Monday, July 8, 2013

The Periodic Table

The Periodic Table, by Primo Levi, is one of my favorite books. I have read it maybe a dozen times, but not in probably 10 years. I was talking about it with Ilana the other night at Emily and Tara's party, and that got me thinking it might be about time to re-read it. The book is organized by element. Levi was a chemist, and each chapter is a story connected to what he was doing when he was working with a particular element—often stories of friendship, often friendship with other men.

Every time I've read it, I've struggled through the challenging first chapter (Argon), at times skipping it, and frequently skimming it, so I can get in to the rest of the book, which reads like a warm knife through butter. This time, I decided to settle down with the first chapter, and read it patiently, re-reading if necessary, so I could finally hear what Levi is trying to tell me. And that, it turns out, is a new edge of joy for me—as well as something I have never done. I am not actually through the first chapter, so I can't sum it all up for you, but I can tell you that it's about language, including Yiddish, and Proven├žal roots of the Piedmontese language, and I can tell you that once I read this—really read this—I am going to find it more fruitful than I ever have, and my reading of the rest of the book will be more rooted. The joy of growing more patient and diligent!

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