresponded, [was] a kind of objective correlative, the most concrete symbol of the many cultural displacements that went along with it, the many sorts of cultural values that changed as I went from Poland to Canada. Our cultural values, both on the largest and on the smallest scale in the sense of, say, political outlook or world view or the social set-up; too, notions of human intimacy or beauty or the distances at which we stand from each other, etc., etc. -- every cultural value sort of did a flip or sort of moved."

and here's the  interview link, and the goodreads link 


The other 2 France books: Balzac and Brazil
And to round this blog post up, here's the link to the other blog post i wrote about the books i read in France: Reading in France: Balzac (via China) + the best Brazilian Novelists (via London)
Fun detail: in the Brazil book, one of the stories refers to .. Proust. It's a large big world. 


Book Links, Previous Reads & Finding Books

Previous reading blog entries are collected here: bookshelf: currently  reading... there also is a visual bookshelf, just click it to get there.

Other book bloggers: For more current reads from other blog bloggers, visit this link list at book journey

Reading around the world - i really enjoy this literal discovery-tour of the world, and it now made me go and pull some useful links together in a blog post: Finding books by country: helpful links + resources

And more about me and my writing: here 


Elizabeth said...

Very nice blog.

Silver's Reviews
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Cathrine said...

So this is where I recognized it from whe I saw it at amazin yesterday :-) (how P changed life). I think I will get it :-) . How far into 'the search' are you?
Love c

Dorothee said...

hi Cahthrine, such a nice reading/blog chain with your post on “A tale about the time being” and Proust. i only read a bit into Proust's novel, as companion read while reading Button's book.