Sunday, June 29, 2008

Petite Anglaise

Someone asked me how many books I read in a year. The truth is that I have no idea (it’s somewhere between “lots” and “holy cow”), so as my New Year’s Resolution (along with Be Tidier and More Patient and Buy a House and Get a Real Job and Knit a Sweater) I decided to keep track.

I bought a little Moleskine notebook (so long, Resolution #45, Spend Less Money) and started writing them down.

Well it’s almost July now and I just finished book #117, Petite Anglaise by Catherine Sanderson.

“Petite Anglaise,” if you don’t know, is the name of a blog. I am new to the whole blog writing thing myself, but I have long been a fan of blog reading. For one thing, you can read blogs wherever there’s a computer. In the library when you’re supposed to be writing a paper! At home when you should be cleaning the bathroom! And as much as I have heard people sneer at blogs, the truth is that there’s some darn fine writing out there.

Anyhow, “Petite Anglaise” is the nom de blog of Catherine Sanderson, an expat Brit living in Paris. (I am an anglophile. An unrepentant one.) She had all sorts of Parisian adventures in life an love on her blog, and eventually wrote a book. I like reading the published books of my favourite blog authors. I’m interested in how the two formats are different, and how they come down to the same thing: people, and writing, and reading, and life. It’s also nice to have a good big chunk of someone’s writing – blog entries are usually quite short, but a decent-sized book will take up a whole Saturday.

Petite Anglaise, the book, was pretty good. I don’t necessarily care for the way she writes – it’s not terribly fresh, a little precious and stilted here and there – but for some reason I really enjoy the blog and I liked the book too. I think it’s a question of voice. Sometimes my students ask me what voice means – it’s hard to explain. Here’s the best I can do: voice is like sitting down with your friend after a long absence and catching up. You hear the way she tells the stories, you see her eyes as they share the details with you, and you don’t care that an idiosyncratic turn of phrase is a little off because she’s your friend and that is the way she speaks. So although I’ve never met Ms. Sanderson and probably never will, I enjoyed the book and I enjoy the blog and I’ll buy whatever she writes next, too.

My favourite part, if you’re wondering, was her descriptions of Paris. I love hearing people talk about something they have a passion for– she loves Paris with a heartbreaking love and now I do, too.

“Although the air was still crisp and cold, the sky was a cheerful periwinkle blue, and birds chirped in the branches above…I decided on a whim to take a stroll. Narrowing my eyes, blocking out the cars parked bumper to bumper along the curbside, and substituting the tarmac for cobblestones, I imagined I was walking through a village, far from the capital. Belleville was full of surprises: cul-de-sacs of terraced houses with walled gardens hidden in the shadow of high-rise apartment buildings, private courtyards filled with greenery concealed behind heavy double doors, one- or two-storey structures that had once been farmhouses or workshops….”

Good stuff, Petite.

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