Friday, April 27, 2012


Judge a book by its cover

Difficulties with the new blogger interface aside (don't get me started), I cannot let another day pass without mentioning a new favorite.  A few years ago I wrote here about Vivian Swift's first book, an illustrated memoir, a tailor-made piece of comfortable couture for homebodies, entitled When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler's Journal of Staying Put (Bloomsbury 2008).  Her long-awaited second book, as described in the pages of her great blog, is now available. Le Road Trip: A Traveler's Journal of Love and France (Bloomsbury 2012).

In her first book, she delineates in words and watercolors the myriad pleasures of staying home, and investigates her immediate surroundings with the heart and soul of an observant and loving explorer. Country walks, village news, beloved cats, cups of tea, memories of past adventure, a meandering almanac of the seasons, this is one of the most charming books I know.  I mean, the cozy factor is totally off the charts, and yet what she possesses is not merely charm.  There is depth behind it, alongside a satisfying story.  And at the end she leaves us with a teaser - she meets a handsome fellow and falls in love, indeed gets married, and promises to hit the road once again.  This promise is fulfilled in her new book, a chronicle of her honeymoon in France.  Also meandering and full of loving description, but with a much wider scope.  We travel alongside these two romantic flâneurs as they slowly visit and revisit their favorite areas of France, to show each other what they most love about it (her: Saint-Malo, the Bayeux Tapestry; him: fine wine, perfect heads of lettuce).

Everything you think of as quintessentially French is here, in words and pictures, and yet her book is cliché-free, a neat trick.  For example, describing liver pâté and its ingredients (p.32):

“The flavors are so much more mischievous than anything I normally tolerate.  With each bite, I taste velvet dresses I’ve never owned, poems I should know by heart, the life I might have had if I’d been born on the Ile-de-France instead of Montana.”

Love that!  I mean, story of my life!  (Except, you know, Maine, not Montana.)  I read Le Road Trip straight through and initially thought that while I loved it, I didn't love it as much as I did her first book; I let a few days pass and read it straight through again, and realized  I was simply suffering from jealousy.  Because it becomes inevitable to think, as you read along, Why am I not in Saint-Malo?  Will I ever see Paris?  In other words, my identification level with her writing was so very high in the first book, and with this new one, not so much (apologies, I don't mean to be so It's All About Me, but, you know?  I mean, I stay at home, for the most part, and dream of trips such as this!).  Overall, though, I have to say I loved it.  The narrative is funny and optimistic, romantic yet realistic, and her watercolor illustrations provide the perfect counterpart to the text, so the whole book becomes a visual diary of great perception.  I love how she paints chairs, buildings, food, clothes - take a look at the cover, it's all there.  I mean that literally, if you like the covers of her books, you will love the books themselves.  Recommendation: buy copies of both books for yourself, then buy copies for all your best friends.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?