16 March 2020

Otherness Explored

The Mountains of Paris: Awe and Wonder Rewrote My Life
David Oates
Oregon State University Press 2019
178 pages

I am more a reader of fiction or non-fiction science books, but occasionally I dip into other genres, especially when I read good reviews about a book. I follow Rose City Reader's blog, and she often spotlights authors from the Pacific Northwest where she lives. It was there I found "The Mountains of Paris" mentioned. My library didn't have a copy and couldn't borrow one from their network, so they nicely ordered two copies on my recommendation. Hurray for libraries!

For me this memoir was a fascinating evocation of otherness, a look into the mind of someone who is seemingly similar to me -- about my age, same country, both white -- and yet is vastly different in the way he thinks about the world. From the start I didn't love it, but I kept reading for this experience of otherness.

The writing is beautiful and reflects the fact that Oates is a published poet. He writes lovingly about Paris, a city I fell in love with when I visited it in 2007. He is also a very spiritual person who seems to feel things more strongly than I do. He writes about "awe and wonder", the sublime, and "a greater mind that we all share". None of which is very meaningful to me personally.

I think I have a more moderate temperament, without the high peaks and low valleys of emotion expressed in the stories he tells, especially the chapters labelled "memnoir". Perhaps I cannot directly relate to his experiences, but I felt it was important to try to understand his view of the world.

So, this book is well written with some gorgeous prose, and some of the stories Oates tells are interesting. (Plus it's about Paris!) It's just not my cup of tea; but try it -- you might love it!


  1. Well, I am glad you gave it a try! My favorite thing about book blogging and other online book communities is being inspired to take a flyer now and again on a book I wouldn't usually read.

    1. I am glad I persevered and finished it. Parts of it were interesting to me, where he talks about nature, or music, or Paris. Thank you for pointing me to it!