Sabbath Day – World Book Day
The day began at 5:30 AM when we got a text from the school district announcing that there would be no school today due to “inclement weather.” It was actually a quite beautiful snowy day as seen from our new apartment, made more beautiful by the fact that we no longer have to shovel. The photo above is of the park behind our apartment, our new “back yard.”
For most of the day my spouse was working quietly in some corner of our home, and my son had another boy over for a play date. I spent some time helping a friend grieve, helped get the laundry done, and took the two boys out in the snow storm for lunch at Five Guys Burgers. Supervising a play date takes more time than might be imagined; nevertheless I managed to finish several reading projects that I began after my sabbath day last week.
You may recall that as we are settling into our new home I am rediscovering books that have been packed away for years – I spent most of my last sabbath day reading the autobiography of Jean-Paul Sartre. Well, this kicked off a week of reading French authors. I followed Sartre with André Gide, discovering that I had two copies of The Immoralist on my shelf. Gide won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947, his writing contributing to anti-colonialism. It was a disturbing book of life and death and desperation.
Last night I read a dozen of Victor Hugo’s poems and this morning finished his most famous short story, “The Last Days of Condemned Man.” I had completely forgotten that I had read this story before, but with each page I not only remembered the story, an argument against capital punishment, but was overwhelmed with a flood of memories. In 2004 Noelle and I spent a few weeks in Paris and picnicked one afternoon at the Place des Vosage, where Hugo lived while writing Les Miserables. I read the story while lounging on the grass, imagining the whole things taking place within the confines of this park – the windows of the prison, the chaining of the galley-slaves, the scaffold of the guillotine. I remembered the complete relaxation of our day there, with nothing to do but sit in the sun, enjoy bread and cheese and a bit of wine, and share some good books. After lunch I remember reading to Noelle from The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida. What a wonderful place to re-visit during today’s snowstorm.
With what time I could find between other activities today I continued to poke around a few French authors. Simone de Beauvoir occupied most of my morning, flipping through the dozen of her books I have on my shelves, but her novels are all longer than I am up to tackling this winter. I finally settled down after lunch to read Albert Camus’ The Stranger. (Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957). I had not read this book in twenty-five years, but like Hugo’s story it brought me back to where I first read it, in this case Decatur, Il where I went to college. The main character Meursault is particularly vulnerable to the heat, and when he spends a day at the beach with his new girlfriend and his “best pal” Raymond, he lays down with his cheek against the hot sand and falls asleep (right before committing the murder at the center of the book). I read this short novel in one sitting beside Crystal Lake one summer after sailing a regatta. I vividly remember that it was a hot day similar to that described in the book, but that I could not stop reading long enough to seek shade for myself. The connection made a strong impression on me. The photo below is Crystal Lake, another nice place to visit on a snowy day.
Which brings me to this evening. Good friends came over and joined us for dinner tonight, sharing stories of adventure we had not heard before. Today was also WORLD BOOK DAY, so over dessert we enjoyed a game of twenty-questions: Who is the only author to have published books in all ten categories of the Dewey Decimal system?
I thank Oliver Tearle over at Interesting Literature for the answer to this question and for 30 more interesting facts about books today. Check out his blog – it is always worth reading.
So as this WORLD BOOK DAY draws to a close, I ask YOU: What are YOU reading?