I started listening to Parisian Lives on the third of July and only just finished it. That’s almost three full months of interrupted listening, mostly in my car. But also while doing the dishes and grocery shopping.
A couple of things struck me about this book.
Firstly, I didn’t know what I was expecting going in. I’ve never been much into reading biographies, let alone autobiographies. But due to my recent interest in feminist memoirs and the “women writing women” idea, I’ve been diving into a lot of non-fiction. It surprised me to see that this book is semi-autobiographical and semi-biographical of the two Subjects Deidre Bair wrote about in her first two biography books – Samuel Beckett and Simone De Beauvoir. It contained equal parts an examination of Deidre Bair’s own life and struggles and her writer jitters and apprehensions when meeting literary giants; and an equal part her interactions with her Subjects, their reactions, and reasons for allowing her into their lives, the doors they opened and closed for her, the way they wanted themselves to be remembered and not. So it was quite the satisfying read.
Second, I wanted to know more about the lives of these two people. They are philosophers and interesting ones. Absurdism and Feminism. Both interesting worlds. So it was a nice introduction to their lives. Something the author says struck me as the perfect reason to read a biography – her goal has always been to make it so that the reader of her biographies whets their appetite for the Subject’s work and after finishing the book, dives right into the published works of the Subject. That’s what this book did for me. Though I’m wont to meander my way through some other works before carrying on with the “original” strain of thought I was following (I’m listening to Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott now instead of digging into either of the Subjects’ works), I do see this book as an important milestone for me to dive into more philosophy and also into more “women writing women”.
Third, and this is something I noticed in Figuring by Maria Popova, I love and hate that the final chapter in such books is chock full of “homework”. No where does Deidre Bair mention so many names, so many influences and inspirations for her Subjects as she does in the Final Chapter. In Figuring too, the final chapter had me taking copious notes and marking multiple books as “to be read”.
Deidre Bair says at one point that she writes the introduction at the end of her book writing arc, because she wants to summarize why the reader should read the book. This explains so well as to why I despise reading introductions. Once I’ve picked up a book, I want to quickly get to the meat of it, not keep navel gazing upon why I should be reading it. So I skip the introduction. But the final chapter, oh I need to keep coming back to it. This is partly why I dislike audiobooks. For all their convenience, there’s no way for me to highlight passages and make good notes. Oh well. Trade offs.
Overall, loved this book. It was unexpected and yet exactly what I needed in my reading journey.