Alibis

When I set to read a book that I plan to review, I come at it a little differently than just reading for fun.  I make notes, mental and written, about style or themes that I want to mention in the review.  And I dogear pages that have a passage I want to quote.  Sometimes I don’t end up using them, if they give away the plot, for example.  But to look at one of my books from the edge is sometimes amusing, with all the uneven corners.

Alibis is one of those books that I ran out of page corners to turn down.

André Aciman has put together a series of inspired essays.  They are about place and memory, and one’s self in relation to them.  It has a bit of philosophy in it, but the reader is so engrossed in the essays themselves, there is nothing didactic about it.  Aciman is not lecturing us, only sharing his experiences.  In do so, he reveals nuggets of truth that apply to us all.

The opening essay, Lavender, strikes a particular chord.  It begins with his recollection of his father’s scent, but at its core is really about familiarity.  Here, he writes about the empty lavender scent bottles that he cannot part with.

The bottles are stand-ins for me.  I keep them the way the ancient Egyptians kept all of their household belongings: for that day when they’d need them in the afterlife.  To part with them now is to die before my time.  And yet, there are times when I think there should have been many, many other bottles there — not just bottles I lost of forgot about, but bottles I never owned, bottles I didn’t even know existed and , but for a tiny accident, might have given an entirely different scent to my life.  There is a street I pass by every day, never once suspecting that in years to come it will lead to an apartment I still don’t know will be mine one day.  How can I not know this — isn’t there a science?  ~Pg. 9

Home and its importance for self-identity is another theme.  He also muses how this affects the writer.

A hidden nerve is what every writer is ultimately about.  It’s what all writers wish to uncover when writing about themselves in this age of the personal memoir.  And yet it’s also the first thing every writer learns to sidestep, to disguise, as though this nerve were a deep and shameful secret that needs to be swathed in many sheaths.  Some don’t evenknow they’ve screened this nerve from their own gaze, let alone another’s.  Some crudely mistake confession for introspection.  Others, more cunning perhaps, open tempting shortcuts and roundabout passageways, the better to mislead everyone.  Some can’t tell whether they’re writing to strip or hide that hidden nerve.

I have no idea to which category I belong.  ~ Pg. 87

Here again, even as a writer, Aciman is unsure where his home lies.

I loved following Aciman’s wanderings of the mind.  It’s enjoyable, not daunting.  I highly recommend this book.  Keep it handy or when you need a quiet few minutes of thoughtful, intelligent reading.

Many thanks to Picador for the review copy.
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Picador
November 2012
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9781250013989
ISBN10: 1250013984
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 208 pages

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