“I’ll make you another bookcase, I’ll make you two, but that’s not what you need. In six months you won’t have anywhere to put your books. You need another apartment, you need a bigger space.” That’s what the gentleman who helps me says, from time to time, when I have problems in the house, when I want to change something in the apartment and I have no idea where to start. Of course he was right. I have books everywhere, even on my armchair, and on the sofa.
Why a text about books when so many books are published and so few are read? Why is it that, at a big bookshop in Bucharest, in July, for every two books you bought you got a third one for free? Or that, in the 21st century, some authors are banned in several US states?
I’ve always considered them my best friends. I had a few when I was growing up at home. But I would borrow from a few neighbors who would get good novels “under the table”. But I had to read them quickly, it didn’t matter if they were hundreds of pages long. I would sit with them between the covers of the textbooks and sleep two or three hours a night, forget to eat, forget to talk to my parents, and they would leave me alone on the pretext that I had to study.
Books gave me other spaces where I could desperately escape from a reality that sometimes hurt too much and would suffocate me. There were a few years when my universe was in the reading room of the Central State Library on Doamnei Street, a place where I went religiously at eight in the morning and stayed until closing time and where I forgot about the world outside, about food, I was like Alice in a wonderland. The smell of that library will always be one dear to my memory.
Saint-Exupéry wrote: “If you want to build a boat, don’t nag people to gather wood, don’t draw them tasks and don’t give them work, but rather talk to them about the endless immensity of the sea”. The endless vastness of the world, of life, of the imagination, books have brought it to me. The more I read, the more I discovered other territories, other universes, other possibilities, and life became bearable. Bearable because I was discovering the nostalgia of a different future, somewhat similar to the richness of the Baroque, but this time a Baroque of the future, with a human spirit, with art, with that “bird” that many have lost; with style, with peace and quiet, with infinite potential.
My living room is now my world, my universe, my library, it holds almost everything, in small, sophisticated, jewel-like bottles or contained in books.
Of course, there are others, like perfumes. I’ve developed a passion for them, I collect them, I adore them, I overlay them, I read about them, I surround myself with them. When I got married, I only wanted one gift: a certain French perfume, from Guerlain. I wore it for six years in despair, I was in love with it as I would later fall in love with a man, two, three…
Only one other perfume competed with it, one I had in a bottle too small for how much I loved it. And, as with those really good things, often, it’s gone. It remained only in my memory, in my involuntary memory, like Marcel Proust’s Madeline. Maybe that’s what makes it so special, too.
Coming back to books, I do, of course, read the books necessary in my work. But I also read a lot of novels, stories, poems. It baffles me when I hear someone say they don’t read novels. I keep silent, I look confused, I don’t understand.
The great books of the world shape our way of thinking, our vocabulary, help us develop our imagination, our creativity, our sensitivity. We fall in love with one character, suffer with another, loathe the character of a third, learn from the next.
I like to think that every interaction with a book produces something in us, that that journey, those characters we meet make us become more polished, more sophisticated, more thoughtful, more creative, more sensitive, more knowing.
To be more concrete, here are some of the books that have impressed me in the last two or three years, in random order:
Narine Abgarian – Three Apples Fell From the Sky
Hanya Yanagihara – To Paradise
Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Ease of Being (Reread)
Jane McGonigal – Imaginable
Mihai Radu – Repetition for a Better World
Anthony Doerr – All the Light We Cannot See
Elif Shafak – 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World
Alessandro Baricco – Novecento
Suleika Jaouad – Between Two Worlds
Isabel Allende – Maya’s Notebook
Frances Miralles, Angeles Donate – A Tea at the End of the World
Martin Lindstron – The Ministry of Common Sense
Bob Johansen, Joseph Press, Christine Bullen – The Office Shock
Annie Ernaux – Simple Passion
Phil Knight – Shoe Dog
If I had to name a few authors whose books I adored, I would mention Marcel Proust, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Michel Tournier, Marguerite Yourcenar, Camus, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Bukowski, Mario Vargas Llosa, Antonine Maillet, Manuel Mujica Lainez, Blaga, Marin Preda; and among business authors, I would list Manfred Kets de Vries, Steven Pressfield, Malcolm Gladwell, Herminia Ibarra, Esther Perel, Brene Brown and Rita McGrath.
Which books or authors have impressed you?”