Friday, 9 May 2008

The Best Love Story Ever: Great Summer Reading

“The best love story I ever read,” I found myself saying last night as I led the first of a series of book discussions in an assisted-living residence not far from where I live. The Outremont library is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week and part of the festivities involve a number of activities bringing the library into the community. The Résidence Outremont, on the top two stories of a five story office and apartment building on a major shopping street, is home to about three dozen people with an average age in the 80s.

Head librarian Christiane St-Onge and I thought the works of François Gravel, who also lives in Outremont, would be a good place to start talking about books with the residents. She arranged for multiple copies of the writer’s many books be checked out to the residence several weeks ago. The idea was that the women—and they were all women last night—would have a chance to read at least one book each and we’d discuss from there.

But obviously the idea wasn't quite grasped and only two of the 20 women who showed up had read one of the books. So I found myself winging it a bit, essentially giving synopses of several of Gravel’s books, rather than guiding a discussion as I had prepared to do.

Gravel, a former junior college economics teacher, has written about 10 books for adults, plus twice that many books for children and young adults. The heart of his adult work lies in a trilogy about the Filion family. They are very ordinary people whose circumstances improve during the second part of the 20th century, and whose lives reflect the great changes which took place during that period. The stories are small scale though, intimate, funny, tender and, I think, completely engaging.

The “best love story” is The Extraordinary Garden, the second in the trilogy. It is about the desperate love between a man and a woman, both happily married and thrown together by the tasks and travails of suburban life. For seven years they long for each, and for three days they consummate that love. Then they renounce each other because they can not break up their families or destroy their very admirable spouses. It is a book about adult love, responsibility and hard choices. Highly recommended summer reading, in short.

Before we left several of the women had chosen books from the display, and I hope they enjoy Gravel's work as much as I do. We agreed to meet again in the fall, in the meantime reading from a selection of books on a theme which we'll work out over the next couple of weeks. Looks like they'll have good summer reading too.

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