My Venice by Donna Leon is a book which appeals and lacks appeal for me.
A compilation of published articles
The book is a compilation of articles Leon has written for various European and American newspaper/magazine publications. She is an excellent writer with a superb grasp of word and phrase knowledge and manipulation, much like my favourite writer Rosie Dimanno of the Toronto Star.
Rosie Dimanno of the Toronto Star
A brief aside: I like Rosie and wish she would write a novel. She has written lengthy pieces for the Star, even some sports stories, but nothing that would be classified as a novel. I like her because she too has an amazing vocabulary and an outstanding ability to manipulate these words into surprisingly poignant or precisely targeted barbs. Unreservedly, Rosie is my favourite writer for current news commentary.
A surprising log of commentaries
Donna Leon is much the same. She surprises you with the unique ways she will present an idea, structure a phrase or word a particular comment. Always it draws a “Hmmm, what an interesting way to say that!” comment, at least it does from me.
Her commentary on Saudi society, on American obesity, on Hollywood cinema makes you give the topics second thoughts. He views on Italian men, interesting, on opera, engaging, on sexuality, debatable.
Because each chapter of the book is a copy of a previously written article, the book is ideal as bedtime reading, chapters are short, engaging, entertaining and you can stop reading at the end of one without being left hanging as in a novel.
Her photo says a lot
You won’t learn a lot from Leon, nor will your eyes be opened more to a way of thinking. Her writing simply entertains, her opinions draw your support more often than not. I found it strange that I seemed to be constantly drawn back to the cover photo of her sitting outside some Italian bar reading a newspaper as she sips a tea. I really was drawn to this photo. Look at her apparel, the particular jacket, the scarf, the ascot no less, the shirt and sweater and the seemingly excellent walking shoes. To me she smacks of an American writer who has transformed herself into an Italian intelligenstia, a true professore. Study the photo…it says so much. Look at the spectacles beside the cup. High magnification lenses, ear loops that would hold with sold assurance. The glasses say a lot on their very own. Look at the shoes…wow…these arent the epitome of fashion but you must get the idea that she eschews adherence to any fashion stratas, instead adhering to what is practical, comfortable and feels right to her. Laces too, not a few but 5 eyelets which means long laces. Very practical and look at the thickness of these shoes. Do you get the feeling she can walk for miles in these?
Look at the necklace. Simple, medium length, suggesting a no nonsense women. She has not abandoned femininity but she does adorn herself with unnecessary female adornments. Ditto the ring, a stone, yes, but it doesnt look elaborate, just appropriate
An earring, maybe, hard to tell…but in keeping with her overall style, if one is there, it is far from ostentatious.
The photo gives you the feel of the book
OK…how can this be a book review. IT IS…you can tell what kind of book this is by looking at the photo of the author. The image says it all. This is a very utilitarian compilation of articles much like the author’s apparel, all practical, purposeful, and appropriate clothing for what she needs and wants. She is out for a break, perhaps a walk, and wants a cup of tea…but this is a woman who prefers reading to people watching. People watching invites judgments and criticism of what you see. Reading, for Leon, does not so much. She savours words, like her tea. She tastes them, masticates them and swallows them. She does not linger on judging them as much as she just enjoys them, feels them. She can immerse herself in them and wrap herself in what she is reading as a woman would wrap herself in a fur coat, secure, warm, comforted. This is Leon as she reads the paper. And again her efficiency is foremost. Notice how the paper is folded for more effective and easier reading, not opened to sprawling open arms expanse, not folded over in half laid on the table or resting thereon. No, she just folds the paper part way so that it is easier to hold and chomps away at what she is reading.
There may be a purse beside her on her left. What do you think? Is there one on the seat? I doubt it a lot. Look at the pocket on the jacket. Doesn’t it suggest a sack sized pocket in which she can store a lot, her apartment keys, her portfolio with some money. This is a woman who would never suffer fools gladly. She can waste time, prefers not to. She wants to profit from everything she does, profit in the sense of getting every positive thing she can and she wants it with tea, not wine, not an ombra.
The final word
Her book is her. Read it. You’ll enjoy it as you keep referring back to the cover photo.