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I began my life as I shall no doubt end it: among books. In my grandfather’s study, they were everywhere; it was forbidden to dust them except once a year, before the October term. Even before I could read, I already revered these raised stones; upright or leaning, wedged together like bricks on the library shelves or nobly spaced like avenues of dolmens, I felt that our family prosperity depended on them. They were all alike, and I was romping about in a tiny sanctuary, surrounded by squat, ancient monuments which had witnessed my birth, which would witness my death and whose permanence guaranteed me a future as calm as my past.

I used to touch them in secret to honour my hands with their dust but I did not have much idea what to do with them and each day I was present at ceremonies whose meaning escaped me: my grandfather (so clumsy, normally my grandmother buttoned his gloves for him) handled these cultural objects with the dexterity of an officiating priest. Hundreds of times I saw him get up absent-mindedly, walk round the table, cross the room in two strides, unhesitatingly pick out a volume without allowing himself time for choice, run through it as he went back to his armchair, with a combined movement of his thumb and right forefinger, and, almost before he sat down, open it with a flick ‘at the right page’, making it creak like a shoe. I sometimes got close enough to observe these boxes which opened like oysters and I discovered the nakedness of their internal organs, pale, dank, slightly blistered pages, covered with small black veins, which drank ink and smelt of mildew.

Jean-Paul Satre, Words (1964).

To keep in line with the French ‘air’ that has been featuring rather heavily on the blog lately, I thought the excerpt from Jean-Paul Satre would be a good choice for today’s Friday Feature. 🙂

And if you think Satre’s grandfather is endearing in how he goes about his bookish ways, you will love what Satre has to say about his grandmother. We’ll save that for next week’s Friday Feature, shall we? 😉

 

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5 thoughts on “Friday Feature : On A Frenchman and His Books

  1. What a fascinating picture he draws of his grandfather, and books. I grew up with books, but they weren’t dusty old volumes like those of Sartre’s grandfather – they were (and still are) much more domestic objects, living things, that were read, and carried about from room to room…

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    1. Looks like you grew up in a pretty fascinating household yourself. I think I prefer to picture your books as living, domestic objects rather than those dusty old volumes of Sartre’s grandfather. 😉

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    1. I know the feeling, it was the same for me when I was in Prague. I was dropping in on every ‘antikvariat’ I could find, and how I did wish I could read Czech then (or whatever other foreign language it was that filled those shelves!)

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