Year in Reading

I’m no Millions but here’s a YIR anyway. 

I thought a year of emotional distress and living alone would bring me more time to read but I maxed out at 41 books this year. I don’t mind. They were what I needed at the time. And 40 was my goal anyway.

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Of the 41 that I read, here are my top 5 and the reasons why:

  1. Deathless by Catherynne Valente
  2. Crush by Richard Siken
  3. The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit
  4. Please Undo This Hurt by Seth Dickinson
  5. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

 

Deathless made me a Valente-crazed reader. I think I underlined 3/4 of this book and it immediately joined my ‘favourites’ shelf. It is everything I love in story-writing and it brought all of my Russian fairytales to life into one world where they somehow co-existed perfectly.

Crush is a collection of poetry about love and loss and life that I re-read as soon as I finished it. I read parts of it out to the people around me, friends or acquaintances, without much context, because I needed to share it. Siken made me feel his pain and his strong desire for that long-lasting, life-long love. His words made me feel stronger and planted my feet firmly in the cement  – I was going to hold my ground until I felt it the way he feels it.

The Faraway Nearby whet my appetite for Iceland. And then May came and my wishes became reality. Solnit prepared me for Iceland and for constantly having to say yes to live the kind of life I envied in others.

The shortest book I’ve read is actually a Tor short story. I keep seeing GoodReads reviews for Tor.com stories and this just happened to be the one I clicked on. Seth writes about the negative emotions we all feel once we realize our mortality and feel those feelings of smallness and insignificance.

If you haven’t heard about The Dream Thieves, let me tell ya… stop reading this entirely and just buy it. It’s a ‘you’ll thank me later’ kind of situation. I didn’t seem to fall in love with the characters the way that most of the Instagram #bookstagram community seems to have… but I did fall in love with the world that Stiefvater created.

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Shakespeare & Company

This book shop has been on my list for ages. I think it is on every booklover’s list.

This is home. #parisjetadore #bookstagram #books #famousbookstore #shakespeareandcompany

A post shared by Selena Hutchins (@themaybeescape) on

I know that the current location of Shakespeare and Co isn’t the original that Sylvia Beach opened up (that notable folks like Hemingway and Joyce frequented) but it has the same tenets. The current incarnation of the store still serves are refuge for artists in need.

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I spent about a few hours browsing and sitting on the coach upstairs with the cat (because of course they have a bookshop cat). The staff is intermixed between employees, volunteers and artists who work for their stay at the shop. I ended up making friends with one of them, sitting and smoking outside of the bookshop after her shift had passed.

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She had helped me find a book while I was in the shop and wanted to check out what else It was perfectly comfortable opening up to a near stranger and having her do the same. I’d say we smoked through half of a pack on the stairs outside of the shop chatting.

She left Ireland after her MFA program lost funding, unsure of what her future would be. She didn’t know where to go so she went to S & Co to stay for a few weeks until she figured it out. We talked at length about Ireland, where my lovely best friend lives. And literature. There’s a certain energy and enthusiasm that builds in a conversation about books. It begins with one book and keeps building as the recommendations and favourites are shared.

A young man sat down next to us with a very old typewriter and put up a sign, he’d write you a story while you waited and you could give him a donation. His name is Luke. He joined our conversation and we got in line to receive a story from him.

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His story was one of travel, meandering around making a living writing stories for folks on that gorgeous typewriter. You can give him a theme or pick from a large stack of photos that he carries around. I asked him to write me a story about a lost person traveling. A thinly veiled request to write a story about me. He got this strange look on his face and said that he’d already written it earlier that day and that I was meant to have it.

I still haven’t read the story. I told him I’d read it when I came back and sat on those steps again, whether traveling alone or with a partner this time. The letter is patiently waiting for me in my journal.

He is he’s still traveling around, writing beautiful stories for people. I hope he can write one for you, too.

Find him here:

https://twitter.com/petitprancehttps://www.instagram.com/petitprance/ 

P.S. You can get your books stamped with a S & Co Kilometer Zero Paris, if you so choose, a forever memory of my trip. 

Lazare

aka a non-Parisian girl’s guide to the best restaurant (she visited) in Paris

I didn’t know if I’d fall in love with the food in Paris. I love macarons, but it isn’t quite the same as falling in love with the meals. I haven’t ever fallen in love with a Parisian-style restaurant in the states… it was all I had to go on.

When Yves was in Seattle, I took him to the best we had to offer and I knew he’d do the same. But he was leading me to a train station. Mind you, one with interesting statues.

2015.06 - Paris He and his lovely girlfriend took me to Lazare… 2015.06 - Paris 2015.06 - Paris

…where I had some of the best food I’ve ever tasted…

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…and where I learned that I actually like wine. (The girlfriend chose this particular bottle – it sold me instantly and paired perfectly with our dinner).

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And the creme brulee wasn’t bad either.

It has been months and I’m still dreaming of those delicious perfectly fluffy mashed potatoes. I think they had at least one box of butter melted into them to make them so deliciously whipped. And I don’t care one bit.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris

Sacré-Cœur has had my heart since before I saw it. I have a strange love of churches. I’m not a religious person and yet churches feel like a second home. They’re as easy to be in as a library or bookstore for me.

I felt incredibly at peace within Sacré-Cœur. I wrote while I was within the church, trying to capture as much of what was going through my head at the time. Re-reading my journal entries of the visit, I still don’t feel like I wrote enough, or got it across as well as I wanted to.

You aren’t quite allowed to take photos inside of the basilica, by the way, but enough people were breaking the rules that… okay, my excuse is shoddy. I really wanted to remember this day.

Oh, and happy (slightly belated) Christmas / joyeoux noel / sretan božić !

 

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2015.06 - Paris
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Arc De Triomphe

I had every intention of renting a tiny studio in Paris. But when I mentioned the idea to my friend Yves, he offered to let me stay with him. I said yes. And thank you.

I arrived in Paris on a Monday morning, itching to see everything despite the jetlag. Standing in line, waiting to get through customs and actually step foot into the city.

I had the luck to get a chatty taxi driver, who told me all about the places he had travelled in this world and how he had fallen in love with the city and stayed. He wanted to know what my plans were, recommending places that were already on my list. But I was grateful for his energy, his enthusiasm because it mirrored mine.

He dropped me off at Yves’ place, where I was floored by the beautiful apartment, ambiance and warm smile of my friend. He gave me some time to adjust and to shower. Then he took me to the Champs-Élysées. Since it was a work-day, he went to work and pointed me to the Arc de Triomphe.

I walked around in awe, taking close-ups, then portrait photos, then landscape photos then zoomed out and took shots of every detail on the arc. Inside, I was screaming ARE YOU SEEING THIS!? to myself at every turn.

I had the luck (or misfortune) to be in Paris during a heatwave. Did you know that you have to climb a very long spiral staircase to get up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe? I didn’t either.

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Thankfully, I packed a half litre of water in my Fjallraven bag and took it one step at a time. I wasn’t the only one cursing the stairs as I walked them, but we all cursed and laughed at the same time. My first impression of Paris was one of entirely welcoming locals and tourists.

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You can walk around the entire top of the Triomphe, seeing the Eiffel Tower, the lush green parks and busy streets. It whets your appetite for the city, the things you haven’t yet seen.

When I walked back down the spiral staircase, I sat in a shady section of the Arc and took it all in – the heat, the tourists, the eternal flame. And I wrote for what felt like hours in my journal.

(And nibbled on macarons from Pierre Herme. I mean. It is Paris.)

Paris Je T’Adore

I prefer to write about things in chronological order, so I haven’t been able to write about anything else until I could write this. Where do I start?

I went to Paris in June.

I know I’m not alone when I say that Paris was my ultimate destination – the place at the top of my travel list.


Paris was the first time I felt free.

I had never previously traveled by myself. Why had I never travelled by myself, with myself, in 26 years? When I was able to be honest with myself, I realized that I feared traveling alone, being alone, because I feared the quiet, stuck with myself with nothing but time to think. Having company distracted me from harsh truths I needed to face about how I wanted to be living.

The year had been a challenge for me. I had ended a 7 year relationship, put the steps into motion to get a divorce and moved into my own very tiny apartment. It meant that many bridges were burned, some beyond repair. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one.

It meant I would face the fear of being alone. It meant I had the time to figure out who I was in that moment. And to remember who I wanted to be, hoped to be. Did I still have the same aspirations and dreams? Could I trust myself to make big decisions and heal after a large loss? I felt like I had a lot to answer for, to myself, and even more to prove.

The entire trip to Paris was spontaneous. I was supposed to leave St. Petersburg with my friends and come straight home. But it felt like a waste to be in Paris without stepping outside of an airport – I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, partly because it seemed so uncharacteristic of me. The old me would have gone straight home, no questions asked.

Right before the trip to Paris, I had practical things on my mind – brushing up on common French phrases, figuring out how to not get lost, writing and re-writing my itinerary. The biggest fears I felt about the trip were in getting lost and not seeing everything I wanted to see. There was no self-doubt to hold me back and no negative voice in my head detailing all of the ways the trip could go sideways.

But most importantly, I looked forward to the alone time and the wandering around. It took months, but I was no longer afraid to be alone with myself.

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