I’m currently reading Nothing to be Frightened of by Julian Barnes, and it’s incredible. I’ll need to write a post about it after I finish it.
Throughout the book Julian Barnes quotes and references many famous authors, philosophers, and thinkers from history. One of the people that he quotes and discusses most often is Jules Renard. He quotes many snippets from Jules Renard’s journal, and all of them are fantastic. So much so that it made me log on to Amazon and order The Journal of Jules Renard before I had even finished the Julian Barnes book. Now I’m reading both, and they compliment each other wonderfully.
The blurb on the back of the book is from the man behind my favorite podcast (KCRW’s Bookworm), Michael Silverblatt:
“You are holding a secret book, which influenced many great writers. I received it first from Donald Barthelme who received it from Susan Sontag. Once you have found it, you will find again and again that many of the writers you love have read it. Renard’s way with the detail is unforgettable. I have never forgotten the starfish placed like a badge on a little boy’s swimsuit at the beach, his baby arms and legs wiggling like the starfishes. Renard writes about spiders, about the moon, and the poetry he makes from the things his eyes tell him is joyful, particular-the world in a detail.”-Michael Silverblatt, Bookworm, KCRW Radio
Here is the description from the book jacket:
Spanning from 1887 to a month before his death in 1910, The Journal of Jules Renard is a unique autobiographical masterpiece that, though celebrated abroad and cited as a principle influence by writers as varying as Somerset Maugham and Donald Barthelme, remains largely undiscovered in the United States. Throughout his journal, Renard develops not only his artistic convictions but also his humanity, as he reflects on the nineteenth-century French literary and art scene and the emergence of his position as an important novelist and playwright in that world, provides aphorisms and quips, and portrays the details of his personal life-his love interests, his position as a socialist mayor of Chitry, the suicide of his father-which often appear in his work.
The edition I bought just came out this month, and is greatly abridged from Renard’s original journal. It’s 300 pages, which is down from the 1200+ pages of the 1960 English “compact” edition. This edition includes the gems of the entire journal, his thoughts of life and writing mainly, among other things. Long personal histories and events in France from the time period were removed. Normally I don’t like abridgments, but I’m ok with it in this case.
I’ve loved every bit of the Journal so far. Here’s one of my favorite parts, right on the first page of the Journal:
“Talent is a question of quantity. Talent does not write one page: it writes three hundred. No novel exists which an ordinary intelligence could not conceive; there is no sentence, no matter how lovely, that a beginner could not construct. What remains is to pick up the pen, to rule the paper, patiently to fill it up. The strong do not hesitate. They settle down, they sweat, they go on to the end. The exhaust the ink, they use up the paper. This is the only difference between men of talent and cowards who will never make a start. In literature, there are only oxen. The biggest ones are the genuises – the ones who toll eighteen hours a day without tiring. Fame is a constant effort.”
A few more favorite lines:
“To lie watching one’s mind, pen raised, ready to spear the smallest thought that may come out.”
“This evening, memories are using my brain as a tambourine.”
I’m glad I discovered both of these books. I’ll post more about them when I finish them. I highly recommend picking either or both of them up next time you’re in a bookstore, and flipping through them to see if it’s something you might enjoy too.
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