My sister heard about this book recently and suggested I read it. Why? Not because of its literary merits… It has something to do with a rat who eats books, or did eat them before he got wiser and started reading them instead. I used to chew paper too and that is a long story that will not be told here.
Firmin was a pretty entertaining read. I wonder how the name Firmin was selected… it does have a lot of sounds in common with varmint, especially when you say it fast, or is that because I’m French?
Firmin’s interest in books does start with hunger and his desire to chew paper is more related to calming the pangs in his stomach.
Paper, on the other hand, I discovered early on, has a wonderful consistency and in some cases an agreeable taste. You can masticate a hunk of it for hours if you want, like gum.
Over time, his interest does shift to the written matter.
At first I just ate, happily gnawing and chewing, guided by the dictates of taste. But soon I began to read here and there around the edges of my meals. And as time passed I read more and chewed less until finally I was spending almost all my waking hours reading and chewed only on the margins. And oh, how I then regretted those dreadful holes! In some cases, where there were no other copies, I have had to wait years to fill the gaps. I am not proud of this.
Firmin names his affliction “biblio-bulimia.”
Firmin reads a lot and would love to discuss the books he reads, but being a rat, he does have the ability to talk to his great dismay. He does try to master sign language but that does not achieve the desired results (all he can say is “good-bye zipper”). Firmin does mention a great number of works he has read, sometimes by naming the authors or the works, or describing characters or key events or places in the book. Here is a sample of the authors and works mentioned:
|Ford Madox Ford|
|The Great Gatsby|
|Alice in Wonderland|
|Fathers and Sons|
|The Grapes of Wrath|
|Lady Chatterley’s Lover|
|Of Mice and Men|
|The Wind in the Willows|
|War and Peace|
|Death in Venice|
|The Catcher in the Rye|
|Fear and Trembling|
|Tropic of Cancer|
|The Phantom of the Opera|
Quite a well-read rat we have.
In the end, our rat gets old, the funky old writer who took him dies, and the building housing the bookstore where he spent most of his life is being demolished. It was good while it lasted.
This humorous little book definitely did not have a didactic approach but lists a fair number of books that considered classics or must reads, and I am afraid to say there are a few I was not familiar with… As well-read as I am, Firmin seems to have me beat.
References and other goodies
Savage, Sam. Firmin, Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife. Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2006.