I'm in the midst of reading Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary for (gasp!) the very first time. How I missed reading a classic such as this in my expansive liberal arts education, I don't know. But I did. And now I'm making up for it. I could tell you that I am fueled by some passion for the classics but the truth is I kind of struck a deal with a writer friend of mine, whose favorite book this is, and am trying to make good on my end of the bargain. I'll be taking a respite from my reading this eve to head down to the downtown Borders (trivia: Borders started in Ann Arbor) for a reading by a very different writer indeed, the lovely and amazing Jhumpa Lahiri. She is, perhaps, about as different a writer as you can get from Monsieur Flaubert, even if both are given to plumbing the depths of human unhappiness within the family structure. If you haven't read her stuff, you may have seen the film The Namesake, based on Lahiri's debut novel and featured either Harold or Kumar is, of course, of course, not nearly as good. It doesn't count. You must still read the book.
It has been, in fact, a long time since I read and was instantly drawn to a writer the way I was when I first read Lahiri's short stories. (An exception may be Junot Diaz who, I was delighted to hear, just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction yesterday for his novel The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.)
Lahiri is a spare writer, somehow achieving a balance that I find infuriating to accomplish: rich emotion without sentimentality. How? HOW, I ask you? I do not know. It is my hope, however, that if I go and bask in her presence and listen to her share with us her own written words, it will somehow rub off on me and I will become an equally magnificent writer through nothing other than proximity.
It could happen, right?