Giovanni’s Room (Baldwin)

As much as I cherish Baldwin’s work, I normally don’t read two of his books so close together. But a local bookstore is having a book club discussion on this one in a few weeks, and I hope to attend.

I will also say that I used to think Baldwin was a better non-fiction writer than a fiction writer or playwright. Not anymore.

What’s amazing about this book is the way the sentences match the insight and observations Baldwin makes about characters and setting. Granted, I’ve been to Paris, so that helps, but Baldwin’s Paris is deliberately not the stereotypical tourist Paris. If he sometimes loses his footing with female characters, it is a small price to pay for the remarkable immediacy of the people and places (and the relationships involved) in this book. The truth is, not much has happened here. Something big has happened, and Baldwin brings us slowly to it. By the time we get there, I’m sure most readers will have figured it out.

I annotate, even when I read fiction – a sentence I like, a passage I could use in class, an insight I want to remember. But if you look through my copy of this book, you will see pages and pages and pages of markings. I’d like to teach it one day.

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