In 2004 when I was studying at the Institut Catholique in Paris's Latin Quarter, I caught a bus that took me across the Pont Alexandre every morning. Among the oh-so-many sites I passed was the gauge that records the high-water marks whenever there's a flood. I'd seen it from the river, back when I was a tourist taking a boat ride, and remembered a mention of the water being up to the neck of one of the bridge's huge statues, but I knew little about the various crises wrought by the Seine.
So when I saw Jeffrey H. Jackson's Paris Under Water (How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910), I thought it was time to rectify my lack of knowledge, and make this Book #4. Here's the blurb from the author's website:
At the turn of the twentieth century, Parisians believed they lived in the greatest city in the world.
But Paris came to a halt in January 1910 when the river that provided much of the city’s life quickly became an instrument of destruction. Following weeks of torrential rainfall, the Seine overflowed its banks flooding thousands of homes and sending hundreds of thousands of people fleeing for safety and higher ground.
This most modern of cities seemed to have lost its battle with the elements.
But in the midst of the disaster, despite decades of political division, scandal, and deep tensions between social classes, Parisians rallied to help one another and rebuild. Leaders and people answered the call to action in the city’s hour of need. This newfound ability to work together proved crucial just four years later when France was plunged into the depths of World War I. What emerged from the waters, and from the war, was the Paris we know today.
The Paris we know today? I guess the people of Paris, yes, to a certain extent, but the city, the way it functions? Not quite, and while that wasn't a stated promise of the book, it was one I'd hoped for and probably the reason I didn't fully connect with the book. I wanted to know more about what had been done to ensure Paris wouldn't face this type of catastrophe again, and while there was a little of that, I didn't feel the book was completely wrapped up. The information it imparted (even if some of it felt padded) was plenty (who knew the water would be bubbling up from the sewers?), but I didn't feel an emotional connection. Except for the information on Issy-Les-Moulineaux. Maybe because for almost 2 years I worked in a building on the Ile St-Germain, right on the Seine, and spent far too much time contemplating the many peniches (barges) that passed by every day. It's more a working-class community, and I could see how it would have suffered terribly during the flood. Overall though, for a book about the Seine, I prefer Mort Rosenbaum's The Secret Life of the Seine. 3 out of 5.
Next up was the latest Stephen King:
I came across 11.22.63 when I was searching for a recent book on JFK. I admire Stephen King a lot and think his book On Writing is a must-read for any writer, but I don't keep track of his releases for one reason: he scares the shit out of me. In fact, I pretty much had to give up reading horror books when I was 10 and Salem's Lot gave me nightmares. I tried again years later and while I thought It was outstanding, I was once again terrified and resolved to leave my Stephen King consumption to movies and mini-series based on his works (especially if they feature Rob Lowe) because I found it easier to turn them off if I was getting too freaked and tune them out. Which gives you an idea about how powerful I find his written storytelling.
But when I saw the premise for 11.22.63 (ordinary guy gets the chance to go back in time and stop the Kennedy assassination), I instantly bought the book and, when it arrived a week later, instantly started to read. That was 2 days ago and I have to say right upfront: 5 stars. Simple as that. This book is a master class in writing commercial fiction. I often had to put my hand over the text so I didn't read ahead, I was that anxious about what was going to happen. And how often do you wake up at 2AM thinking "Ok, so this has happened, and how's he going to handle that happening, and what was that clue about?" Not very often for me, at least not for a long time. I was totally enthralled: because it was set partly on Sebago Lake, because we saw some of the characters from It, because the people in Jodie reminded me a little of Friday Night Lights, because of the sweetness of the love story. And then there's the Kennedy aspect. Yes, I am aware this is fiction, but it's fiction based on fact, and we all know the world was more trusting and security much more lax back then, which just might have made it possible that some nasty little fucker could have killed the most powerful man on earth and forever changed the world. 11.22.63 made me question my long-held belief that surely there had to have been a conspiracy. I love books that entertain, inform and make you question, so yeah, 5 out of 5.
My next question is much simpler: which book will be #6?
London is the Best City in America by Laura Dave, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, or Caprice Crane's latest, With A Little Luck? I chose these out of the stack of books that arrived yesterday for 1 reason only: they're relatively short, and I don't have the brain capacity to handle another 734-page book just yet. I was going to read Race of a Lifetime, because Keris and Ms Mac said it was awesome and they're awesome, but I'm going to need a buffer between political books. And I'm kinda in the mood for a little NYC, so I'm thinking it'll be N&N up first. But then, I love Crane's writing (and it doesn't hurt that this one got a cover quote from Diablo Cody, whose Young Adult I saw last week--making that View #3 of the year--and who I think is a phenomenal writer) and the other books about a roadtrip and I love roadtrips and.... <g>
Leaving you with a shot of Libellule Kitten. I call this one "Oh Hai There!" or "You didn't really want to use the computer, did you?"