Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"I'd know you better if you told me what you reread": Tales of the City

"Dis-moi ce que tu lis, je te dirai qui tu es, il est vrai, mais je te connaîtrai mieux si tu me dis ce que tu relis."

François Mauriac


I'm having a bit of a stressful time at work. I've been put on a really crazy project with a really demanding client and I've been going to non-stop meetings and generally feeling anxious. I must have looked pretty harried after one of the meetings because my boss came up to me and said, "Look, it's OK to be stressed out, but don't lose sleep over this." So I went home, put aside Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell and took out Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin.

Tales of the City is one of my favourite books to read when I need to unwind. It's written in a flowy, breezy style that offhandedly says "laid back." The book's chapters are really short because it was originally written as a serial in a newspaper (can't remember which right now), so it takes about 5 minutes to read each chapter and it's not hard to find your place in the event that you're so tired that you pass out mid-read with the book on your face.

Tales of the City is about twenty- and thirtysomethings living in San Francisco in the late 70s: their work, their friends, their loves and their seemingly random interconnectedness. I went through this kick in the 90s where I really dug the whole 6-degrees-of-separation thing and sought out books and movies where several seemingly disparate storylines would eventually come together at the end. Unfortunately, the genre caught on in a big way in the late 90s and it was taken to such levels of crappiness and pretention (I'm looking at you, "Thirteen Conversations About One Thing") that I swore off the genre for good. But I still loveLoveLOVE Tales of the City.

TotC is so charming and funny and full of real life that it's just fun to read. It's easy to get transported into the world of these characters and I really care about the shitty time they're having at work and the bastards they date and the self they need to find. I also probably love this book because of the memories that I have of the first time I read it. I was in grad school in Montreal, it was summer and I would sit in Carré St-Louis and read TotC while watching the denizens of the park (squeegees and punks; business men and women; the homeless; kids playing hacky sack; students) do their thing while the wind blew through the trees and sprayed the water from the fountain. It was a really nice summer, the park smelled really sweet and I felt really good. I felt like the folks in the book: young, generally happy, but on a quest for True Love and Meaning.

So when I read TotC now, I'm not just reading an amusing, relaxing book; I'm remembering a time when my Universe was full of hope and happiness and carefreeness. And that is why I love Tales of the City.

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