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Paris. Some people are seriously in love and obsessed with this city, others just shrug, ‘eh’. No matter how you feel, just say “Paris” and you immediately think of something… you can’t help it. Like New York, this city is larger than life in our imaginations. It is steeped in history, significant to just about any subject you can think of. Fashion, military, architecture, movies, mathematics, science, etc.

I have not yet been to Paris, but I am determined to go. One day. Hopefully sooner rather than later. I used to be in the ‘eh it’s just Paris’ camp. I thought it’d be cool to see, maybe, if I got the chance. But now I am going to make a point to get there. My dream is to retire there – to sit in my teeny balcony and watch people walk by below me, to have bread and wine in cafés, to paint and dance into the wee hours of the morning, to just be eccentric and have Paris embrace and magnify those eccentricities.

The catalyst for my Parisian longings was Julie & Julia, a film based on the book by Julie Powell. (The movie was directed and screen-written by Nora Ephron, who died yesterday – a strange coincidence, as I had started this post yesterday, thinking of this movie) made by  I saw this movie, and while I wasn’t overwhelmed by the story, I thought was intrigued by the depiction of Julia Child and her French surrounds.

I had heard of Julia Child before, but didn’t know much about her. To learn more, I borrowed DVDs of her show “The French Chef” from my library.

You can watch all the episodes by checking them out at your local library or get a quick fix by downloading free episodes online. Julia is great in these and I wanted more of her… so I found her book, My Life in France.

It’s all about Julia Child and her time in France where she discovered, almost accidentally, her love for cooking. It’s a wonderful read, and paints a portrait of Paris in all its culinary glory.

There are a ton of movies produced and/or set in France, but one I’ve seen recently sums it up: “Paris Je T’aime. It’s a film made up of 18 short stories all set in Paris, done by different directors with different actors telling stories about Paris and the lives of its inhabitants. There’s also Woody Allen’s most recent, Midnight in Paris“, which presents a historical view of arts and culture in Paris, of which there is just. so. much.

One example is the literary scene in Paris in the 1920’s. Holy cow. Hemingway‘s writing grew up in Paris during this time. I’m not a big fan of his fiction writing, but his non-fiction is compelling. I’m reading his memoir of his time in Paris, A Moveable Feast. The counterpoint to this book is a novel called The Paris Wife, about Hemingway’s first wife, who was with him during the Paris years. This was a quick read, it’s not particularly well-written, but the story gives you a good overview of the Hemingways’ lives at that time.

The writers and artists that feature prominently in these books – Dos Passos, the Fitzgeralds, Pound, Stein, et al – were all impactful on arts and culture in the 1920s and have been since then.

David McCullough, a historian and writer, recently wrote The Greater Journey: Americans In Paris about Americans who traveled to France in the 1800s and were intellectually impacted by their stay there. I haven’t read it yet, but I have enjoyed other works of his and look forward to diving into this one.

Whatever it is that draws you to Paris, or even the idea of Paris, you are not alone. And until you can get there in person, you can pass the time by learning about its history, reading and watching movies about the people who have ‘found’ themselves, their calling, their passions there. While you’re at it, learn a new language.

No matter when you go, save your money for your trip… you can get all these books, movies, and language and music CDs at your local library, all for free.  !!

Copyright by Moyan Brenn

Why do people often shy away from short stories? Our attention spans have apparently gotten shorter, and many people looking for summer reading books made their picks based on length–-the shorter the better. So why has there not been a boom in collections of short stories, where we can pick and choose the length of time we want to dedicate to a set of characters?

Perhaps because we like to be friends with our characters. We need to slowly get to know the characters we’ll root for, cry over, laugh with (and at)… We don’t trust fast friends who overshare, and we don’t trust characters whose lives we jump in and out of, seeing them at their best or worst times.

But. Short stories don’t ask to be our friends. They show us glimpses into lives, many times our own. The brief, intense nature of a short story can be overwhelming, and there is often no closure for those feelings. We are left to deal with them on our own.

Because of that, short stories can resonate, creating stronger feelings over time and upon re-reading. They are they are vignettes of a time that tends to be timeless. The more you reflect on that story, the longer and deeper it seems to grow.

I recently read Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy. A friend and I were casting around for a book we could each read and then maybe talk about.. if we felt like it. We had tried to do The Pale King by David Foster Wallace a while back, but couldn’t get very far – DFW’s writing just being too tedious in this one. So I chose Both Ways, mainly because I liked the title. It reminds me of something by Raymond Carver, a great short story writer and creator of characters.

How can you not love a short story with a Beatles' song for a title?

I enjoyed Meloy’s collection of stories, and my friend did, too. He emailed me his thoughts about the book, and I really enjoyed HIS comments-–he agreed to let me share them with you. Thanks, Jonathan McNicol!

I just finished the first story in this book with the title with too many words, and I wanted to say a couple things about it. Things I liked and such.

I learned a word! Chinook. That’s fun, learning a word. According to Wikipedia, in the more Frenchish areas of the ‘interior west’ of the country, it’s pronounced more like ‘shinook.’

I liked when Beth asks Chet his name, and he says what it is, and then she, “nodded, as if that were the right answer.” That’s a nice touch.

There’s a part where they’re in the café, and it’s when Chet’s brought his horse, and the waitress comes out and asks if it’s his horse and if the cook can give it water and stuff. It struck me that in that little conversation, the waitress actually says things, things that go between quotation marks and everything, while Chet doesn’t. He’s just paraphrased that whole time, his words are turned into actions. That’s interesting.

I wonder how often writers do that and I don’t notice it. It’s interesting the way doing that makes the whole thing, the whole story more from Chet’s point of view. It’s like he’s not listening when he’s talking ’cause he knows what he means.

There’s a sentence near the end,

He gave them each another coffee canful of grain, which slid yellow over itself into their buckets.

‘Slid yellow.’ Just from the words, that’s basically meaningless. How does something slide yellowly?

But it’s perfect, and you picture it instantly, and you picture way more than she says there—sunlight and crisp dusty air and wrinkled glass in the windows. There’s this certain kind of detachment there; it’s like those Magic Eye things, the way you have to look past them to see them. That’s the way that is. ‘Slid yellow over itself.’ That’s good.

 And the thing that really hit me is the parts about the girlie magazines. The way Chet gets to know them better than he’d ever know a person and how in the new magazines, the girls are strangers.

That whole idea made me think… Ya know how there are things that you think about so much that you forget that you think about them? This is a thing like that for me: One thing that makes me sad about being a grownup is how limitless things are. Like, I can do whatever I want. I have all this stuff.

When you’re little, you just have the few things you have, and you don’t have a ton of choices about what you can do with your day. So, for me anyway, that meant that I got to really know all of my crap. Every square millimeter of the surfaces of things. All the little imperfections. The little raised plastic letters on the bottoms of things that announce the appropriate patent numbers and made-ins and whatever else. The way everything smaller than my hand tasted. The way it felt it my mouth. The way my tongue renders things as so much larger than they feel in my hand or look to my eyes.

I feel almost bad about the stuff I have now. Like I’ll never get to know it well enough. Like I’m doing it a disservice, being a bad friend to it. Like if I’m gonna keep up my end of these relationships, I need to just put my DVD player in my mouth and get it over with.

Jonathan certainly has a way with words, and so do most short story writers… maybe with some encouragement, my friend will turn out some short stories of his own. In the meantime, I’d highly recommend Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, as well as stories by Raymond Carver. I’ve heard Flannery O’ Connor is another great short story writer. And, I’ve started The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway… I’ve read one of his novels, and didn’t fall in love with him as a writer, but I’m giving his short stories a go. So far: one down, and it was pretty good.

Any short story authors, collections, tales you’d recommend? Any good reflections caused by short stories?

ALSO: If you care to join an online book group with me, Jonathan and a few others, we’re happy to have you!  Search Facebook for the Shoreline Book Group and join us! We’re reading Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.