New Reads


Haussmann or The Distinction / Writers on Writing

It’s been a while since I shared what I’m reading, as seeing as how I’m supposed to be blazing through two books a month this year per my 26 in 26 list, I thought it was time. I’m almost finished “Haussmann, or The Distinction” and to say I’m in love would be an understatement. I don’t want to get off the subway when my stop comes, because the book is so beautifully written and I can’t bear to put it away. “Haussmann” (which my French teacher reminded me is pronounced without the h) opens with the author, Paul La Farge, explaining how he discovered a tattered old copy of the first publication of the book by an obscure and forgotten author named Paul Poissel in a French library, and that La Farge has done his best to translate and modernize the text in this reproduction. Only Paul Poissel never existed. According to the author’s Wikipedia page, the entire thing is an elaborate conceit, which at one point had its own (now defunct) website dedicated to the life, work, and death of “Paul Poissel.” More:

The entire website functions as satire, including, at one point, the accusation that the American author “masquerading” under the French name “La Farge” had the audacity to put his own name on front cover, as if he was the actual author. Other parts of the website include quotations, such as an excerpt from a 1934 letter Walter Benjamin “wrote” to Gershom Scholem, in which he makes a deeply complicated observation about Poissel, and also MP3 files featuring early archival “recordings” of Poissel’s voice, reciting (in French) portions from his own “works”.

I mean, is that not the most quirky and fantastic thing you’ve ever heard? I so wish the website were still active. On his own (real) website (complete with a copyright in the footer crediting the site to Paul Poissel, ha!), La Farge tells the story of how “Haussmann” came into fruition. The entire story is worth a read, if not for how buoyant it will make your heart feel, but for this line in particular:

I worked on ‘Haussmann’ for five years. I never changed the first paragraph.

I am fascinated by the creative process, particularly the experience of writers writing. Partly because oh right!, I’m writing a book (sometimes I have to remind myself of this fact or else I tend to put it off), and partly because hi, my name is Erin and I have a serious reading addiction. If it has letters and words and at least one of them is worthwhile, I’m reading it (kidding. my standards are a bit higher). I devoured “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott, which provided insight into the daily grind of coping with the little voice inside of you never shutting the fuck up with its flowery prose about absolutely everything, and also potentially making a living off of it, and so I was thrilled over the weekend to pick up a copy of “Writers on Writing.” It’s a collection of essays by some pretty amazing writers: E.L. Doctorow, John Updike, Elie Wiesel, Jamaica Kincaid. Perhaps because the essays are all short, the tone changing every few pages with a new author, that it feels more like a staccato than a legato (and yes, I totally googled “what is the opposite of staccato”) and is why I’m having trouble really latching on to it. I’m still enjoying it. Writing is one of the most singular pursuits there is when it comes down to the act of actually writing (writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so I concede you have to interact with other people to gain any sort of inspiration), and I don’t know, I kind of feel like the new kid at school who finally finds a group of people who totally accept and understand him when I read books like this. These are my people. (Also, yeah right, Saul Bellows wouldn’t even sneeze on my manuscript, but it’s fun to pretend).

What are you guys reading? Any hot plans for the weekend? It’s my mom’s birthday today! We’re having dinner in her honor tonight. Happy birthday, Moo! I won’t tell anyone how old you are, I promise.

7 thoughts on “New Reads

  1. Oh, happy day to your mom! Have a wonderful time tonight (no gin?). Your book sounds like great fun and reminds me of one I started, liked and put down, so of course I can’t remember the name. I’ll get back to you. I’ve been mostly re-reading lately (being sick does that to me), but I just downloaded Going Clear by Lawrence Wright, which is about Scientology, not a juice cleanse. Love behind the scenes peeks like that. Happy weekend, dear. XO

  2. happy birthday to your moo! the haussmann book sounds really intriguing. i think i was going to add that to my reading list last time you mentioned it and i didn’t. must do so this time. i am reading “the true story of a part-time indian” which should take me maybe the rest of the day to get through, so i am going to have to pick something else after that!

    lauren – i heard an npr interview re: that book with the author. sounds really interesting but that kind of thing kind of freaks me out. you will have to let us know what you think.

    happy weekend! xoxo

  3. Happy birthday, Mommy Moo! For some reason, I keep imagining your mom as Linda Rodin – all stylish and brimming with wit.
    Now that you’ve devoured Bird by Bird and give it your thumbs up, I really want to read it. Will you send me your copy? I’ll send you something of mine. I’ve got Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. We’ll do a book swap. ;)
    Have the best time celebrating your mum tonight, and also have a wonderful weekend!
    Oh, Tball, celebrating a birthday this weekend, and reading a spiritual book. Same ol’.

  4. Happy belated birthday Mommy Moo! Hope you had a great dinner yesterday!

    I am reading Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann right now and am halfway through. If I have a good week and a good book, I’ll read one book per week. The Haussmann book sounds like a good read. I have missed my bus or subway stop or even gotten on the wrong subway when I was reading a great book. Sometime I just forget the world around me and be in my own little book world…Enjoy your weekend! I have no plans this weekend, which is good…xx

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