My old, inherited, paperback copy of Les Miserables


I started reading an old paperback version of Les Miserables a few days ago. I'm not a fast reader by any means, but I'm a pretty smart reader. For the most part I can see symbolism, recognize poetry in prose, and appreciate what a challenge it is to write well. I have a list of books and/or authors whose work inspires my own. I own many books of authors whom I have not yet read and I am ashamed and insecure because I have not read them. I know of many authors, but I only truly know a few. Salinger is a favorite. David Schickler's "Kissing in Manhattan" is the first modern book I've loved. Rilke's poetry unravels me. Dennis Miller makes me cry.

But until now I had not read much of Victor Hugo. The sheer mass of Les Mis was enough of a deterrent for me to wait until my 30s to read it. Usually I have no less than 6 books I am reading at any given time, and LM looks like it requires commitment. Like I said, I am not a particularly fast reader because I drink in words and sentences. I try to look up words I don't know. I read a passage several times either to be sure I understand it, to see a deeper meaning in it, or to admire the thought put on paper before me.

The version of the book I have belonged to my father who passed a little over 4 years ago. He was an avid reader, a man much smarter than I, and this book is full of evidence of him. Inside the front cover there is a note to get the speed boat serviced and the water line leak checked. Words are underlined throughout so he would remember to look up their meaning. Sometimes passages that touched him are underlined. It means a lot to me to be able to go through and see what was interesting to him. It allows me to still get to know him better, and that means the world to me.

Last night I came to chapter 12 "The Solitude of Monseigneur Bienvenu" (which is still very, very early in the book). I was assaulted, sentence after sentence, by some of the best-formed writing I have ever read. In a rant against what men call "success," this piece surfaced and punched me in the nose:

"We live in a sad society. Succeed -- that is the advice which falls drop by drop from the overhanging corruption."

Absolutely fantastic.