Mere Anarchy – Woody Allen

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In all honesty, I don’t know that much about Woody Allen other than some people find him funny. I love a funny book and so picked this up as an antidote to the excellent but sad book I was reading at the time. While I did find this book amusing, in a wry smile kind of way, it was also hard work. Allen’s writing is pretty laboured, full of long convoluted sentences that are very clever but in a ‘look at me I’m writing something wonderfully clever and wildly amusing’ style. I prefer the understated sort of humour that sneaks up on you and makes you laugh out loud.  Thank goodness this is a short story collection because I could only muster the required energy to wade through it in short stints. The stories were interesting, neat little jibes at the weird world we live in – often based on short news clippings. And they were really quite clever, I just wish they didn’t have to make such a laborious display of it.

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Capturing the Rye

Wandering through the cobbled streets of Rye in the sunshine is a quick introduction to all that is quintessentially British; Tudor and Georgian architecture, an abundance of churches and good pubs, forts and cannons, silly house names and plenty of fish and chips. We were lucky enough to catch both the sun and the blossom out and it was even warm enough for an icecream on a bench overlooking the marshes. My favourite find was the Tiny Bookstore, tucked away behind the church, which is brimming with beautiful old books, from leather bound books to classic penguins.

Vie Française  – Jean-Paul Dubois

A brief history of modern France as viewed and experienced by a fictional frenchman. Having bought this after falling for the cover, which is not just beautiful but soft enough to make the physical process of reading really enjoyable, it was nice to find it contained a punchy and engaging story. It was very frank and there were a lot of gritty or unpleasant moments (and characters) but it still managed to be charming. It reads like an autobiography rather than a work of fiction and includes a lot of reference to contempary events in France in each time period. It still worked in translation but probably has another layer of meaning to those with a better knowledge of the country and its history. It was interesting to see the ripples these political and national events  caused in the private lives of the characters. If you dont mind unlikable characters and a lot of talk of sex, Dubois has turned an apparently unremarkable life into an interesting and thought-provoking read.

The wonderful wry tone of the narrator allows him to laugh at himself and everyone he meets while still expressing a great fondness for life.

On his childhood behaviour

The child is father to the man

On his boss

Spiridon became giddy from his adorably effervescent little sin of pride

And finally, a great quote from the Marquise de Montespen – Mistress of Louis XIV

The grandeur of a destiny arises as much from what one refuses as from what one gains

From: The French Embassy in New York. Really. Walking along the side of central park, coming out of Café Sabarsky and heading for the Frick, I stumbled across a sign saying French and English books for sale. This felt the most magical place, hidden past a beautiful marble entrance hall. I ended up buying this book in both English and French (not as pretty but a compact little thing that seems to be a standard in French publishing), an even smaller book of Rudyard Kipling’s work in French and a canvas bag with Jules Verne quotations. The French bookseller’s enthusiasm for this particular book was encouraging too!

Read: Nov 2015 in Seville over breakfast on the roof terrace.

Felt: like I was listening to someone reminiscing on their life over a bottle of red wine.

Liked: The honesty and realism with just a touch of the bizarre. The tree photography concept was also mesmerising.

Would recommend: to anyone wanting to learn more about France or French life, or to those who like life stories and books that are more than fluffy niceties.