Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Meeting of April 25th 2016


Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Linda, Michèle, Shirley were all present, all members of our Book Club were with us. Jane hosted and we had some wonderful cheese, a nice variety of crackers, wonderful compotes and jellies.

Our book this month was The Memory Chalet By Tony Judt, Michèle's choice.  Tony Judt was born London in 1948 of secular Jewish parents who were British Citizens.  He did a B.A. at  Cambridge, then a year at l’École Normale  Supérieure in Paris and then obtained a Ph.D. in History from Cambridge in 1972 specializing in French History.  He taught at several colleges and universities in England and the U.S. before settling in New York in 1987.  He is known for his academic books, essays and he was also a frequent New York Review of Books.


In early 2008 he was diagnosed with ALS and he died in late 2010,  two years after being diagnosed. The Memory Chalet was published after his death.  The book is a memoir,  some saw it as a diary, of his most vivid memories of childhood and life as a student and a young professor. Since ALS robbed him of the ability to write or even type, he would during the night write whole stories in his head and "park" them in one of the rooms of a Chalet he had been to with his parents as a child. In the morning he would retrieve them and dictate them to an assistant.  The idea came to him from Jonathan Spence's book The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci in which Spence describes a method used by European scholars for centuries. Matteo taught the Chinese the Western memory technique which was to associate ideas with images and locate those images in fixed spatial relation to one another.  Hence the Memory Chalet with different rooms that could be filled with memories. 

Most liked the book and found Judt's excellent writing allowed us to visualize the experiences he was describing such as his neighbourhood Putney; Paris as a student in the late 1960's when students were protesting everything and anything; his experience in a kibbutz and his reflections on the positive and negative impact on his life.   He was very honest about and insightful about his life and experiences. We were impressed by the detail of the information he was able to provide, all from memory.  We felt that the preface was just long enough to allow us to understand ALS and how it affected him and then he barely mentionned it through out the chapters describing different aspects of his life.  He finishes with a reference to trains, his favourite mode of transportation.
"We cannot choose where we start out in life, but we may finish where we will. I know where I shall be going nowhere in particular on that little train, forever and ever."
Several of us reflected on the idea that it was his way of seeing eternity. Trains were his favourite place to be.

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