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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Housekeeping and Hedgehogs

A few housekeeping items:

  • Taking Back Our Brave New World recently hit ten thousand page views. Thank you, readers, for being my readers. You're wicked awesome, and I am totally stoked. [Insert sinceriod]
  • I know I promised you excerpts of A Room With a View. Suffice it to say, I can't possibly just give you one passage of that book. It is utterly delightful, and you've got to read the whole thing on your own. You know how many late Victorian novels are all doom and gloom about the hypocrisy of society and manners and leave their heroes and heroines in miserable states of quiet desperation and deepest darkness (Henry James, Edith Wharton)? Well, A Room With a View looks at the same problem, but in a light, easy and comic way. So, go read it! And watch the Helena Bonham-Carter, Daniel Day Lewis, Dame Maggie Smith movie. Disclaimer: be prepared to fast forward through the "state of innocence" nude bathing scene. 
  • Forgive the long break in posting. I've recently started reading several books on midwifery, and while I find them fascinating, I imagine that the general public is happy to be spared the gruesome details. Thus, the main subject of today's post is from a book I read several years back.

Which book should you read after you finish A Room With A View? The answer is obvious: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by French author Muriel Barbery. This is a great book, as you might have guessed from the title. It was very much in vogue a few years back, but if you didn't get to it then, you might as well pick it up now. There are several principal characters, the main one being a woman who is a concierge at a small hotel. She keeps up a front of being the stereotypical middle-aged frumpy TV-watching ignorant desk worker, while in fact she's quite an intellectual. She is a prolific reader, and frequently has brilliant conversations over tea with her co-worker and friend (Manuela, the Portuguese cleaning lady). 

As I myself am a committed tea-drinker (my favorite is Harney & Sons Paris blend, in case you were wondering), I very much appreciated the following passage: 
So, let us drink a cup of tea. . .
I know that tea is no minor beverage. When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small thing. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?
The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And, with each swallow, time is sublimed.
And now, back to rickets and eclampsia.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. "...with each swallow time is sublimed." Not bad. If I didn't know better I'd swear she was talking about martinis.

    Coincidentally I recently saw the movie, Room With a View, and was delighted by it. Ten minutes into it I thought to myself, "Oh no, another two hour movie about how two teens end up in bed together." I couldn't have been more wrong. Everything Miss Turner said about the book goes for the movie ( I certainly ought to read the book. Probably will one of these days but, I mean, why read the book (hours and hours) when you can see the movie and be done with it in less than two?)

    I especially liked how they developed Cecil Vyse's character (Vyse???). Poor Cecil. A prig. A snob. An empty suit. But by the time its all over (for him) I found myself feeling sorry for him. Yes, he was all those things, prig, snob, etc, but he genuinely loved Lucy and was deeply hurt that she dumped him. The sign of a great author when he can make you feel sorry for such as Cecil.