Good heavens, I have seriously fallen out of my reading habit. I used to read one or two books a month and now I find my mind far too preoccupied to read half as frequently. A tad bit ironic how I had to leave the corporate world to come to understand the real meaning of work, sweat and labor and no, I wouldn’t trade it for a million shining jewels but alas, it is high time to get back into reading.
Are you reading enough? I don’t mean news articles, blog posts, or the stuff in that Inbox. I mean real solid books – or virtual ones that come on your iPhone, Kindle (loved reading Dumas on the Kindle) or iPad or favorite electronic gadget. Books with a beginning, middle and an end. Books that have always been the basis of all education and knowledge, among other things.
One of the oldest traditions of our time, the act of reading is not just pure pleasure but one smart habit to cultivate. Consuming books leaves us more educated and informed, opens our eyes to a new world, expands our horizons and fills our mind with new ideas. Stephen Covey, one of my favorite voices in leadership authority and influence, advocates first reading a book a month and then working up to a book a week! I feel ever so behind – so many books and oh so little time in such a short lifetime.
Good thing that at some point, my cravings for reading become too strong to tolerate any excuses. Do you crave reading too when you miss periods of time without it?
Reading is the best pastime for the mind! If you like to see more book reviews, check In Print.
If you have been reading Prolific Living for a while, you know that I do deeply personal book reviews here (72 so far!). Why? Well, to highlight the best of what appeals to me in each book, to articulate on the emotions evoked, to seek a deeper understanding of life from the richness of literature, and to find a way to tie it all into the present and impart what I learn to you, my darling readers!
Between leaving the 12-year career behind, preparing for the speech at Blogworld, and creating products and services around the blog, I squeezed in one (blushing from embarrassment) book in the last 2 months: Michelle Moran’s “Madame Tussaud”
In February, I flew cross-country to Los Angeles to meet the amazing and authentic Michelle Moran on the debut of her book on “Madame Tussaud”. I first fell in love with Moran when she opened me to the world of Ancient Egypt and Roman Empire times through her fabulous books (links here go to those deeply personal reviews, not to Amazon) Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen, and Cleopatra’s Daughter. Moran’s story telling takes hold of you and her writing voice captivates you to the point where you put stops on all other things in life and turn the pages obsessively until you finish the story.
Michelle Moran’s books are so good that they can easily turn into a serious productivity hindrance but the sweet pleasure that follows is well worth it!
In the case of Madame Tussaud, sweet pleasure is not the exact way I would describe my reaction to this grim and deeply sad book on the life of the wax sculptor, Anne-Marie (née Grosholtz) Tussaud. While I am beyond pleased to have read it, I knew this was Moran’s darkest book yet and even so, nothing could have prepared me for the horrors of the French Revolution and the intensity of the anarchy that follows during Madame Tussaud’s lifetime.
Moran’s perspective on the French Revolution and the Royalty, as described through the eyes of Marie Tussaud, draws an immediate parallel to the Iranian Revolution for me. Just as in France of the 18th century, the voice of a few in Iran found a platform to blame and condemn – key ingredients to history’s revolutions! – the Royalty for all the misfortunes of mankind and spread the false notion that a “revolution” – rather, a dictatorship driven by self-interest of manipulative minds and evil spirits – will solve all the problems of hunger, poverty, and a declining nation. The crimes of these revolutions, the sanctions of torture and murder in the name of “freedom” and “liberty”, leave the most articulate among us speechless. More than 30 years later, there are few Iranians who do not feel bitter regret over what happened to a thriving nation that once aspired so much hope and optimism.
Alas, we do not learn from history. We repeat history. Over and over and over. We always shall.
Madame Tussaud, the book: It is the year 1788, Marie Antoinette is the Queen of France, and the French Revolution is just a few years away from happening. The story starts in the Salon of Marie Tussaud and her uncle Curtius on the Boulevard du Temple. Moran develops the novel brilliantly as she takes us through the daily life of Marie Tussaud and shares her amazing talent at turning wax into real life figures. The Salon provides a way for Marie and her mother to live while her brothers serve the King’s Swiss Guard. Marie’s high ambitions finally grant her the biggest wish of all, to be recognized and come to develop a relationship with Queen Antoinette herself.
Marie Tussaud might just be one of the best-developed characters in all of Moran’s books. I thoroughly enjoyed Moran’s portrayal of all the encounters between Marie Tussaud and the royal family. She gives us a side of the royalty that was human, caring, sincere and caught between a rock and a hard place. Those encounters at Versailles with the King and Queen are however very short-lived.
Terrible change is the one constant in every turn of Marie’s life and each time crisis shows up at her doorstep, she manages it with unreal resilience – anywhere from holding a severed head in her hands, as ordered by Robespierre’s “Revolutionaries”, in order to create a wax figure on the spot as the crowd cheers to visiting the Madeleine Cemetery to find the specific severed heads for additional wax figures to going to the battleground where the hundreds of Swiss Guards were brutally murdered, and looking in the fest pool of blood and horror for what may be the remains of her brothers. After all the services that she rendered the executioners of the Revolution, when she could no longer tolerate another task, she was sent to prison, had her head shaved ready for the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. Luck comes to her rescue as Robespierre fell and the Reign of Terror at long last came to an end and thus she was spared the guillotine but alas, some 17,000 others were not so lucky.
Somewhere along the way, Marie falls in love with Henri who, smart and savvy that he was, flees Paris in pursuit of some sense of happiness and freedom. Marie makes the choice to stay with the salon and her mother and uncle, a choice she regrets bitterly later in life. Years later, the two are reunited and live out the rest of their lives together as they were meant to do so all along.
Such was the life of one of the greatest sculptresses of our time when she was creating some of her best masterpieces. Can you begin to imagine the character that it takes to wake up and live through such a life? I simply could not.
I am beyond impressed by Moran’s depth of knowledge on history, by the intensity of her plots, by the thoroughness of her character development, and by the spinning and weaving of a story that is best told only through her writing voice.
Would I recommend it? It depends what kind of experience you seek in your reading. I seek experience from many sides of the spectrum and historical fiction, done the right way, fills a curious gap and leaves me wanting more. That and this was a fantastic read, despite the heaviness of it all.
One thing is certain. I am back to reading again and I urge you to read and read often because:
… stimulates the mind.
… educates and enlightens.
… makes you a better writer.
… touches the heart.
… evokes emotions.
… fills you with new ideas.
… gives you shifts in perspective.
… keeps your brain sharp and active.
… makes you a better person.
So tell me: What are you reading lately? And on a more personal front, how do you choose what to read?