On the Banks of a River

On the banks of a river, the Erdre to be specific, there is a park bench. It is solidly placed in concrete, unable to move a millimeter. The front of the bench is so close to the river that the bench becomes part of the river, the water laps the feet of the unsuspecting sitter if the river is high. It is perfect for me. My legs are short and my feet dangle safely above the water. It is here that I am drawn into worlds, worlds others have created, worlds that I have yet to create.


As the water gently taps the concrete base of the bench, as the ducks mutter among themselves, as the rowers row back and forth, back and forth…I am reading. I am thinking. Of course, I only go to the bench when it’s a nice day out (which means that it’s not raining which means not very often – it rains a lot in Nantes!). But here, I have discovered an utter sense of calm and a curiosity…The bench is engraved with names, hearts, quotes, bad words, but mostly names and hearts. Who are these lovers? What did they see on the edge of the river? And where are they now? Are they together “forever” (as engraved on the bench) or have they drifted apart like two twigs in an opposing current?


I have read several books lately. One was in French, the other two were in English. I would like to recommend them for the curious. The first is Le Mur by Jean-Paul Sartre (in English, “The Wall”). In high school or college, someone did a presentation in one of my French classes on the book and I’ve wanted to read it ever since. So, when I saw it at the library, I picked it up. It was, grammatically, an easy read. But the concepts and ideas? They were quite challenging! The book is set up as several short stories and these short stories all feature characters who find themselves in interesting situations. I strongly recommend this book. It requires a lot of thought, especially about one’s existence and basically all of the notions you believe to be true!


The Illumination was written by Kevin Brockmeier (who also wrote The Brief History of the Dead, another highly recommended book). This book has several short stories that are connected by a journal, a journal of phrases that a man writes to his wife every day. This is occurring at the same time as the mysterious “illumination” in which all physical pain emits a bright light for the world to see. What happens when the world can see our pain? I like Brockmeier’s writing style in this book and he has a very interesting concept – this combination made the book quite enjoyable.


The book I devoured yesterday (literally devoured, I finished it in one day – I couldn’t put it down) was You are Not a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett. It is a collection of short stories focused on lives changed by loss and is a book I would recommend for anyone interested in mental health issues or people looking to go into a mental health profession. Haslett has a unique style of writing that allows him to explore characters with a wide range of histories, mental disorders and social struggles. I was drawn in by these vivid characters and I couldn’t stop reading it.


These are books I’ve read on the bench, these are books that have inspired me to think about issues, about struggles, about our existence…and, for me, that’s what a good book does. It inspires you to think and to make your own conclusions. Are these the best books ever written? Are these books the most well-known? Maybe not, but I enjoyed them nonetheless and I recommend them for anyone looking for an entertaining read.


I know that I have more books to read and I know that my bench awaits me, but I am drawn into a breath-stopping reality. I leave France on May 31st. In two months, I will be thousands of miles away from the bench, thousands of miles from the ease of accessing French books, and thousands of miles from a beautiful country and people.