Review of “The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George

I wanted to like this book. I really, really wanted to like it. The purchase of this book was the product of a hopeful in-between moment.

I bought it at an airport, which, on its own doesn’t really sound like much. But I remember that moment. I remember floating around the airport shops – half-dancing to the music in my headphones – and grinning like an idiot. It was that brief moment in time after a remarkably pleasant vacation in which I had seen a beautiful city, met new people and done new things. It was a moment ripe with possibility, one in which it seemed possible to leave the dreariness of my previous life behind and build a new life for myself – one that was satisfying and creative and (dare I say?) happy.

It was a brief moment, but it was there. And in that moment, I saw The Little Paris Bookshop on display at the airport’s bookstore. Sure, it was full price. But it checked my boxes – quirky, charming main character with a hint of magical realism, a beautiful little bookstore (It’s in the title!!) and all the promise of a pretty new cover. And I loved the idea of a book apothecary – I do think that the right book can heal in the right situation. I’ve recommended many a book myself in this manner and I looked forward to the promise of this book.

And, I reasoned hopefully, things would very soon get better in my life, so I should worry less about the cost of the book, and consider it a small celebration (Note to the reader: things did not, in fact, get better, but that has little to do with the book).

The book was lent to my mother and then, upon its return, sat on a bookshelf for longer than I would like to admit. Finally, it took the book cropping up in book club for me to delve into it.

I will reiterate here: I wanted to like this book. And, for a while, at the beginning, I did. It was sweet and quirky and a little bit sorrowful, with beautiful descriptive passages. And then it wasn’t. Because ‘quirky’ and ‘sweet’ are only effective when they are used sparingly. When they are overused, as they are here, they swiftly become grating and saccharine.

The descriptions of the little bookshop boat and the apartment building and the people who live in and around the area are lovely and charming. But lovely descriptions only get you so far before they become droning. And the main character blathering on and on about the beauty of the countryside and his lost love and blah, blah, blah…. Well, I feel like it lands solidly on the side of droning. Descriptions that are intended to be sweet and beautiful… It just feels like eating a glob of fondant. It’s supposed to be decorative and all you really get is a mouthful of flavorless sugar. (Note: I don’t think I’ve ever actually eaten fondant on its own, but I imagine that’s what it would taste like – feel free to substitute whatever oversweet substance you like in this metaphor)

There are small shades of difference between a genuine well-developed character and a manic pixie dream girl, and this book quickly becomes the latter. Speaking of girls… There aren’t any. Or at least, there are very few of them, and they don’t do much.

There is Catherine, the heartbroken divorcee who moves in Perdu’s building, and who he (suspiciously quickly) falls in love with…. And just as quickly leaves behind as he departs on his magical journey. There are the busybody old women who perpetually sit outside of the building, sticking their noses in everyone else’s business. There are assorted wives and friends and one particularly obnoxious tango partner. To be fair, it is entirely possible that the young lady herself is not obnoxious, but the manner in which Perdu describes her, even claiming to know her thoughts and understand her character to impossible depths, certainly is.

And of course, there’s Manon. The mysterious, missing love interest, whom Perdu spends the entire book irritatingly pining for at length. Who is also present in annoying (and unnecessary) journal excerpts. These vacillate between dull (Oh… who will I become when I leave my beautiful small town in Provence for the great city of Paris?) and cringe-worthy (glistening pussy – enough said).

My point here is that the women in this book are not real women. They’re foils to show the depth and romance of our pretentious and long winded Perdu.

This book, ostensibly devoted to love and to the exploration of lost love, has very little actual love or romance in it. What it does have is three guys on a boat, who stare at each other and have lengthy conversations about love. Conspicuously, none of them seem very good at love.

Side note: none of them really know how to pilot a boat and have no money to purchase food or supplies, so there’s that too.

There is Perdu, who had a love affair with a woman and refused to read her break-up letter for 20 years. There’s Max Jordan, whom I suspect has never actually had a relationship. He’s a ‘reclusive novelist’ on the run from the success of his first novel and the fangirls that have accompanied it. And there’s Salvatore (Cuneo? Not sure… his name changes so much), who has spent the last 15 years combing the river to try to find the beautiful girl with whom he had a one night stand a very long time ago. Spoiler alert: he knows exactly who/where she is. She’s some small-town mayor’s wife, happily married with two kids and “an unbelievable, gigantic triple backside.” (I thought the added bit of fat-shaming was a nice touch, personally.)

The entire journey, inspired by a sudden, manic urge on Perdu’s part, is a futile attempt to recapture the impossible. It is impossible, of course, because when he opens Manon’s letter, he discovers that it was more than just a goodbye – she had a fatal disease (cancer, I believe) and passed away about six months after she left him.

The entire journey, which is, truthfully, too little too late, is relatively uneventful and largely uninteresting. I cannot tell you how the journey ends. I am at page 229 and I’m not sure I can force myself to read any farther. The horrible and unnecessary thing with the deer disgusted me enough that I wanted to put the book down and never touch it again, as if it were diseased somehow. I did pick it up again, since I’m reading it for book club, although at this point, I’d rather not.

It strikes me as odd that the writer is a woman… Surely, a novel so overwrought, navel-gazing and male-centric ought to have been written by a man.

If you harbored hopes similar to mine (and had them similarly dashed), I humbly recommend the works of Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman. They are the queens of this sort of writing. Long may they reign. I would even go so far as to suggest The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, as a substitute. It is sad, but it is beautiful and it is certainly worthy of your time. That recommendation seems a bit odd, as Perdu recommends the Elegance of the Hedgehog to one of his lovesick customers. But I suppose this book had to at least get one thing right.

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Rules of a Russian Birthday Party (so far):

 

  • No Disposable Cutlery.

    In spite of the (really cute and quite respectable-looking) plastic cutlery I bought (for my own damn birthday party), I’ve been told, quite forcefully that it’s tacky. And that it will bring shame upon our family. Apparently, it is a far better thing to have a crap ton of dish washing to do (on top of a likely hangover) than to use shameful disposables.

  • No Cupcakes.

    These, too, bring shame upon our family. It is absolutely vital that we have a thick, pretentious, multi-layer cake with apricot crème and layers soaked in rum with some sort of decorative glaze. Cupcakes are cheap, I am told. No one will eat them and I will end up eating them by myself and crying for weeks after. I hate rum. Or at least, I hate cake soaked in it. I prefer to drink my alcohol, thank you very much. Why can’t cake just be cake?

    Apparently, cupcakes are the devil. I didn’t tell her that I’d already bought really cute cupcake toppers.

    She said that since I didn’t like the cake she’d picked out, she wouldn’t get it. That I can pick whatever cake I want (so long as it is from a fancy-ass Russian bakery) and she’ll get that one. Here’s the thing – I don’t want a fancy-ass Russian cake. I don’t want something with five different layers and two different kinds of cake inside and two different kinds of cream with a weird fruity-gelatinous glaze on top.

    Why can’t I just have a cake? Why is that so much to ask for?

  • Said parties are not to be held anywhere other than a Fancy Russian Restaurant.

    The one exception to this rule is, apparently, brunch. It is acceptable to have a birthday party at a fancy brunch place, usually attached to a nice hotel, if one wishes. Otherwise, no exceptions. You must have your party at a Fancy Russian Restaurant, where you will have no one to talk to, and you will feel horribly awkward the whole time. This may be because you are an extremely awkward person (as I am), but that’s a different conversation altogether.

    You will sit on uncomfortable chairs, in a small place setting, uncomfortably squished between the few relatives you can actually hold a conversation with. You will eat course after course of (admittedly good) Russian food, half-cringing and trying to pretend that you don’t exist, Harry-Potter-style, because you don’t want some horrible aunt or other to come over and drill you about your boyfriend-less, job-less, loser life.

    Then the music will come on. It will be awful Russian music. Either seventies-era Russian pop music that sounds like it should be on Dance Dance Revolution, or strange covers of American pop songs inevitably sung by the restaurant’s creepy bald proprietor. You will watch the old(er) people gravitate to the dance floor and dance happily (in this case, shuffling feet side to side qualifies as dancing) to the horrible music.

    You will sit there wishing you’d brought a book. Or if, in fact, you did bring a book, as I usually do, you’ll wish you could pull it out without looking weird.

  • No Party Games.

    Apparently these are beneath the dignity of elderly Russian folk and they cannot be expected to lower themselves to such childish silliness.

    (I’m going to the half-price bookstore to pick up some games tomorrow)

  • No Theme Parties.

    Ditto. Apparently, it is simply too large an imposition to put one one’s guests to ask them to dress up. How dare I?

    (My party’s masquerade/Harry Potter themed. It’s going to be awesome… I think)

  • No Pizza. Or food from any ‘non-acceptable’ establishment.

    I suggested, early on in this process, that perhaps we should consider catering from Naf Naf, since I really like their food…. The heat of my mother’s angry gaze would’ve melted frozen tundra.

You would think she would at least somewhat understand by now. I don’t want a stuffy, boring, formal Russian party. I don’t want to shuffle my feet side-to-side to awful music in a dark ‘dancing area’ while the proprietor of the restaurant looks on creepily. I don’t want a fancy fruit-jelly-and-cream cake. I don’t want stuffy, boring food or stuffy, boring people.

I want a fun, bright, whimsical party. I want to have fun. I want to dance and look silly and get sweaty and eat junk food and talk and laugh. I want to get drunk and stay up way too late and end up partying on the stone patio outside of the clubhouse. I want to stay up into the wee hours of the night, talking and drinking with my friends, until the conversation gets silly and serious and things seem to mean nothing and everything all at once.

I want fun. And light. And happiness.

I guess I want from my party the same thing I want from life. And maybe it’s too much to ask for. But maybe it isn’t.

Love & Betrayal

I gave you all of my love. And you ran from me.

For months, you were the first thing I thought of in the morning, and the last thing I thought of at night. What are you thinking? I don’t know how many times I wondered that in our time together, as I looked into your big brown eyes. Invariably, you would kiss my nose and the thoughts melted away into a smile. You could always do that for me. You were the one who could always make me smile.

When I’d been sobbing and my nose was bright red, and my eyes were smeared with mascara and I probably looked like a deranged panda, you didn’t care. You lay down next to me, your warm body comforting against mine, and smiled up at me, as if to say, ‘Everything will be ok. You’ll see.’

You never complained, even when things were at their worst. Your smile never changed, even when I was laid off. You were as warm and comforting as you’d always been. I’d come home from an interview gone wrong and collapse on the couch, wanting to close my eyes and never open them again. You’d just come and sit on the floor at my feet, leaning up against me, comforting me with your warmth. As if you knew things were going to get better. You’d look up at me, trust in those deep brown eyes. You knew everything was going to be ok because you had faith in me. Because you trusted me more than I trusted myself.

You were always up for a walk, even if it was dark and raining. You splashed in those mud puddles like a little kid. And I suppose, in many ways, you were a little kid. Cleaning up was never fun when we got home, but it was worth it to see you happy.

I gave you all of my love. I wouldn’t leave before saying goodbye to you. And I wouldn’t come home without giving you a kiss. When I cooked, I’d separate out some of whatever I was making, and save it for you, cooking it in the way you liked.

“It’s just chicken,” I’d say, smiling, watching as you wolfed it down like it was the most delicious thing in the world.

I loved you. And I thought you loved me back. I thought I could trust you. Maybe I was wrong.

Today, I let go. I didn’t mean to. One second, I was in control and everything was fine – and then the next second, it wasn’t. In one moment, everything changed. In one moment, you slipped away.

One second, you were walking by my side. I thought we were happy together.

The next second, you’d slipped out of your little jacket and you were running, running away from me. I held an untethered leash.

I could only watch in shock as you abandoned me, running circles around me in the dirt, as I cried by myself. You ran and you ran. You dug in the dirt. You rolled in the grass, smiling all the while as I looked on, terrified. You wouldn’t come back to me, no matter how many times I called your name, no matter how much I begged and pleaded and, ultimately, cursed, shouted and threatened.

You wouldn’t come back to me.

I thought we had something special.

I thought you loved me as much as I love you.

Bad girl, Nellie.

You are a bad dog.

This I believe

This I believe:

Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you have to stop reading children’s books.

Peanut butter and jelly is always an acceptable meal.

Choose comfort over cuteness. Take both when you can get them.

Being an adult is no reason to stop giving/receiving birthday gifts. On the contrary, when people grow older is the most important time to show them how much you love them/appreciate them. Show your friends that they matter to you.

Nothing should be pickled other than pickles.

Being an adult doesn’t mean you’re any better at anything than you were before. It just means you’re better at pretending you have your shit together in front of other people.

Never ask someone when they’re getting engaged. Or when they’re getting married. Or when they’re going to have a kid…. Just don’t.

If the waiter tells you to enjoy your meal, and you accidentally say “You too!” it’s ok…. They know what you meant.

Women’s clothes should have pockets. The fact that they usually don’t is a travesty and overwhelming evidence of the power of patriarchy.

If you don’t get mad at your pet when they do something, you don’t have any right to get mad at your family members for doing the same thing.

There is nothing that is not improved by cheese.

That is all, for now.

Thank you.

The Reasons Why

“Don’t be a dick.”

Those words echo in my head pretty often. They pop up whenever I think something negative or mean-spirited about someone, whenever I forget to hold the door for someone walking in behind me, whenever I say something rude I hadn’t meant to.

Although I hate to admit it, it’s generally the philosophy I live my life by. Don’t be a dick. You don’t have to be nice to everyone all the time, but generally speaking, the least you can do is try. Try to be nice. Try not to be rude. Try to help other people. Try your best not to hurt them. Try not to be a dick.

I don’t understand a lot of things.

I don’t know what it’s like to walk into a store and have the employees follow me around because they think I might steal something. I don’t know how it feels to have someone give me a dirty look or shout a slur at me just because I’m wearing something that expresses my religion. If I am pulled over by a police officer, I’m not scared, because I know that, at worst, I am likely to get a ticket, and maybe waste a few minutes of my time. I’m not frightened that he’ll harass me, or hurt me, or threaten me just because of the color of my skin.

I am lucky.

If I am hurt, or injured, or sick, I can see a doctor. I don’t have to be scared that the bills will bankrupt me, or that they will be so expensive that I’ll be forced out of my home because I can’t afford to pay the rent and the medical bills at the same time. If I need birth control, I can go to a doctor and get a prescription, with the reasonable expectation that I can afford it.

I can walk around my neighborhood by myself at night and feel safe, without the fear that someone will shoot me or rob me or rape me.

I know where my next meal is coming from. I don’t have to worry if I have enough money to buy groceries and pay the rent and put gas in my car this week. And I don’t have to think about which one of those I will sacrifice if I don’t have the money for all of them.

I don’t have to worry about how I’ll get to work – I am lucky enough to have a car that gets me there. I don’t have to worry about taking the bus or finding a friend to give me a ride or whether or not I’ll be able to make it to work tomorrow, if the bus breaks down, or that route stops running, or my friend doesn’t feel like driving me.

I don’t have children to worry about, but if I did, I live in a relatively safe neighborhood. I wouldn’t have to worry if they would get to school safely, or if they would be safe while they’re there.

These things are all privileges. And they are privileges that I enjoy without much thought. I don’t think about how grateful I am to have my car every time I get in it. Or how thrilled I am to see a doctor whenever I make an appointment.

But I know that I am lucky. And that many women – many people – in this country are not so lucky.

These things are privileges. And they should not be.

And that is why I attended the march this past Saturday, January 21st, 2017.

Not for me. Not because this incoming administration is going to hurt me or impinge on my rights. But because I know that many people are not as lucky as I am. And that, under this incoming administration of uncaring, selfish men, many people who are not-so-lucky will suffer all the more. That they will lose rights, lose jobs, lose healthcare. And that some will even lose their lives as a result of losing that healthcare.

I didn’t join the march on Saturday because I’m a good person, or because I’m a special little snowflake. I did it because I care about people outside of myself.

And it’s not particularly noble or brave to care about people other than you…. It’s really the baseline of what you, as a human being, who exists in a world of other human beings, should do.

I didn’t do it because I’m brave or wonderful or any particular positive adjective you could put here.

I did it because I’m not a dick.

 

In Defense of Darkness

The world is filled with tragedy.

So much so that the above line feels entirely like a cliché. Terrible things happen with every moment that passes, every breath taken.

I don’t say that to depress you. Or maybe I do.

Yesterday, four people – three young, twenty-something women and one young man – were killed in Jerusalem when a truck plowed into a group of soldiers on a busy street.

Yesterday, five people were killed when a gunman opened fire in a baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale’s airport.

But a casual look at just about any news site wouldn’t tell you this. Just now, they’re full of side-by-side ‘who wore it better’ comparisons from the Golden Globes, brimming with speeches and dresses and ‘Which Ryan is Hotter.’

And maybe that’s as it should be, on the night of a major award show.

But that doesn’t change one simple fact: when I saw those two tragic stories pop up in my news feed, I didn’t want to click on either of them.

I didn’t want to know.

I chose, for a while, anyway, to click on cute kittens, and the most popular products on amazon. To look at pretty dresses and dieting tips, rather than face the tragedy taking place far away from me.

But I was wrong.

And it’s easy, isn’t it?

It’s very easy for me to say – ‘that’s so depressing… I’ll look at it later.’ And maybe later never comes. It’s easy for me to say that I need a ‘pick-me-up’ – that I need to fill my mind with lightness and joy, rather than tragedy and pain.

It’s easy for me to say that I don’t have room in my heart for other people’s tragedy – that I’ve had enough of my own. That’s the excuse I’ve been using for some time now.

Because, while we live in a world where more information is at our fingertips than ever has been in the past – where news spreads across continents in the beat of a heart – we also live in a world where it is easier than ever to ignore it.

To say that it’s not our tragedy. Not our pain. To say that we can’t handle it right now. Or to say that we simply don’t want to.

It’s easy not to read something depressing. In a world full of such darkness, darkness can be incredibly easy to avoid.

Just click on the next story. Look at a pretty dress. Read the sports statistics. Learn how to french braid your hair. Peruse cute animal photos. Do whatever you have to do to keep yourself going, right?

I’m not writing about the darkness and pain of this world – you already know enough about it. So do I…. enough so that I haven’t wanted to face it.

Because ignoring tragedy gives us the luxury of avoiding pain. But it also gives us the luxury of not doing anything about it.

And in a time when we’ve elected a ‘presidential’ candidate who lies as easily as he breathes, who has no respect for anyone outside of himself, nor any respect for knowledge or kindness or any of the noble traditions of this country, truth is going to become a valuable commodity, and we have to cling to it with all of our strength.

In a world where terrorists thrive on uneducated and misinformed populations, we can’t afford to look away from tragedy. Or to look away from truth.

Because it’s easy not to – and it will become easier.

Because, now, more than ever, in this precarious moment, we need an educated public – one that advocates for truth and will accept nothing less.

We need people who read. We need people who listen. People who know. And people who care enough to do something about it.

And in a world where it’s so much easier not pay attention – and not care – we no longer have the luxury of letting it go.

It’s easier not to read the article. It’s easier to look away. It’s easier to say that I’ve got too much pain in my own life, or not enough time, or not enough energy. It’s incredibly easy to say I don’t have room for the depression or the sadness.

But that’s not a choice I can make anymore.

And neither should you.

It is our responsibility, as a public that supports freedom – that supports the values our nation was built on – to support our truth-tellers. To fight for investigative journalism, while we still have the chance.

 

November 11th

I’m glad I had Wednesday off… I hadn’t planned to take it off. But I’m glad I had that day to mourn for the loss of my country, and my world as I know it.

Thanks to our new president, we as a country (and really, as a world, if you consider how much America’s actions ripple out internationally) are about to enter into a new era of hatred, unkindness, cruelty and indignity.

We are about to become a country where no one who is black, Muslim, Hispanic, gay or female will feel safe. Not for the next four years, anyhow. Because we have elected a man who does nothing but spew hatred. A man who no respect for anyone or anything outside of himself – certainly no respect for the country he is about to govern, or the people within it. No respect for women, his wife included. No respect for marriage. No respect for others. Or for our constitution.

We have elected a malevolent, bigoted, rapist-in-chief and I’m sorrowful that our country has come to this.

I had Wednesday to drink and cry – to mourn the loss of the freedoms we enjoy and the loss of what could have been. Not because Hillary was a fantastic candidate or because I’m under the illusion that she was flawless – but because, underneath whatever flaws she had, she is a reasonable human being, who I feel has always tried her best to govern thoughtfully.

Because President Trump certainly won’t do what is best for the people. Or even for the GOP.  He will do what is best for himself. Because someone so juvenile and selfish cannot do otherwise.

I will continue to mourn as I watch our freedoms corroded away by this poisonous man.

I will watch as we lose our reproductive rights.

As we lose the freedom of speech.

And the freedom of the press.

He has threatened to sue anyone who publishes anything negative about him – not anything untrue – just anything negative. And you’d be foolish to think that anyone so shallow and vain, given the power of the presidency, wouldn’t follow through on those threats.

I will look on in sorrow as the innocent are harassed and threatened and hurt – and, in many cases, I’m sure, killed. I will watch the inevitable and exponential rise in hate crimes, most of which will go unpunished … Because when you elect a man who does nothing but hate, how can you successfully prosecute hate crimes?

Any environmental agreements and nuclear non-proliferation agreements we’ve signed over the past several years will be thrown out.

Any hope we’ve had for the future of this country is gone. Or, indeed, for the future of the world. We’ve just handed power to a cruel, childish, juvenile man – one who thinks of nothing but himself and his own self-interest. One to whom lying comes as easily as breathing.

I will watch the freedom of the press evaporate. I will watch my friends live in fear as their rights are taken away from them. I will watch the rise of a rape-culture where anything is yours if you have the ability to take it.

I will watch all of this in fear.

And to those of you who voted for him – Congratulations. You’ve just successfully handed the nuclear codes to a childish megalomaniac with a hair trigger. You’ve handed power to a man who has never been denied anything he wanted in his life – a person who has never heard the word ‘no.’ A dangerous, thoughtless, selfish man.

Perhaps stating that this is the end of the world is a bit much… It may not be the end of the world. But it’s pretty damn close. It’s certainly going to be the end of life as we have known it.

Today is the day I mourn for my country – for what it was and what it will never become.

Today is the day I grieve for my hopes and the possibility of a bright future for our country.

Today is a dark day for America. And for the world.

Do I know the future? I don’t. I just have a knowledge of who this person is – of his past behavior and his character. I know enough to be scared. And I have a really bad feeling about our future.

I’m sure no one will read this – I’m sure my opinion matters about as much as a feather in the wind. But I will end by saying this – the only way that we can combat the hatred that will spew from the white house in the near future is with kindness.

It won’t be enough to undo the damage, but we owe it to ourselves, and to each other, to do our best. So be kind to each other. Take care of each other. Protect each other. Because it is only through kindness that we can defeat hatred.

Thank you.

Please share these crisis hotline numbers:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741-741
Trans Lifeline: (877) 565-8860
The Trevor Project (LBGTQ+ youth): 1-866-488-7386
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

To report a hate crime: 1-800-VICTIMS