Therefore, almost all of my reading is done while riding to and from work on the subway. I normally get a seat in the morning, so I can count on 30 to 35 minutes, and if I’m lucky enough to get a seat for part of the trip home, maybe about 15 or 20 minutes. Until recently, though, pretty much all of what I’d read were my travel and photography magazines and travel books.
A few months ago, something happened. I found myself without any magazines to read and with no travel books in mind. So, I did something I’d been wanting to do again: read fiction. In the past, I’d read science fiction by Arthur C. Clarke and works by Michael Crichton, plus classics like Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick and The Pickwick Papers. All of those took a long time for me to finish as I read pretty slowly. (I remember reading part of Pickwick in a train car in the bowels of a ship crossing the sea from Sweden to Germany in 1995 because I couldn’t find an empty chair up on deck – but what a great book!)
I’ve got a number of books here waiting to be read, so I decided to start with a good adventure: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was an enjoyable page turner. After that, I went back to a magazine or two, followed by another book: Chocolat by Joanne Harris, the inspiration for the movie of the same name some year ago. How I came to buy this book is a tale in its own right.
I have been a fan of the French actress Juliette Binoche ever since I saw her in the 1988 film, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. (Hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since then.) So, when she appeared in the Broadway play Betrayal in 2000, I just had to go to see her – and, of course, I had to try to say hello to her and get her autograph by the stage door afterwards. The show was good – and I remember how I sat up there in the balcony with my binoculars in a state of disbelief that I was actually seeing her for real. Afterwards. she was very nice and signed the program with her name and the words “amitie avec tendresse.” When I told her that I’d been a fan of hers since seeing Unbearable Lightness, she said to me “Oh, that was so long ago.”
Something else happened that was unusual. Often, it seems, a well know actor in a Broadway show will have someone assigned to accompany or look after him or her. (I like to refer to this person as “the handler.”) I haven’t tried to get autographs much after Broadway shows (to be honest with you, I haven’t seen many Broadway shows; they’re generally too expensive for me!), but when I have, most of the time the handler won’t allow anyone to take photos of the star.
With Ms. Binoche, it was different. I asked her if I could take a photo of her, and she agreed – and her handler did not raise any objections. The photo at the top here is the result. I think it looks pretty good for a photo made on the street with a point & shoot camera on a cold night. The handler even took a photo of Ms. Binoche and me standing together – but unfortunately he happened to focus on the building across the street behind us, so she and I were almost a total blur!
Ah, about the book. This was around the time that she was starring in the film version of Chocolat, so when I saw it at a bookstore with her photo on the cover (along with Johnny Depp), I thought that I’d go back with it to the theater one night and get it autographed, too (and maybe try for another photo?). Well, I never did go with it to the theater, but it was sitting on my shelf for over half a dozen years when it finally got to be read.
The book was enjoyable and I can recommend it, and it was interesting to compare it with the film version that I finally got to see on DVD several years later. The film follows the basic plot line of the book, but with one major difference. (Note: spoilers ahead.) Those of you who’ve seen the film will remember that the protagonist’s major rival is the strict, religiously obsessed Catholic mayor of the town, while the new young priest is basically a cool guy who’s afraid of disagreeing with the mayor. In the book, though, there is no mayor. It is the somewhat older priest who’s the real hard ass here. Not only that, he harbors a dark secret in his own past and his predecessor in the post was a nasty piece of work, too. Who knows for what reason changes are made when a book is transposed to the screen, but I wonder if this was done to avoid drawing the ire of Catholics. In the film, the mayor is ultimately shown to be a decent man who is really just misguided in his religious zeal. In the book, that really can’t be said of the antagonists.
What’s next? Right now I’m back to my travel books to prepare for my upcoming trip. After that? Well, I still have some Jane Austen, James Joyce, Henry James and Charles Dickens et al sitting on the shelf – but I just might try digging into that old yellowing copy of Alistair MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra that I’ve had for so long!