Oh, you lovely book

Do you know the feeling of picking up a book and within just a few pages feeling like the book was written precisely for you? The way the words form, the characters who feel like best friends, the descriptions of how the dinner table was set, and the way she fell in love last year? Sometimes it’s even so precise that you feel as if you wrote the book yourself? Like your heart and soul poured onto the page with an elegance that exists deep inside you but is seldom revealed? 

Gourmet RhapsodyMuriel Barbery‘s Gourmet Rhapsody was just that book for me. It’s the story of ‘the world’s greatest food critic’ who is about to die and must decide his final meal.

What I found so wonderful about this book, however, was not so much the storyline but its poetic language and magical characters. Even with these delightful underpinnings, it is also the kind of book (my favorite kind) that is fabulously political and prophetic at hidden turns — reminiscent of such literary pleasures as Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon and the visual delight of Babette’s Feast

Barbery fills the book with exquisite sentences, such as, “That is sashimi: a fragment of the cosmos within reach of one’s heart, but, alas, light years from the fragrance or taste that is fleeing my wisdom, or is it my inhumanity…”

Exactly. If those words touch the depths of you like they did me, you will love this book.


Marhaba and Salaam (Welcome & Peace)

This past November, I spent several incredible weeks in Egypt and Jordan.  Of course, being a librarian, I had to visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria. It’s a stunning building surrounded by water to give the effect of floating. The building’s curve is covered on the outside with a gray granite wall that displays letters from the alphabets of some 120 languages. One walks through a small entrance into the entrance hall, which then leads to the main building with its soaring columns and astonishing ceiling (meant to represent eyes with eyelids). These features allow light to enter, but also protect against the sun’s rays. There you experience the reading room which is the largest in the world. The library’s collection has yet to reach the magnificence of the original library’s collection which is discussed in The Library of Alexandria : Centre of learning in the ancient world. However, the library does maintain the only copy and external back up of the Internet archive!

Sphinx and Khufu PyramidAfter visiting Alexandria and Cairo, we took an overnight train to Luxor, where we boarded a boat and set sail to Aswan. While floating down the Nile on a felucca in Aswan, we could see the Cataract hotel (currently undergoing renovations) where Agatha Christie stayed while writing Death on the Nile  in the mid 1930s. Christie had married an archeologist by this time and her knowledge of Egypt and the Middle East is obvious in her descriptions of the ancient sites.

Before traveling to Egypt I read Dreamers of the Day by Maria Doria Russell which is about a 40 year old single woman who, after the death of her family members from influenza, decides to travel with her beloved dachshund to the Middle East just as the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference convenes. There she meets, among others, T.E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell, and Winston Churchill who include her on several of their outings.

Wadi Rum in south JordanAfter entering Jordan through Aquaba (captured by Lawrence during WWI) we spent a night with the Bedouin in Wadi Rum where there is a rock formation also called The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. On the way to this breathtakingly beautiful nature reserve, which Lawrence visited several times, we crossed the railway tracks several sections of which had been destroyed by him with the aid of the local Bedouin in 1917 & 1918.  For a complete description of Lawrence’s time in the Middle East, I recommend reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

I found several children’s books helpful while preparing for my travels for their descriptions of Egypt past and present including: Egyptian Diary : The journal of Nakht and Egyptology. For older readers, 1988 Nobel Literature Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy and Larence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet describe these cities and their peoples’ recent past. There are many more titles that cover this interesting part of the world in Everett Public Library’s collection. And remember, if we don’t own the title you want, you can always request an Inter-Library Loan. Ask a librarian!