Leonard Michaels Invites Himself For Breakfast

Friday morning, my son and I weren’t in our best shape. We both had stomach flu and a lousy mood, but we both had to get to work (I mean, to the nanny’s, in his case, which is just as serious). And obviously we had no appetite whatsoever.

For the sake of this story, you need to know that I’m a radio-addict whenever I need to get things done, especially when it’s time to wake up. And music simply doesn’t do the job, it needs to be people talking, preferably about serious pieces of news, social architecture in Brazil, Middle-age literature or advanced astrophysics. My favourite channels are therefore France Inter and France Culture (a sort of BBC Radio 4, perhaps?).

Having visited the fridge without finding anything tempting, we both settled for orange juice and slices of bananas. It didn’t seem (too) hazardous. Not only settling for, but also settling down, and I mean it literally. We both sat down on the kitchen floor, because we were too miserable for proper breakfast at the table. By the way, the kitchen floor was tolerably clean, and seemed even welcoming.

That was the scene when I heard my favourite morning radio host speak about a book that had moved him a lot and that he warmly recommended: Sylvia by Leonard Michaels, which is finally translated and published in France this January. The host usually takes one minute to talk about something different from the topic of the day, but I rarely check on it. But Friday it struck a chord.

I had a thing with Leonard Michaels several years ago (now I don’t mean it literally), when I discovered his stories of Nachman. Michaels started writing these extraordinary stories in 1997 and was still at work when he died in 2003. I guess that’s when I discovered him through The New Yorker. Nachman is a Jewish nerd, a mathematician from Berkeley who is obsessed by moral and mathematical aspects of his everyday life. The few stories I read (there are 7 in total, but I didn’t get to read them all) are melancholy and absurd, awkward and light. I loved them so much that I translated a few stories. But nobody seemed to know of this low-key writer at the time, and soon I almost forgot everything about Leonard Michaels.

So when he invited himself for breakfast, even though I was feeling under the weather, I felt extraordinarily lucky. Needless, I’ll probably buy Sylvia the first chance I get. And I’ll probably go for his collected stories as well. I wonder what Nachman would have thought of a mother and her son having breakfast on the kitchen floor. Something slightly absurd like he enjoyed.

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7 thoughts on “Leonard Michaels Invites Himself For Breakfast

  1. I bought Leonard Michaels’ “Collected Stories” some time ago but I’ve only read a handful of them. Perhaps I’ll add the collection to my short story challenge list now that you’ve reminded me of how good his stories are! I also have a copy of his diaries which I’ve never read. I understand that they provided some of the raw material that he transformed into the fiction of “Sylvia”–it might be interesting to read the two together.

  2. I haven’t heard of Michaels before now but I will definitely be keeping an eye out. I hope both you and your son are on the mend – it sounds like a difficult morning despite the radio!

  3. I read the New Yorker obsessively, so I must have read Michaels but for some reason his name sounds new to me. I’ll have a look at my Complete New Yorker and then check out this new collection.

    I hope both you and Baby Smithereens are feeling better!

  4. Pingback: Snowed Under… With Books ! (And A Freebie!) « Smithereens

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