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Silk (thoughts) and Delurking

January 15, 2009

1% Well-Read Challenge“Silk” by Alessandro Baricco is a tiny book, definitely a novella. It’s technically ninety-one pages long, but since many of the pages aren’t covered in text, I’d guess it’s no more than fifty pages of actual reading. And the writing style is quite straightforward, meaning this is an easy one-sitting story. And this is good news for all of you, since you definitely need to read it. Why? Because it’s magical.

First of all, Baricco’s style is beautiful: lush without being fussy, it draws you in from the very beginning. Here’s the opening:

Although his father had pictured for him a brilliant future in the army, Herve Joncour had ended up earning his crust in an unusual career which, by a singular piece of irony, was not unconnected with a charming side that bestowed on it a vaguely feminine intonation.
Herve Joncour bought and sold silkworms for a living.

Don’t you already want to know what happens with Herve? Anyway, the best way I can think of to describe the book’s style is that if a poem and a fable could have one night of glorious (unprotected) passion, Silkwould be the result. Baricco’s use of repetition is one of the best I’ve ever seen. And he crafts his words, his pages, his entire story, with the attention of a poet rather than a novelist. Here’s the rest of the book’s first page:

The year was 1861. Flaubert was writing Salammbo, electric light remained hypothetical, and Abraham Lincoln, beyond the Ocean, was fighting a war of which he was not to see the finish.
Herve Joncour was thirty-two.
He bought and sold.

As if it wasn’t enough to have wonderful style, Baricco also manages a wonderful plot and vivid, quirky characters. There’s Helene, Joncour’s wife, who has long black hair that she never puts up and the most beautiful voice. There’s Baldabiou, Joncour’s mentor, who plays pool himself, keeping his hand behind his back to differentiate sides. There’s Madame Blanche, a highly successful owner of a draper’s shop and a brothel, who wears little blue flowers around her fingers like rings.

These characters and more are drawn together by the effect of a disease infecting silkworms that causes Joncour to travel-at first to Syria and Egypt, later as far as Japan. The result of those travels shapes Joncour’s life, and the lives of those around him, but you’ll have to read the book to see how.  And the ending is one those “OMG, I need to talk about this right away” delicious moments of reading, so you really should read it soon.  As for me, I’m in absolute awe of Alessandro Baricco, and I shall be searching out more of him quite soon.

Now for the delurking part! It’s been going around the blogosphere that it’s National Delurking Day, or Week, or whatever, and of course I’m curious about who’s reading my blog that I don’t know already, but I wasn’t going to say anthing, because I think lurking is perfecly fine. But then I read Nymeth’s post, and it tempted me too much. So, if you’d like to come out of the woodwork, consider this your invitation! Tell me your favourite author, or your favourite hot drink, or if you can listen to music while you read, or if you think there’s something inherently complementary between cats and books. ;) And of course if you have a blog, tell me so I can come visit!

40 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2009 9:18 am

    Hello! I love your comment idea :) My favorite authors: Dumas, Austen, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Margaret Atwood, Murakami (new favorite), Alice Hoffman….I’m sure there are tons of others but I’ll stop now :) My favorite hot drink is definitely coffee…slightly sweetened with a bit of milk. But if I splurge I like chai, white chocolate mochas, anything caramel (caramel americano mmmm), and simple english breakfast tea. And I listen to music while reading on the subway. I always put it on shuffle and read (unless a particular artist is calling to me to listen to). At home though, I don’t listen to music while reading.

  2. Christina permalink
    January 15, 2009 9:36 am

    You may have just sold me on this book – looks very enticing and I can’t wait to add it to my 100 books of the year ( I do blog my progress at “Stacked”)

    Favorite authors: Maugham, Tolkien, Austen.
    Hot drink: Tom & Jerry
    Music: I’m a dancer, so music is distracting, although I occasionally will put on some classical (low volume) if the book is of the appropriate period or I’m trying to drown other noise out. No problem tuning out the noise of the subway though!
    Cats & books: never really thought about it.

  3. January 15, 2009 9:39 am

    Hi! I’ve been enjoying your reviews and updates for a while now. I read (and lurk) too many bookish blogs. All while sipping some Earl Grey tea.

  4. January 15, 2009 9:45 am

    I don’t lurk here – I’m an active commenter! But I love LOVE Christina’s comment: “I’m a dancer, so music is distracting.” It sounds like an intriguing first line of a novel, don’t you think?

  5. January 15, 2009 10:14 am

    Care: Maybe I can work it into my fake novel “Sapphires and Switchblades”!

    It’s somewhat difficult to focus on what you’re reading when you’re also choreographing in your head though.

  6. January 15, 2009 10:20 am

    Music can be on while I read, but I don’t listen to it. If I’m engrossed in a book, I can block out everything else.

  7. January 15, 2009 10:43 am

    I don’t comment often, but I’m a regular reader and really enjoy your blog.

    I’ve moved ‘Blogging My Books’ to ‘Whimpulsive’ so you might want to update your blogroll.

  8. January 15, 2009 10:47 am

    I just found your blog, but I must say that your review of “Silk” has definitely caused me to add it to my TBR pile (which is definitely long enough as it is… so thanks for that! ;) ). The snippets you posted definitely demonstrate a lyricism to the writing that I think I’d really enjoy, so I’m mentally noting it as one to try out in the future. (I’ll note that if not for your review, I probably never would have given this book a single glance!).

    Favorite author? Definitely Jane Austen. Hands down, no questions asked.

    Favorite hot drink? At the moment, I’d say peppermint tea, but I wouldn’t be opposed to something chocolately. Or hot apple cider! Mmm…

    I can listen to music when I read, although if it’s a more difficult read I’m tackling, I’ll opt for silence so that I can really focus and sink into the story.

    I’m a dog person, so I’ll not speak to whether books and cats go hand in hand. I have a snuggly mutt who’d beg to differ!

  9. January 15, 2009 10:48 am

    Favorite authors: Jhumpa Lahiri, Jon Krakauer, Russell Banks, Kate Atkinson, Abigail Thomas …

    Make it a skinny latte for me! And iced green tea in summer.

    I prefer non-music for reading or music in the background. I would find it hard to listen to music with headphones and read. I listen to music while cruising through the internets though.

    A connection between books & cats: absolutely!

    Delurking to say: you have a great blog here.

  10. January 15, 2009 11:08 am

    Silk sounds great, I’ve added to my library reservation list

  11. January 15, 2009 11:19 am

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile but am not sure if I’ve posted before. You are in my google reader so I follow your posts. I just started my blog this past summer, please stop by and visit!

    I have many favorite authors and like to read with jazz/classical music on in the background or just quiet.
    I love Rooibus Vanilla tea (Celestial Seasonings Vanilla Red Madagascar is my fave) and coffee!

  12. January 15, 2009 11:20 am

    If you liked Silk, try Novecento… I enjoyed it a lot.

  13. January 15, 2009 11:30 am

    “Anyway, the best way I can think of to describe the book’s style is that if a poem and a fable could have one night of glorious (unprotected) passion, Silkwould be the result.”…Okay, how is a person to resist a description like that?!! Library, have this one on your shelves, pretty please!

  14. alirambles permalink
    January 15, 2009 12:58 pm

    Silk sounds wonderful, thanks for writing about it! I just placed a hold on my library’s copy.

    Favorite authors: Michael Cunningham and Ron Carlson.
    Favorite hot drink: Irish breakfast tea with milk and sugar, or a caramel mocha.
    Music while I read? Yes, but I usually don’t choose it.
    Cats and books? Absolutely.
    Blog? Yes. Several, actually.

  15. January 15, 2009 1:02 pm

    I’m glad you read Silk because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it or not. I read Barrico’s book Ocean Sea many years ago and remember liking it but I need to re-read it. I think this year will be a big year of re-reading because I’m down to impressions on some of the books I read about 10 years ago. I have no recollection of what the premise of some of these books even was!

    I’m not really a lurker but I will tell you that I love chai and peppermint hot chocolate and I can listen to music while I read but I have to remember that I will then remember the link forevermore (OMD Singles and Frankenstein in 8th grade … can’t read or listen to one without vivid memories coming back of the other). And I think that my cats think that some link exists between them and books — they have to sit on me while I read and one of them likes to sit on paper and books.

  16. January 15, 2009 1:19 pm

    This book sounds wonderful. Your description motivated me to read some additional reviews online and I didn’t find any that didn’t gush about it. Apparently a movie was released in 2007 starring Kiera Knightley. The movie reviews were pretty bad though so it sounds like this is a “stick with the book” kind of story.

  17. January 15, 2009 1:53 pm

    I comment, right? I’m not sure.

    Favourite authors? Paul Auster, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Alice Hoffman, Haruki Murakami.

  18. January 15, 2009 2:02 pm

    I read this years ago and recall enjoying it quite a bit. Just saw the movie, and Jenifer is right; this is definitely a stick-to-the-book story.

    Like Debi said, your description of this one is wonderful and irresistible. I love the combination of poetry and fable… ;)

  19. January 15, 2009 3:08 pm

    Truthfully, I guess I am more of a lurker than a commenter. Guess I’ll have to stop that!!

    Favorite authors: probably too many to name, but here are a few. Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Jodi Picoult, Thomas Hardy…..

    Favorite Hot Drink: White Chocolate Caramal Cappacino.

    The only music I listen to while reading is classical. A little Mozart soothes me…anything else is just too distracting!

  20. musingsfromthesofa permalink
    January 15, 2009 5:25 pm

    I loved Silk but it has been years since I read it. I’ll have to get a new copy. The repetition made it seem as though it would be a great story to read aloud, sort of Homeric.

  21. Jenny permalink
    January 15, 2009 5:46 pm

    My cats are always sitting on my open books, trying to become one with them, so yes, I do suspect something inherently complementary there.

    Delurking to say thank you for the wonderful blog!

  22. January 15, 2009 6:04 pm

    Great post and so I will stop lurking :) I love so many authors…let me see. Austen, Picoult, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, and many many more.

    I’m really into Spiced Chai right now!

    Music? It tends to distract me.

    For some reason I always connect cats and books!! I loved the book Dewey!!

    My Blog

  23. January 15, 2009 6:05 pm

    for some crazy reason that link didn’t work.


  24. January 15, 2009 11:45 pm

    I’ve heard so much about this one! And now your review of it has made me officially decide to read it. Can’t wait! And I’m delurking ;) Totally kidding, lol.

  25. January 16, 2009 2:53 am

    Hmmm, I seem to be posting rather a lot of these de-lurking posts just recently. Probably means I should stop being quite so shy and just comment a bit more! Lol

    Favourite authors- Thomas Hardy, Toni Morrisson, Margeret Atwood and Anne Rice( bit of a shameful secret that one!)

    I don’t like hot drinks of any kind. You’re perfectly entitled to think i’m strange, everyone else does!

    I hate cats, but I love books so I really hope theres no inherent connection. Lol.

  26. January 16, 2009 1:21 pm

    Amanda, love your answers. :) I don’t listen to music while I read at home either!

    Christina, I have no clue what a Tom & Jerry is, lol. And what a clever name for a book blog!

    Olduvai, Early Grey is an old favourite of mine. :D

    Care, it does sound like the first-line of a novel!

    BermudaOnion, I can block out movies, but not commericials or music. Weird, huh?

    Suzi Q, I’ll update it soon! Your new blog name is too cute.

    Steph, I love Jane Austen too. :D And I hope you enjoy Silk!

    Sherry, I love iced Jasmine tea in the summer. :) I haven’t heard of Abigail Thomas, but I really like Jhumpa Lahiri and Kate Atkinson, so I’ll have to look into her!

    Katrina, yay-hope you like it!

    Bonnie, I’ll definitely come visit. :D My roomie drinks that Celestial Seasonings tea, and every time she makes it I want it too!

    Alessandra, I definitely will-I’m so jealous you get to read him in Italian. :D

    Debi, lol-I hope your library has it :D

    Ali, I just had Irish breakfast tea this morning! It goes really well with Soy milk, while most of the teas I drink need rice milk instead.

    Kristen, you do want to read Silk, you do, you do! j/k I link food and books together the way you link music an dbooks. :)

    Jenifer, having read the book, I can’t imagine how or why Keira Knightley would be cast, much less how she could star in it. Weird.

    Michelle, you comment. :) I’ve only read one book by Doris Lessing-The Fifth Child-and it’s kidna weird.

    Melanie, thank you!

    Stephanie, oh Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint!! I love them too. :D

    MusingsFromtheSoda, I completely agree with you-it did remind me of the old epics with all that repetition. And it definitely had a rhythm.

    Jenny, my cat always hops in my lap when I’m reading a book, so I think there’s something inherently connected too. :D

    Staci, I loooove chai! Since I stopped drinking coffee, chai has replaced my beloved mochas.

    Chris, awesome-I think you’d really like it!

    Jo, lol-you’re the first blogger I’ve ‘met’ that hates cats! and al hot drinks! But I don’t think you’re strange. ;)

  27. January 16, 2009 3:31 pm

    Well I just found your blog recently and have been lurking around but don’t fear that won’t stop me from commenting soon enough. I love coffee, hot chocolate, dogs and books. I like way too many authors to list. lol.

  28. January 16, 2009 5:17 pm

    I’d heard of Silk before, but I’d never heard much about it. It sounds gorgeous.

    As far as the delurking goes: my favourite author is Guy Gavriel Kay, my favourite hot drink is hot chocolate, I often listen to music while I read, and I think that animals of all sorts are complementary to reading. I often read in the company of my (tiny, cat-sized) dog.

  29. January 16, 2009 8:36 pm

    I haven’t read any of his work, but I have his novel, City, on my stacks. I hope it’s as good as Silk!

  30. January 17, 2009 6:40 pm

    This sounds like a wonderful book. It seems to have so much going and yet in a few pages.

  31. January 18, 2009 4:45 am

    Darlene, thanks for commenting! And I sympathise-my favourite authors list is as long as my arm. :D

    Memory, I love hot chocolate…as well as tiny, cat-sized dogs. ;)

    Andi, I haven’t heard of City, but I’m off to find out what it’s about!

    Iliana, it really is.

  32. January 21, 2009 11:54 am

    National Delurking Day? (lol) I have no one favorite anything. As odd as that sounds, I don’t. I am the moodiest person I know. I could love something one day and not the next. I feel this way about everything.


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