AFTER WHAT SEEMS MONTHS of lacklustre reading on my part, finally a book to be excited about, to quite literally – if embarrassingly to admit – smile and clutch at and to smell the pages, to run my fingers along the lines of text. It’s Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon, the New Yorker essayist’s ode to an American family’s life in Paris in the last five years of the twentieth century. I was reminded that I’d been meaning to pick up a Gopnik when I aurally stumbled across the last of his five Massey Lectures on ‘Winter’ on Radio National the other day (I’ve now got the book of the same title on its way in a shipment from the Book Depository; the Royal Mail can’t get it here fast enough!)
I’ll borrow a few lines from the book’s introduction, which not only capture the spirit of the thing, but rather well capture the spirit of the mode of writing – well, of living – that I love and hope myself to realise.
The stories are mostly about life spent at home and include a lot – some will think too much – about the trinity of late-century bourgeois obsessions: children and cooking and spectator sports, including the spectator sport of shopping. Yet life is mostly lived by timid bodies at home, and since we see life as deeply in our pleasures as in our pains, we see the differences in lives as deeply there too. (Page 14)
I looked for the large in the small, the macro in the micro, the figure in the carpet, and if some big truths passed by, I hope some significant small ones got caught. If there is a fault in reporting, after all, it is not that it is too ephemeral but that it is not ephemeral enough, too quickly concerned with what seems big at the time to see what is small and more likely to linger…
What then…is exactly the vice of the comic-sentimentalist essayist? It is of course to believe that all experience and history can be reduced to him, or his near relations, and the only apology I can make is that for him in this case experience and history and life were not so much reduced as all mixed up, and, scrambled together, they at least become a subject. (Page 15)