What’s the best book you’ve ever read? When did you realize it? One page in or halfway through? And honestly, with so many out there, can you really have just one?
Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow found me in November, and I knew I’d be forever changed as a writer and reader after only a few pages. Actually, there was a more grand design that led me to this book. Or as my friend, Leila, called it, a God-wink.
My in-laws met a writer named Leila Meacham on a river cruise in Washington State a few years ago. Leila is more than a big deal in the literary world and a Jedi of the English language. When my wife went to have lunch on the boat as it passed near Red Mountain, she met Leila. They exchanged some words and then Leila retired to her room. But a few minutes later, she returned. She told my wife, “Something told me to come back and talk to you about your husband. I have a feeling he needs me.” As my biggest fan, my wife had of course told Leila that I was also a writer. (That’s the first God-wink in this story.)
Their next conversation led to exchanging numbers, and I was soon on the phone with Leila, absorbing advice and criticism worth its weight in gold. Leila was an English teacher all her life, and only started writing novels after she retired. Her book, Roses, hit the big time and soon she was running around with the A-listers.
Over the past few years, she’s been my guide. She has pushed me since day one to chase mastery in my craft. She’s taught me to analyze every word, every sentence. To study plot and structure. To edit and edit and edit again. We email often, and even her short form communication is a master class. She’s recommended a few books over the years that she thought did it right.
A Gentleman in Moscow was one of them. But I only picked it up after booking a trip in November to Russia. I’m that geek that likes to read a book set where I’m traveling. I read Wine and War in Burgundy, The Sicilian in Sicily, and Druids in Ireland. Am I the only one that does this?
I booked my hotel for Moscow before I had decided to read this book. Before I knew what it was about. The day after booking, I was scrolling through my Kindle, trying to decide what to read on the plane, and I saw A Gentlemen. I thought, perhaps, it’s time. I got on Amazon to read the summary, and that’s where I found my next God-wink. The story is about Count Rostov who, during the early part of last century, is sentenced to spend the rest of his life within the confines of the Hotel Metropole in Moscow. Guess what… I had booked the Hotel Metropole the day before!
You’re damn right I sat with my legs crossed in the lobby of the Hotel Metropole and drank my coffee and read this book every morning, thinking of Count Alexander Rostov sitting next to me. If only it had been one-hundred years earlier. If only he was real!
On to the book. Read it. Just read it. If you and I have anything in common, you’ll find it so refreshing and brilliant and intellectual. It actually took me longer than usual to finish, because I’d read particular sentences or paragraphs or thoughts and have to set my Kindle down for a moment. The way Amor Towles thinks is pure genius. Take the character and the story out of it, which are both addicting. His choices in how he describes the Count’s world are mind-boggling.
He writes, “Surely, the span of time between the placing of an order and the arrival of appetizers is one of the most perilous in all human interaction.” How well said. I read that line over and over and still talk about it.
Here’s my favorite. A captain visiting the hotel is sitting at the same bar as the Count. He notices the Count swirling his snifter and moves a stool closer. The captain says, “You seem like something is weighing on your mind. I mean, you set that brandy in motion about half an hour ago. If you’re not careful, the vortex you’ve created will drill a hole right through the floor and we’ll all end up in the basement.” I finished that line and had to go for a walk. The writer in me wanted to retire my pen, but the reader in me was so profoundly touched. This is why I read. This is why I write. You can see in absolute clarity the Count at that bar, swirling his glass, wrestling with a heavy thought.
And, oh, the character. Had I the option, Count Rostov is the fictional character I’d choose to dine with. Never has their been a more refined and proper gentleman. He says, “For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”
It’s hard to claim a favorite book. Each day we pick new favorites in all things. But for now… I can claim with certainty that A Gentleman in Moscow is the best book I’ve ever read.
Have you read it? What are your thoughts? Or… what’s your favorite book? Leave a reply below.
Here’s to more God-winks for all of us,