Reading Notre Dame

Vision of Notre Dame: a sketch by Victor Hugo

It has to be the worst possible reason to have a bestseller. In the wake of last week’s devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel Notre Dame de Paris – perhaps better known to English speakers as The Hunchback of Notre Dame – has climbed to the top of the charts.

One unforgettable passage in particular has grown more even more poignant. As the cathedral doors are stormed by would-be-pillagers far below, the hunchback Quasimodo lights a bonfire high atop the tower, heating molten lead. What follows is one of the novel’s most terrific moments:

“All at once… a howl …rose among them. Those who did not cry out, those who were still alive, looked. Two streams of melted lead were falling from the summit of the edifice into the thickest of the rabble. That sea of men had just sunk down beneath the boiling metal, which had made, at the two points where it fell, two black and smoking holes in the crowd, such as hot water would make in snow. Dying men, half consumed and groaning with anguish, could be seen writhing there. Around these two principal streams there were drops of that horrible rain, which scattered over the assailants and entered their skulls like gimlets of fire.  The outcry was heartrending. They fled pell-mell, hurling the beam upon the bodies, the boldest as well as the most timid…

All eyes were raised to the top of the church. They beheld there an extraordinary sight. On the crest of the highest gallery, higher than the central rose window, there was a great flame rising between the two towers with whirlwinds of sparks, a vast, disordered, and furious flame, a tongue of which was borne into the smoke by the wind, from time to time. Below that fire, below the gloomy balustrade with its trefoils showing darkly against its glare, two spouts with monster throats were vomiting forth unceasingly that burning rain, whose silvery stream stood out against the shadows of the lower façade. As they approached the earth, these two jets of liquid lead spread out in sheaves, like water springing from the thousand holes of a watering-pot. Above the flame, the enormous towers, two sides of each of which were visible in sharp outline, the one wholly black, the other wholly red, seemed still more vast with all the immensity of the shadow which they cast even to the sky.

First page of Hugo’s manuscript, which resides in the Bibliotheque Nationale.

Their innumerable sculptures of demons and dragons assumed a lugubrious aspect. The restless light of the flame made them move to the eye. There were griffins which had the air of laughing, gargoyles which one fancied one heard yelping, salamanders which puffed at the fire… And among the monsters thus roused from their sleep of stone by this flame, by this noise, there was one who walked about, and who was seen, from time to time, to pass across the glowing face of the pile, like a bat in front of a candle.

Without doubt, this strange beacon light would awaken far away, the woodcutter of the hills of Bicêtre, terrified to behold the gigantic shadow of the towers of Notre-Dame quivering over his heaths.”

Victor Hugo, savior of Notre Dame.

For Hugo, this desperate defense of the ancient edifice was of more than historic interest. His novel sought to promote the value and preservation of the great cathedral, at a time when the ideals and excesses of the French Revolution had stripped bare much of the building’s gothic majesty, and many favored razing Notre Dame, an unwelcome relic of a bygone age. Hugo’s efforts led to a massive restoration project, which included that magnificent wooden spire that toppled in flames before the stunned eyes of millions last week. The novel is itself a powerful testament to the power of architecture, not to be missed by any fan of vivid historical fiction.

       ~ posted by David W.

If You Liked Where the Crawdads Sing

With its lyrical descriptions of nature and tempestuous love story, Delia Owens’ evocative debut novel Where the Crawdads Sing (a current Peak Pick selection) has taken the literary world by storm. If you enjoyed it, or if you’re still waiting for your reserve copy to arrive, here are some similar titles you might enjoy.

Aldo Leopold’s classic A Sand County Almanac is one of the books that Owens says inspired her to write her novel: “After university, I spent much of my adult life studying wildlife in some of the most remote regions of Africa. Living in those far reaches of the earth inspired me to wonder if I could write a work of compelling fiction against the backdrop of a wild and wonderful place. To combine Leopold-inspired nature writing with a (hopefully) page-turning plot. Where The Crawdads Sing is my attempt at such a dream.” Continue reading “If You Liked Where the Crawdads Sing”

Money Smart Week: Get Started Investing for Retirement Now – It’s Really Not Hard

Judy Hucka, editor of the BetterInvesting Puget Sound Chapter Newsletter is our guest blogger today. BetterInvesting is a national, nonprofit association whose mission is to provide sound investment information, education, and support to help create successful investors. Instructors are volunteers and receive no monetary or financial payment or gain from your participation. BetterInvesting and the Puget Sound Chapter offer in-person and online classes for beginning, intermediate and advanced investors. For more information about BetterInvesting: www.betterinvesting.org.

OK, OK, you’ve probably heard this before. But it’s important! According to the U.S. Government Accounting Office, about half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings—and up to two-thirds of workers may not have saved enough to maintain their standard of living in retirement.

You can start now to improve your chances of being in the one-third who do have enough to be financially secure when they retire. Continue reading “Money Smart Week: Get Started Investing for Retirement Now – It’s Really Not Hard”

Seattle Reads: An Interview with Thi Bui

In celebration of Seattle Reads 2019, Jess Boyd spoke to Thi Bui about her award- winning graphic novel, The Best We Could Do (TBWCD), the 2019 Seattle Reads selection.

_________________________________________

An Interview with Thi Bui
by Jess Boyd

Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do is a story that moved me, my family and my community. It gave voice to feelings and frustrations that I had yet to articulate and acted as a medium to bridge generations and countries.

The story is a multigenerational saga told through Bui’s past and present selves. Bui generously shares herself at different moments throughout her life, as a child, as a sibling, as a new mother, allowing us to see the far reaching ripples of war, and the way that those ripples can become waves that carry people across oceans.

Jess Boyd: Where was the birthplace of your creativity?
Thi Bui:
I have to take a moment to allow myself to accept the compliment embedded in this question. “Ya not creative!” shouts my inner Viet.

Okay, it’s good now. I remember making things and daydreaming when I was a kid as a form of escape. Whether I was escaping my drab physical environment or tense emotional environment, I’m not sure … maybe both? It’s not like that anymore but that was how being creative started — first as an escape and then as a rebellion.

Why is it important to remember and reflect on the past?
We apes learn slow and we keep having to learn the same lessons over and over again. History keeps us humble and it also lends us perspective. Continue reading “Seattle Reads: An Interview with Thi Bui”

2019 Reading Resolutions

Image of two shelves of booksIt’s the end of December, a time when many are setting New Year’s Resolutions, although I personally prefer to just go with a list of goals. Whatever your terminology, perhaps you’re considering a reading resolution? If you’d like to undertake one but you’re unsure where to start, here are a few ideas:

BY NUMBER
Image for Goodreads 2019 reading challengeThe most basic reading resolution of all is to simply set a target number of books to read over the course of the year. Perhaps consider how many you read last year, and go from there. You could choose the same number, or increase the number to challenge yourself. Continue reading “2019 Reading Resolutions”