Book Review: Proust’s Overcoat (Foschini)

July 11, 2010

*ARC alert*

Proust’s Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini will be released on August 3, 2010 by Ecco, a division of HarperCollins (Hardcover, $19.99, 144 pages with black-and-white photographs throughout).

This is a toughie for me, because I’ve never read anything by Proust or taken a particular interest in him. Thus, I can’t honestly say that Proust’s Overcoat: The True Story of One Man’s Passion for All Things Proust held much for me. So just as a heads-up, my lukewarm response in this case is not necessarily because the book is bad; we’re just incompatible. I’ll try to be fair.

Proust’s Overcoat is just as the subtitle suggests– a true story detailing Jacques Guerin’s quest to collect and preserve the worldly possessions of his favorite writer years after the man’s death. Among these is Marcel Proust’s famed overcoat, which he used as a blanket while he wrote in bed. Somewhat surprisingly, Guerin’s quest is necessitated and made more difficult by Proust’s own family, who seem ashamed of their deceased son and brother and actively seek to destroy his mementos, especially his handwritten notes, letters, and creative works. Guerin is introduced into the family and the story by Robert Proust, Marcel’s brother, by sheer coincidence– R. Proust, a doctor, is called to Guerin’s bedside and operates to save him from appendicitis. From there Guerin is on a steep learning curve when it comes to Proust and his surviving relations. Apparently the fact that Proust was gay, a shared trait which made him all the more interesting to Guerin, was a large part of his bourgeoisie family’s determination to limit his legacy. Another possible factor is that he was an eccentric writer in a family of doctors. Regardless, Guerin pursues Proust’s memory in spite of the family disapproval, the culmination of his collecting efforts being the overcoat.

From the spare, factual prose to the littering of relevant photographs throughout the book, Foschini shows her beginnings as a journalist (relatively unknown here in America, living in Italy as she does). She nevertheless shows a passion for her literary investigation and for Guerin’s story, and the obvious respect with which she handled a somewhat fanatic man’s life work is touching. Though Proust’s Overcoat is short, it is a work which brings to light a good deal of little-known information about Proust himself and the man responsible for the survival of his physical memory. I wouldn’t recommend it to those who aren’t fans of Proust, but if you do like his work this could be an interesting trip into his life and his impact.


Book Review: The Animal Review (Lentz, Nash)

May 5, 2010

*ARC alert*

Throughout history, humans have been studying their fellow animals and judging them in various ways- these are good to eat, we kill those, this one makes a good pet. But Jacob Lentz and Steve Nash, operators of the Animal Review blog, had another question- are these animals even any good?

The answers are in in this 144-page gem that serves as a report card for some of Earth’s most beloved and reviled species. It mixes hilarity with fact to provide a learning experience you’ll never forget- personally, I think that their analogy between sea cucumbers and people will remain burned into my brain until the day I day. This book will make you reexamine your opinions on every animal it lists- yes, pandas are going extinct, but have you ever considered that they might deserve it? And are hippos, which make adorable stuffed animals, really the serial kilers of the animal kingdom?

The Animal Review is especially perfect for reluctant readers who might need a little help in biology, or anyone who is bored on a rainy day. It’s a brief read packed with laughs that also manages to educate- and a surprising number of the jokes turn out to be scientifically accurate. If you’re still not sure, check out the blog link above for a free taste of what these two biology wizards can do.


Book Review: Crécy (Ellis, Caceres)

February 19, 2010

No, that most definitely isn't a peace sign.

“…hundreds of years from now, no-one’s going to understand. No-one will understand how much of their modern warfare comes from this night and this field.”

Warren Ellis, my good sir, you are right. Because before picking up this gem of a historical graphic nonfiction, I had never heard of Crécy. But I have now. Oh, have I now.

This book is unforgettable. It is the most enthralling account of any piece of history that I have ever read. It is crude, disillusioning, and not peppered but liberally salted with all manner of offensive language. You will not believe in chivalry after reading this book. It is pretty funny, though.

Charming.

We are taken through our journey in learning about this most definitive battle by a longbowman peasant by the name of William of Stonham. He is “a complete bloody xenophobe” with a mouth so foul it would put “I’m On A Boat” to shame. He isn’t a nice man, and you won’t fall in love with him like you sometimes do with characters. In his

own filthy, perverse way, though, he’s… charming.

Primarily, Crécy examines exactly how the British underdogs were able to invade France, carve up the countryside for a while, and then take a stand at Crécy and absolutely massacre the French army in August of 1346. And I am not exaggerating when I use the word massacre. The figures our good William presents us with in the last few pages are jaw-dropping. It’s a rather incredible picture that is painted for us.

So if you can handle the distinct “M” rating, I would definitely recommend this, whether or not you like history. Four stars.