VSL:BOOKS // Life lessons from a great writer you’ve probably never heard of

In France, Jules Renard (b. 1864) ranks with Zola, Goncourt, and other top-tier turn-of-the-century novelists. But Renard, who is largely unknown in the English-speaking world, was also a playwright, a provincial mayor — and the author of a remarkable 1,267-page journal that is newly available as a handsome, seriously abridged paperback.

Actually, journal is something of a misnomer: what The Journal of Jules Renard really is, is a writer’s notebook, and it’s full of short, brilliant flashes of insight and inspiration: “Be modest!” writes Renard. “It is the kind of pride least likely to offend.” And: “Failure is not the only punishment for laziness: there is also the success of others.” The entries move chronologically, from 1887 to the year of Renard’s death (1910) — but you needn’t read them that way: The book works equally well as a collection of aphorisms and observations (many of them concerning Oscar Wilde, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and other acquaintances of Renard’s). Fans of very short things are sure to be delighted.

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VSL:BOOKS // Life lessons from a great writer you’ve probably never heard of