A Year in Reading: Mayim Bialik

December 9, 2011 | 1 book mentioned 8 2 min read

I am almost nervous to write about the book I am going to write about. Why? Because any time someone says they have read the book that is now their “favourite” (European spelling deliberate to emphasize the inherent pretentiousness), it elicits cringes and eye-rolling. For a 35-year-old woman to declare she has a “favourite” book sounds so trivial, so sophomoric, so…lame.

coverWell, here goes. I have a new favourite book. It is The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. The book was recommended to me by the person I am most like in this world, who is also the person I probably most respect in this world for his intellect. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that this is now my favourite book. But it did surprise me. As someone who was raised through adolescence on Sartre, Camus, Salinger, Dostoevsky and the like, I have a broad education in philosophy, literature, and darkness, and I didn’t think I could be floored by a novel at this stage of life.

Barbery has astonished me and brought me to my knees with this book. By far the most elaborately constructed novel I have read in terms of reasoning and vocabulary (I admit in the humblest way possible that I rarely have to look words up, and as I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I often had to), Barbery has captured the complexity of Sartre, the depth of Camus, the winding storytelling and emotionalism of Salinger, and the darkness of Dostoevsky. This is not a book for the impatient, the quickly distracted, or the person who likes romantic comedies.

This book is immensely elaborate, difficult, charming, touching, profound, and truly a work of art. I am certain that not everyone will have the reaction I had to this book, but I challenge you to not be deeply moved by this story. To describe the plot does not do it justice: a woman who has given up on anyone seeing who she really is, hiding her brilliance for fear of not being understood or loved; a young girl pulled from the pages of the Glass family of Salinger’s universe, deathly bright but tragically mortal. These two stories are interwoven so elegantly — a friendship and kinship formed that allows both to grow and confront love and death at once in a fiery denouement.

It is not only the best book I read this year, it is my favourite book ever. For all of those reasons and many more.

More from A Year in Reading 2011

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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played the lead role of Blossom Russo on the early 1990s sitcom Blossom and received a PhD in Neuroscience from UCLA. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young sons, and can currently be seen on the hit CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory. She is a contributing editor to Kveller, and her book, Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way, will be released by Simon and Schuster in March 2012.

8 comments:

  1. I might think more of Mayim Bialik as a reviewer if she knew that putting a “u” in the word favorite might not be “European spelling deliberate to emphasize the inherent pretentiousness” but rather the normal everyday way we spell the word in Canada.

  2. Oh my goodness I would LOVE to hear Joey Lawrence’s recommendations!

    Hedgehog was not my favorite, but I see why others love it so much. Ms Bialik may not know Canadian spelling, but she has a degree in neuroscience (who knew?), and it sounds like her forthcoming book isn’t what you’d expect from a celebrity–no stupid memoir or vaguely fictionalized novel.

    Oh, and she was on Blossom! She WAS Blossom! My favorite.

  3. The estimated population of the Commonwealth is over 2 billion. The official (though certainly not the only) language of this group of 54 nations is English. We spell “favourite” with a u, for the most part. I submit that our pretension may, in fact, be your lack of self-esteem.

  4. Maybe I’m misreading the post, but it seems to me that Miyam is not ignorant of how others spell the word “favourite” but rather poking fun at Americans who use the British/Canadian spelling to seem more cultured.

    In any case, I would love a Year in Reading from Joey Lawrence. I can imagine his terse review of The Pale King now: “Whoa.”

  5. I enjoyed The Elegance of the Hedgehog very very much, and the movie is excellent. I encourage you to watch it: Le hérisson (English subtitles). You should try next book by Mureil Barbery, called Gourmet Rhapsody, good too, with some characters you have already met!

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