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Occasionally, I Pass By Little Shops…

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Occasionally, I pass by little shops–in the rue de Seine, for example. Dealers in antiques or small second-hand booksellers or vendors of engravings with overcrowded windows. No one ever enters their shops; they apparently do no business. But if one looks in, they are sitting there, sitting and reading, without a care; they take no thought for the morrow, are not anxious about any success, have a dog that sits before them, all good-nature, or a cat that makes the silence still greater by gliding along the rows of books, as if it were rubbing the names of their backs.

Ah, if that were enough: sometimes I would like to buy such a full shop-window for myself and to sit down behind it with a dog for twenty years. — Page 45, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rilke

I too would like to own an antique bookshop for a chance to live like a ghost and have for friends dusty books and a cat. Perhaps that’s why this passage has stayed with me. But in its entirety, The Notebook is a masterpiece of literary hallucination. A man named Malte walks the streets of Paris, commenting on the sadness all around him. Rilke makes these amazingly visual sketches of the streets of Paris. It’s so vivid that you feel like you’re shuffling through a pack of photographs. Maybe that’s why reading The Notebooks feels like daydreaming. Then there’s the whole thing about a past he can’t let go, a past where people die and then show up at dinner table, a past of incestuous attractions, of strange intimacies. The book is creepy. But its also many other things.

The Notebooks is choppy. Sentences are stringed together as though in a hurry. Sometimes paragraphs have no single thought to hold them together. But then it’s a journal, not a novel. A journal of a man looking for himself on the far side of loneliness and memory.

Malte’s story is not everyone’s story. But that’s why most people will enjoy the book. There are very few books that do remembering right. The Notebook is one of them.

 

 

 

Make The Notebook one of your summer reads. Get a copy for one cent here.

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Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

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