Monday, August 1, 2016

My August Book List - a month of classics

Throughout my life I've gone through various phases of book genres, whether it be The Chronicles of Narnia, a momentary period of suspense with novels by Mary Higgins Clark, WWII books, romance novels, or books about
the Christian faith. But for the past three years, ever since I first came across Ina Caro's Paris to the Past book, I have been so fascinated with books on Paris and French history, with the occasional side of classics and books on art and writing. But I recently realized that I've never gone through a phase purely focused on reading classics. Since I chose to prioritize reading this year, and because reading good writing is one of my goals, I decided to dedicate August to reading a few classics.


1. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

In my last book list post I wrote about my visit to Bekker's Bookstore in Houston. While there, I picked out a book by John Steinbeck containing a few of his stories. I decided to start by reading one of his more famous novels, Of Mice and Men. The story takes a look at migrant farmers during the time of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930's in California.

2. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

The Great Divorce focuses on themes of good and evil from a Christian perspective. The scene is of a bus ride going from hell to heaven.

3. Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion is Jane Austen's last completed novel, after Emma. It is a romantic novel that takes place in Somersetshire, Lyme Regis, and Bath, England, towards the end of the Napoleonic era. The main storyline is focused on Anne and navy officer Frederick Wentworth, and whether they will fall in love again after she was advised to break off their engagement eight years ago due to his lack of fortune.


1. The Paris We Remember

Reading this book is like reading old journal excerpts and short stories from various authors, such as Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain. It provides historical glimpses of various aspects of Paris, from its city structure, to its architecture, to its gardens, to its people, and its culture. Sometimes you saw Paris in all its beauty and sometimes in its ugliness. The book is organized in nine sections: the structure of Paris, the pageant of history, manners and customs in Paris, the men of Paris, some letters, Paris nights and delights, the eternal feminine, the tellers of tales, and the rhythm of Paris. Below are a few excerpts.

"My morning walk through Luxembourg is different each day. I never know what it will be like, nor what I shall discover from one day to another amid the thin shadows of the lawns and in the depths of the waters." - Rainer Maria Rilke

"... In a city where everything intended to meet the eyes is converted into graceful ornament; where the shop's and coffee-houses have the air of fairy palaces..." - Frances Trollope

(In describing the odor of the circus) "Of course you knew that [the odor] came from horse dung, from the fiber mat, from the stables, and from healthy sweat, but it also contained something that was indescribable, a mixture that defied analysis, a combination of anticipation and joy that seized you by the throat and which represented, so to say, the curtain raised by custom on the show." - Jean Cocteau

2. Food and Friends by Simone Beck (aka Simca)

I picked up this book from Becker's bookstore while searching for a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It reads like a memoir of Simca's life, which I really enjoyed, given I knew little of her. I was especially fascinated while reading about her life during WWII, as well as her marriage life after the war, and what France was like while recovering from the aftermath of WWII. In addition, there are several stories that show the close relationship she had with Julia Child.

As far as cooking, I have made only one recipe from the book, which was pizza dough. I think I needed to add a bit more salt to it, but other than that, it accompanied our home made pizzas very nicely.

3. Great Masters of French Impressionism by 

My knowledge of Impressionism is limited, but after reading through The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh and taking a guided museum tour on the subject, I really wanted to learn more. Although this book isn't meant to be an in-depth look at Impressionism, it does show works of art that are displayed in the National Gallery of Art Museum, in Washington DC, along with some background information about the piece and the artist. Some of the major themes mentioned were in regards to the use of color, the type of brushstrokes used, lines and composition, light, the influence of Japanese art, and common scenes (i.e. landscape, still life, and nature). I particularly enjoyed learning a little more about how artists paid attention to light. For example, in Claude Monet's painting, Rouen Cathedral, West Facade, Sunlight (1894), you see how sometimes details were lost, not because of the type of brushstroke, but because of the way the artist saw how light affected the image.

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