I need a fix, cause I’m going down

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I Remember my Grandpa by Truman Capote (1943) French Title: L’été indien

The overcoat by Nikolaï Gogol (1842)  French title: Le manteau.

I know, the title of this post will probably get me weird hits on the blog. I didn’t coin the sentence, the Beatles did. It has, in a way, nothing to do with I Remember my Grandpa and in another way everything to do with it. As expected, September is busy. Children are back to school and there are millions of tiny things to organize. Each year you swear you’ll be better prepared the next time and each year you end up running urgent errands at the last minute to buy the precise pencil required by the math teacher. You need to register to football, music classes and other side activities. To top it off, August is a dead month at work in France and when September hits, life resumes and everybody rushes into unsolved issues; your email box explodes and your agenda overflows with meeting requests. Add busy weekends to this weekly flow and your reading life shrinks to an unbearable size.

And that’s what happened to me. I couldn’t concentrate on Proust at night, couldn’t read the Tabucchi book I wanted to start and couldn’t read Anna Edes along with Max as I intended to. It became unbearable. I needed a fix of literature, like some must consume their own drug. But I’m still confused at how much I need to read, at how I feel smothered if I don’t have that quality time with the words of others. I went to the library and borrowed audio books to take advantage of the one-and-a-half hour I spend in the car every day.

That led me to Truman Capote’s short story I Remember my Grandpa. Johnny is seven and he’s living in a remote farm in Virginia with his parents and his grand-parents. His father runs the farm and barely makes ends meet. The farm is so isolated that Johnny can’t go to school. The fragile economical balance of the farm and the fact that its location deprives Johnny from any solid education pushes his father to move out. Johnny discovers they will move the next week to another city, that his father has found a job on another farm, that someone else will rent and run his childhood farm and that they will leave his grandparents behind. This new development saddens the grandpa and he tells Johnny a “secret” before the boy leaves.

Jean-Claude Rey tells the story, he doesn’t read it. His voice is warm, changes of pace and takes the innocent tone of a young boy who sees the events at his own level, understanding more than the adults think he does and less at the same time. We never quite know what children grasp from their surroundings or from the relationships and feelings around them. I’m convinced they build a theory of their own to cope with situations and don’t necessarily ask questions when they feel they have a satisfactory explanation, be it of their own making. Besides this, the short story also shows the difficulty to live upon isolated farms before WWII – I’d say it’s set in the 1930s, since Johnny’s dad has an automobile. Johnny’s father seems to be the villain here since he separates his son from his childhood home and cuts his wife and son from her family. And yet, he’s the one who has enough courage to make that decision, enough love to want a better life for his son and enough intelligence to realize that a good education helps climbing the social ladder. It’s a short and catchy read. I wonder why the French title is L’été indien. True, they leave the farm in the autumn but it’s under a snow storm, not exactly the mild and pleasant weather the idea of Indian summer conjures up.

The busy weekends continue and this weekend we were at the realm of wild capitalism aimed at children, ie Waitingland Disneyland Paris. Believe me, my parental duty now done, I never want to set a foot there in my life again. The organization is lacking, the prices are outrageous and the food is so bad that McDonald’s suddenly seems like a gourmet restaurant. But I get carried away. Thank God for the kindle, I started to read The Overcoat by Gogol when I was in waiting lines. The grotesque tone of the short story suited the situation. Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin is a civil servant in Saint Petersburg. He works in an office as a devoted copyist. The man lives poorly, hardly takes care of himself, is always mocked by colleagues but he loves his job and copying. Seen from outside, his life is miserable and copying is the only thing he does but Akaky Akakievich is content. His wages are low and he can’t afford many fantasies, every coin is needed. So when his tailor refuses to mend his overcoat, saying the fabric is thin beyond repair, he’s desperate. Where is he going to find the money to buy a new overcoat? The cold is biting and he endeavours to spare all the money he can to find the way to pay for his overcoat. This adds a new goal in his life and it changes his attitude and… I won’t tell you what happens. It’s great Gogol, in the same trend as The Nose.  He makes fun of the army of civil servants working in St Petersburg and always has a funny word to describe situations. He shows how a goal can change a man, help him stand for himself. He also insists on how the wealthy and powerful tend to trample on poor people, treating them as cows sweep off flies with their tails. The ending is as funny as a fable by La Fontaine. That helped.

Otherwise, unread blog entries are piling up in my mailbox, sorry, sorry, sorry. I’m still reading The Turn of the Screw and it seems that no tool is going to fix my interest on it. I have to hurry though, or I’ll screw up for my Book Club meeting on Thursday. Yes, I know, the pun is terrible but a weekend of waiting lines turned my brain into mush. I need a fix, cause I’m going down

  1. September 24, 2012 at 2:25 am

    It’s interesting that you bring up needing to read and compare it to a drug fix. I’m convinced that some sort of special chemicals are released in my brain when I read. Are there studies somewhere? I just read how people who have haircuts experience some sort of chemical surge,so why not reading?

    Like

    • September 24, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      You mean like running does for people who run a lot? I don’t know if it’s been proved but it makes perfect sense to me.

      Like

  2. September 24, 2012 at 2:54 am

    It seems as though everyone is so busy these days. There’s always something that needs doing and our free time is shrinking to nothing. I hope your children enjoyed Disneyland. It’s not the sort of place I’d want to go either. I’ve just started reading a collection of Gogol’s stories. I seem to be on a Russian Lit binge at the moment, which isn’t a bad thing at all. 🙂

    Like

    • September 24, 2012 at 10:25 pm

      It’s hard not to be busy with a husband, two kids and a full time executive job. Most of the time it’s perfectly manageable and I enjoy every part of the schedule. It’s just that with “back to school” time, everything is more intense. It’ll get better in a month or so.

      The children enjoyed Disneyland but we adults didn’t that much. It’s strange to see people who’d honk at you if you start 15s too late at a traffic light wait in line, patiently like sheep to climb on Space Mountain. I’m also still puzzled by the abundance of adults wearing Mickey or Minnie ears in the park. Like Romain Gary used to say, if ridicule could kill, humanity would have died a long time ago.

      I like Gogol, I want to read Dead Souls one of these days.

      Like

  3. September 24, 2012 at 9:52 am

    I think, to answer Guy’s question, that there is a study about this but I’ve forgotten the author. I held it in my hands.
    I suppose I know how you feel although this type of busy has never happened to me. I took care that it won’t, I wouldn’t be able to handle it and not so much for the reading deprivation only. You still managed to write quite a few blog posts in a short time.
    This doesn’t really sound like a Capote story. After I read your review I had to go back and make sure you were not writing abozt Steinbeck.
    I’ve read that Gogol but I cannot remember it so well.

    Like

    • September 24, 2012 at 10:30 pm

      I don’t handle it very well either. I couldn’t work long hours on a long period of time. I don’t have it in me and one complain from a child is enough to bring me home at a reasonable hour.
      The blog posts of the beginning of the month correspond to books I read in August and none of them are very profound. September’s posts are rather short and I can feel the rush when I reread them. Didn’t you hear it when you read them?

      I’ve never read anything by Capote so far but I have Breakfast at Tiffany’s at home.It’s not on the right side of the continent for Steinbeck but yes, in a way it relates to The Red Pony.

      Like

      • September 25, 2012 at 9:01 am

        Yes, I felt it in the one or the other occasion.
        I still don’t know how you cope. Last year was such a horrible strain for me and I’ve still not recovered completely.
        I hope your company is understanding.

        Like

        • September 25, 2012 at 10:49 am

          I have a great husband and my company is human friendly. Mon seuil de tolérance est assez bas, en fait.

          Like

  4. Brian Joseph
    September 24, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I really sympathize with the extreme filled schedule and the need to cram things like reading in. I have taken to getting up at 4 AM on some says to squeeze everything in.

    Like

    • September 24, 2012 at 10:33 pm

      Ah! that’s why you’re commenting on weird hours for your timeline! I thought you were on business trips or something.
      I’m glad I didn’t have to take such extreme measures as starting to get up at 4AM. I don’t think I could stand it, I need time off to relax, muse and recharge my batteries. I’m convinced I’m more efficient at work when I’m not too tired and when I had enough recreational time. (I sound like a child, I know)

      Like

    • September 25, 2012 at 8:08 am

      And Brian, thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

      Like

  5. September 24, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    Truman Capote’s “childhood souvenirs” – at least the ones I’ve read – seem like they’d be excellent choices for a quick literary fix. And somehow, Euro-Disney seems like the perfect place to read Gogol. Congratulations on surviving that experience, which so far I’ve managed to farm out to other adult chaperones as regards my goddaughters’ visits there (a distance of 10,000 km makes for a fine excuse). Bon courage et bon chance avec La Rentrée!

    Like

    • September 24, 2012 at 10:36 pm

      Yes, Euro-Disney is a great place to read Gogol or La Cantatrice Chauve or Ubu Roi.
      Thanks for the encouragement. In France, La Rentrée also means La Rentrée littéraire (I’m still looking for a way to translate this concept in English, help me if you can), so we hear about literature too. I heard there are some good new releases.

      Like

      • September 25, 2012 at 7:39 am

        For the past two years I’ve toyed with doing a post on La Rentrée littéraire, as there’s nothing quite like it in the States: a period when all the publishers put out their new releases to coincide with everyone coming back from their months-long Euro-vacations (why they don’t do this before les vacances is one of those French peculiarities I’ve never quite been able to get my head around, and your pronouncement of stress about having no time to read only augments my befuddlement). I haven’t had a peek at this year’s harvest, but I will soon.

        Like

        • September 25, 2012 at 7:53 am

          I was thinking about doing one myself. You convinced me to do it, it’s very French, as I suspected it.
          The timing is probably due to the Goncourt. And before the holidays, the newspapers advertise “beach & public transport” books.

          Like

  6. September 26, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    I know exactly what it’s like … And for me, on top of the various bits of work, I am also bone lazy, and love nothing better than sleeping in late when I can get away with it, or just lazing around, doing nothing. I can still get reading done, as I always read on the commuter train; but I have been falling behind badly both in terms of writing my own blog, or keeping up with others’. I have ended up these reading a lot of other blogs, but rarely commenting. (Also, this year, both children had important exams, and one of them has now gone off to college: it’s all been quite stressful…)

    Anyway – on to Capote and Gogol. I haven’t read much of Capote, but I do have a volume of his collected short stories, so I’ll look up the one you mention. As for Gogol, I have been reading him ever since I became hooked on the Russians in my teenage years, but I must admit I have never quite come to terms with his work. I find his fictional world grotesque, and, although often very funny, have never found much warmth in his humour. Perhaps there isn’t any. Akaky Akaievich is certainly a pitiable figure, but I get the strangest feeling that, despite his sufferings, Gogol was laughing *at* him. Maybe I’m wrong – but as I said, I’ve never really understood Gogol.

    (Except for his supernatural stories: these are very much influenced by folklore, and are terrific bedtime reading. One of his best supernatural stories, “viy”, formed the basis of Mario Bava’s classic horror film “La Maschera del Demonio” (1960). Well worth seeking out!)

    Like

    • September 28, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      I wouldn’t say I’m lazy but sure I’m a bit contemplative and I need these moments. It must be strange when a child leaves home.

      Back to Gogol. At the beginning he’s making fun of his character: his description is neither nice or sympathetic. But as the tale progresses, the point of view shifts: you don’t want to laugh at Akaky Akakievich anymore. You can only respect his determination to have this overcoat and Gogol points out the society he lives in: the chiefs who think themselves above their employees, the luxury in some neighborhoods when in others people are miserable. It’s grotesque and dark humor, Beaumarchais’s humor “je me presse de rire de tout de peur d’être obligé d’en pleurer” (“I hasten to laugh at everything, for fear of being obliged to weep”)

      Like

      • September 28, 2012 at 11:32 pm

        Oh, I didn’t mean to imply tou were lazy! But I certainly am! I’spd spend allsay in bed, if I could get away with it! 🙂

        Like

        • September 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm

          I know you didn’t mean that. It’s just that what you wrote about yourself made me wonder if it was just plain laziness for me. Eventually, I thought that it wasn’t. (even if I know I’m not cut out for long working hours)

          Like

  7. September 27, 2012 at 2:17 am

    I know the feeling, Emma. Right now I’m lucky enough to have a period of calm, when I have time for reading and writing and blogging and everything else I want to do. But I’ve had times when I was so busy and couldn’t keep up with everything. Good for you for making some humour out of it!

    I loved Gogol’s The Overcoat! Really felt for poor Akaky Akakievich. I remember it as being more sad than funny, although I suppose there is humour in the satirical elements. Dead Souls was really good, although I read it so long ago now that I can’t remember too much about it.

    Hope things ease up a bit for you!

    Like

    • September 28, 2012 at 10:33 pm

      My favorite writer taught me how to make fun of uncomfortable situations. See, literature and books can change your life.

      I’m reading Gogol bit by bit, one short story after the other. Dead Souls seems good, it comes with good recommendations. (well so did The Turn of the Screw)

      Like

  8. September 27, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    I undertook what (in Australia) is called a ‘seachange’ or ‘treechange’ and took an easier job, nearer to where I live – I don’t regret it (although that may change when my girls get old enough to go to expensive schools!).

    As for Gogol, loved this story, and the others I’ve read, and you should definitely try ‘Dead Souls’ – very funny 🙂

    Like

    • September 28, 2012 at 10:39 pm

      I suppose that you mean you decided to get a job with less salary but more free time.
      Those don’t exist in my line of work. If I found a part time job (very rare because I’m in competition with men who mostly don’t go for part time jobs), I’d end up with the same workload, a part time salary and more stress. The equation isn’t good.

      Another good recommendation for Dead Souls. Definitely on the reading list. But I need to read Charge d’âme by Gary just after. I have that feeling these books are related.

      Like

  1. October 3, 2012 at 10:58 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: