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About three books I couldn’t finish

January 31, 2017 41 comments

I know the symptoms very well now. The book sits on the table and I’m not tempted to open it. I start browsing through the pages and splitting it into manageable bits. I cheer myself mentally “20 pages read! Yes!” I look longingly at the TBR thinking how appealing the other books on my shelf seem to be. And all of a sudden, I snap out of it, recognize the symptoms, remember that my reading time is too limited to waste it on books I don’t enjoy. And I make the decision to abandon the book and I feel relieved. This exactly what happened with the three books I abandoned over the last two months.

Les grands cimetières sous la lune by Georges Bernanos. (1938)

bernanos_cimetieres_luneThis one isn’t available in English and it’s not a translation tragedy. I reached page 86 out of 304 before I gave up. I was looking forward to reading this, expecting a French equivalent to Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. I wanted to read something about the Spanish Civil War and I thought I’d read something similar to the reportage In Syria by Joseph Kessel and Down and Out in Paris and London by Orwell. Instead of an articulate description and analysis of the Spanish Civil War, Les grands cimetières sur la lune was a screaming pamphlet and it yelled at me like a Howler in Harry Potter.

My first problem was that this essay was very rooted in its time and I didn’t know enough about the political fishbowl of the time. For the 1938 readers, who was who was easy but for me, I didn’t know the second-class politicians of 1938 and most importantly, I didn’t know which side they supported. Left? Right? Extreme-right? A little help with footnotes by the publisher or a foreword about the context would have helped. Nada. I’m always amazed by the poverty of French paperback editions compared to English ones. Unless you’re reading something that students might read in class, like Balzac or Voltaire, the introduction consists of a few facts about the writer’s bio and off you go with the book. Most of the time I’m fine with it, but for a book as this one, a good foreword and relevant footnotes are non negotiable basics.

My other problem was that I felt uncomfortable with Bernanos’s tone. I do love a good rant as long as I know where I stand with the one unleashing their thoughts on me. I didn’t know a lot about Bernanos himself and I went to Wikipedia after a few pages to understand what side he was supporting. I knew he was a fervent Catholic and while I’m respectful of anyone’s personal spirituality, I’m too anti-clerical to trust someone too close to the Catholic Church. I expected this side of him in his bio. (He’s the one who wrote Under Satan’s Sun and The Diary of a Country Priest) And I discovered he had a muddy political path in his life. He was born in 1888 and as a young man he was a monarchist and a militant for Action Française, an extreme-right monarchist political movement. He turned his back to them forever in 1932. Les grands cimetières sous la lune is a pamphlet against Franco and it received a huge echo in France when it was published. After living a few years abroad, he came back to France. He used his talent as a lampoonist against the Vichy regime and fought in the Résistance. He died in 1948. Apparently, he had changed sides in 1932.

Reading Les grands cimetières sous la lune, it was not clear to me what his political side was. Perhaps it’s because I missed innuendos. Still. I thought he had spent an awfully long time among the ranks of the extreme-right and it didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t make up my mind about what he was writing. It was supposed to be an anti-fascist text and it wasn’t so obvious to me. Add the whiff of antisemitism and I was done with it.

I was perpetually confused about the people he was talking about and about where his thoughts were going to. I thought I’d try Homage to Catalonia instead or read L’Espoir by Malraux.

Let’s move on to the second book I abandoned.


Cat’s cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. (1963)

vonnegutI had loved Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle had been sitting on my shelf for a while. I soldiered on until page 79 out of 286. I expected to have a good time with Cat’s Cradle, especially when you consider the blurb on Goodreads: Told with deadpan humour & bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut’s cult tale of global destruction preys on our deepest fears of witnessing Armageddon &, worse still, surviving it … Promising, no? Total nightmare for me. I had my suspicions at page two when I came across this paragraph:

We Bokonists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon, and the instrument, the kan-kan, that brought me into my own particular karass was the book I never finished, the book to be called The Day the World Ended.

I wondered how I’d fare with the fake religion. And then the story started with a narrator who’s trying to write a book about what the creator of the nuclear bomb did the day the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. I couldn’t get into Vonnegut’s brand of crazy this time, just like I couldn’t read The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. I would pick the book and not remember what I had read before or who the characters were. So, back to the shelf, Cat’s Cradle!

And now with the third book I abandoned and it was even more disheartening.

All Men Are Mortal by Simone de Beauvoir. (1946)

beauvoir_hommesI managed to read 275 pages out of 530 before throwing in the towel (or the sponge, as we say in French.) I persisted longer because I didn’t want to abandon another book and because it was Simone de Beauvoir. But in the end, same causes, same consequences, I couldn’t stomach to see it on the coffee table anymore.

All Men Are Mortal has a promising plot too. Obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t have bought the book in the first place, right? It starts with a hundred pages prologue where Régine gets acquainted with a strange man, Fosca. Régine is an actress and she longs for immortality, not in a literal sense but more as being remembered as a talented actress. She wants to be the new Sarah Bernhard, if you want. She’s obsessed with her legacy, with what people will remember of her and all her actions are focused on achieving this goal. One night, she meets Fosca and discovers later that he is immortal. Literally. Régine thinks that since he’s immortal, if she becomes part of his life, she will be immortal too through his memories. So far so good. Then we fall into the classic plot device: Fosca starts telling his life to demonstrate why it’s not that fantastic to be immortal. The first part starts in 1389 in Tuscany and Fosca becomes the leader of Carmona, a city in competition with Florence and Genoa. And Beauvoir throws us into the epic story of Fosca going to war, taking power, fighting for his city, influencing politics, blah blah blah. Gone is the actual thinking on the meaning of immortality. There are fleeting passages but most of the pages are filled with Fosca’s Italian adventures. I pushed until he becomes a mentor to Charles the Fifth and then I checked out. I couldn’t care less about his life. What possessed Beauvoir to write something like this? I’m sure there’s a philosophical message behind the story but it’s drowned into the battles and political events.

A missed rendezvous, that’s what it was.

Fortunately, between these three books I read the beautiful The Dark Room by RK Narayan, the refreshing La vie est un sale boulot by Janis Otsiemi and two short stories by Thomas Hardy, always a safe bet.

Have you read any of these three books? If yes, what did you think about them?

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

January 28, 2017 23 comments

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. (1938) French title: Cette sacrée vertu.

watson_englishI bought Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson after reading Jacqui’s enthusiastic review confirmed by Max’s review, both excellent, as always.

I was drawn to this story of a mousy spinster who gets shaken up in her life after a serendipitous mix up. Miss Pettigrew works as a governess not by choice but out of obligation. She needs to work for a living and it’s the only profession she knows. It’s not a calling and she’s not very skilled at it. With the years, the family she works for are getting worse and she’s been ill-treated by her employers. Miss Pettigrew is poor, she’s lonely and she doesn’t have any other option than taking another job as a governess. The last family you hired her bullied her and she dreads starting anew somewhere else. Her resistance to harship is getting low and her work agency has sent her to an address to start a new position. She feels like she’s going to the gallows.

Outside on the pavement Miss Pettigrew shivered slightly. It was a cold, grey, foggy November day with a drizzle of rain in the air. Her coat, of a nondescript, ugly brown, was not very thick. It was five years old. London traffic roared about her. Pedestrians hastened to reach their destinations and get out of the depressing atmosphere as quickly as possible. Miss Pettigrew joined the throng, a middle-aged, rather angular lady, of medium height, thin through lack of good food, with a timid, defeated expression and terror quite discernible in her eyes, if any one cared to look. But there was no personal friend or relation in the whole world who knew or cared whether Miss Pettigrew was alive or dead.

watson_frenchShe musters the courage to knock at the door of her new employer and she’s immediately welcomed by Miss LaFosse who thinks that Miss Pettigrew is her new maid. They don’t have time to exchange a word before Miss Lafosse begs for Miss Pettigrew’s help. Indeed, Miss Lafosse has a lover at home (Nick) and her other lover (Michael) is coming soon. She wants Miss Pettigrew to make Nick leave before Michael arrives. Without thinking, Miss Pettigrew obeys and successfully pushes Nick out the door. Miss LaFosse is convinced she’s got a new best friend and takes Miss Pettigrew under her wing.

Miss LaFosse is young and pretty. She’s an actress and a flirt. She runs in totally different circles than the ones Miss Pettigrew is used to. Worse than that, she lives a life Miss Pettigrew has been taught to consider sinful and dissipated. But Miss Pettigrew is at the end of her rope, she decides she’s not in a position to judge Miss LaFosse and she quite enjoys the attention she gets from her.

Miss Pettigrew now forgot all about her original errand. For the first time for twenty years some one really wanted her for herself alone, not for her meagre scholarly qualifications. For the first time for twenty years she was herself, a woman, not a paid automaton. She was so intoxicated with pride she would have condoned far worse sins than Miss LaFosse having two young men in love with her. She put it like that. She became at once judicial, admonitory and questioning.

She’s swept off her feet and dizzy with the whirlwind of Miss LaFosse’s love life. And as the day goes on, Miss Pettigrew questions the values she was taught and that she respected all her life. The French title of the book is Cette sacrée vertu, or in English This bloody virtue and it sums it all. What good did it bring her to be good and virtuous? What joy did it bring in her life?

In a dull, miserable existence her one wild extravagance was her weekly orgy at the cinema, where for over two hours she lived in an enchanted world peopled by beautiful women, handsome heroes, fascinating villains, charming employers, and there were no bullying parents, no appalling offspring, to tease, torment, terrify, harry her every waking hour.

Is that all that she can hope for? A life where her only happy place is a two-hour visit to the cinema? She starts thinking that she might deserve more than being a bullied and poor governess. As the story unfolds, we see a character coming out of her safety shell to dare living. This kind of plot could be mawkish but it’s not. It’s served by Watson’s witty prose and she turns this late blooming into a light and bittersweet comedy. Her sense of humour is fantastic, as you can see in these passing lines:

Miss LaFosse sat in front of the mirror in preparation for the greatest rite of all, the face decoration.

Miss Pettigrew, completely submerged in unknown waters, did her best to surmount the waves.

It is also vivid thanks to energetic dialogues that reminded me of vaudeville and comics.

‘???…!!!…???…!!!’exploded Nick again.

Totally Captain Haddock, no?

Reading Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was a real delight. It’s funny as hell, lovely and still thought-provoking. Of course, there’s the condition of women and the difficulty to work for a living. Miss Pettigrew also shows that living as a saint might be commendable but not that enjoyable and Miss LaFosse demonstrates that living as she wants, duty be damned, is a lot more pleasant and that in the end, it doesn’t hurt anybody.

Kim at Reader Matters, listed Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day in her list of five uplifting reads. I think she’s onto something there.

Highly recommended.

 

 

Literary escapade: the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris

January 25, 2017 30 comments

Literary escapade: The Père Lachaise Cemetery.

After visiting the Oscar Wilde exhibition, I wanted to see his grave at the Père Lachaise cemetery and thought it would be a great opportunity to do a little literary tour of the place. I had the chance to do it now even if the weather is grey and freezing. Bundled in a warm parka, equipped with a wool hat and gloves, toasty warm feet in my winter boots, I braved the cold to have a long literary walk in the Père Lachaise. Armed with a map of the cemetery, I started hunting down graves of famous writers. I have to confess that I failed at locating Beaumarchais’s and Gertrude Stein’s graves. I walked around and around but never saw them.

This cemetery was founded in 1804, per Napoleon’s order. He was convinced that everybody was entitled to a decent burial, whatever your religion or lack of. Napoleon’s decision meant that people from different religions would be buried in the same cemetery but also that actors and atheists had the same rights as others. But the Parisians didn’t want to be buried at the Père Lachaise as it was too far from Paris. Now it’s in the 18th arrondissement of Paris but at the time, it was the countryside.

Marketing came to the rescue of political decisions. To entice people to get buried in this cemetery, they built fake graves for Molière, Lafontaine and Heloïse and Abélard, the legendary lovers from the Middle Ages. Molière’s remains are not at the Père Lachaise cemetery, despite what’s written on his tombstone. How could they be? He died in 1673 and as an actor, he was considered as an infidel and banned from a Catholic burial in a Catholic cemetery. His corpse was thrown into the catacombs. See why Napoléon’s decision was relevant to actors?

moliere_lafontaineThanks to the new regulations, the famous actress Rachel (1821-1856) was buried at the Père Lachaise.

rachelShe was a role model for Sarah Bernhard and extremely famous for her interpretation of characters from tragedies.

As I was wandering in the alleys, I noticed big bombastic graves and they often belonged to military heroes. There’s just one step from thinking big ego, big tombstone but who knows if the defunct was aware of the look of his grave. They might have not approved of it. Anyway. These people were worshipped enough in their lifetime to deserve a showy tombstone. All these names are now forgotten, unless they have become street names. I mulled over the unpredictability of immortality and fame. While these men were successful and respected in the society they belonged to, their greatness evaporated through the decades and centuries. And ironically, among the most visited graves are Jim Morrison’s and Oscar Wilde’s. Both died abroad, away from their families who didn’t want them anymore. Both had fame during their life before getting in trouble with the law. Both died alone and in dire conditions.

And yet. Wilde’s a literary genius. His Importance of Being Earnest is a real gem. He was a gifted and eclectic writer.

dsc_3727Morrison is mostly famous for lighting his fans’ fire but considered himself as a poet. Some of his song lyrics are indeed poems and since songwriters can win the Nobel prize for literature, I decided that Jim Morrison belonged to this literary tour. Both yanked society’s chains and their talent was understated.

dsc_3710My tour led me to the graves of several literary giants from the 19th century.

dsc_3740Alfred de Musset is here and his epitaph says:

Mes chers amis quand je mourrai

Plantez un saule au cimetière

J’aime son feuillage éploré

La pâleur m’en est douce et chère

Et son ombre sera légère

A la terre où je dormirai.

My dear friends, when I die

Plant a weeping willow at the cemetery

I love its mournful foliage

Its paleness is sweet and dear to me

And its shadow will be light

To the earth where I’ll rest.

Always a poet, the dear Alfred and his tomb is neat. Musset is buried alone but not Balzac, who rests with his great love, the countess Hanska.

balzacHis grave includes a sculpture of a book and a quill but his famous coffee pot is missing.  Gérard de Nerval rests opposite to Balzac. His grave is less well kept than Balzac’s and its shape is quite different.

nervalProust’s grave is also a hotspot of the cemetery. It’s a bit strange for such a difficult writer. He shares a grave with his parents, his brother Robert and his sister-in-law. His relatives’ names are written on the sides of the grave.

dsc_3730

I continue with the proustian atmosphere and visited Alphonse Daudet’s grave. He was a writer (one I studied in middle school, I think) but he was also Léon Daudet’s father. Léon was one of Proust’s closest friends. Somewhere in the cemetery is the Greffühle mausoleum.

daudet_greffulheThe comtesse Greffülhe (1860-1952) was a French aristocrat and she inspired the Duchesse de Guermantes, one of the most emblematic characters of In Seach of Lost Time.

Different style, Colette. I thought that her tombstone seems a bit tame for such a flamboyant artist and woman.

dsc_3739I walked a bit to see Paul Eluard’s last home. He’s one of my favourite poets. I though his grave was too gray for the poet who wrote that the earth is blue, like an orange.

dsc_3723I made a little detour to Modigliani’s grave as he’s one of my favorite painters.

dsc_3725Of course it’s not a fancy grave since he was dirt poor. I’m glad Jeanne Hébuterne is buried with him. She threw herself through the window when he died in 1920. Her father never liked her relationship with Modigliani and only accepted in 1930 that her remains be with Modigliani’s.

Other times, other country, Richard Wright’s ashes are at the columbarium. At a corner, I saw this grave, for the Bouquin family.

bouquinIn French, a bouquin is an affectionate and colloquial way to call a book. I don’t think there’s an English equivalent to this word or I’d be glad to know it. Isn’t that fantastic to have bouquin as a surname?

I also walked by Tignous’s grave. He was one of the cartoonists who died during the Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015.

tignousHe died because he believed that freedom of speech was worth sacrifices, that it is an inalienable right. In these desolate times where a powerful president would rather tweet opinions instead of sticking to facts, journalists and cartoonists are more than ever necessary. Let’s not forget Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists and discover their work ethics here, explained in the LA Review of Books by an American journalist. It is truly an excellent article. And as you can see, Charlie Hebdo has not lost their edge.

trump

Trump. Let’s give him a chance. *Buttons for choices* Espresso Hot chocolate Black coffee Nuclear bomb

To end this billet on a lighter note, here’s the grave of Victor Noir. (1848-1870)

dsc_3721He was a journalist and he was shot by a relative of Napoléon III. His death became a symbol of the opposition to the Second Empire and the fight for a republic. The recumbent effigy on his grave is supposed to represent him the way he died…erection included. A legend was born and touching his family jewels is supposed to help infertile women to conceive. See how shiny the said parts of his anatomy are compared to the rest of the effigy?

Et voilà! I hope you enjoyed my literary tour of the famous Père Lachaise. Have you been there? If yes, who did you visit?

A New-York Christmas by Anne Perry

January 17, 2017 6 comments

A New York Christmas by Anne Perry (2014) French title: Un Noël à New York. Translated by Pascale Haas.

perry_christmasSomething strange happens with recurring characters of crime fiction series. They become like long term colleagues or distant relatives. You see them getting married or divorced, become parents, have their children grow up and sometimes become grand-parents. You hear or see of their family. All this procures a sense of closeness, as if these characters were real, as if reading a new volume of the series was a mean to keep in touch with them. Isn’t that powerful of a writer to create such a bond between their readers and their characters?

That’s exactly how I feel about the characters of Anne Perry’s two series, the William Monk one and the Thomas Pitt one. A New York Christmas is a side volume of the Thomas Pitt series. It features his daughter Jemima, whose birth I remember from an early volume of the series. And my thought was “Wow, Jemima is already 23, I remember of her when she was born and when she was a child.” See? Exactly like friends or relatives you don’t see very often and it seems like their children grew up overnight when in truth you’re just getting older.

perry_noelWell, we’re in 1904 and Jemima Pitt is now 23. She’s chaperoning a young bride, Delphinia on her trip from London to New York, where her fiancé is waiting for them. Delphinia will marry Brent Albright, a rich young man who belongs to a powerful family from New York. Delphinia’s father couldn’t accompany her for health reasons and her mother left them when she was a little girl. When Jemima and Delphinia arrive to New York, Brent’s older brother Harley embarks Jemima in an odd mission. He has heard that Delphinia’s mother was in town and they need to find her before she crashes the wedding ceremony and embarrasses her daughter and her future in-laws. But Jemima senses there’s more to the story of Delphinia’s mother than just someone who abandoned her child. Where is she and what were her reasons to leave everything behind?

For those who’s never read the Pitt series, you need to know that Thomas Pitt is a policeman who was educated as a gentleman and who married in a higher social class than his. Charlotte married him against her parents’ wishes. She was a feisty young woman who wouldn’t play by good society’s rules and wanted to use her brains. She is fascinated by her husband’s job and she always gets involved in her husband’s investigations, going to places a policeman couldn’t go. Jemima is her parents’ daughter, ie, she’s thrilled to help solving a little mystery.

Unfortunately, she’s not as savvy as she thinks and Harley might have ulterior motives…And that’s all I will tell you about the plot.

Let’s face it, it’s not the novella of the century but I still enjoyed it. I read it as quickly as you watch an entertaining film. It was what I was looking for when I picked it up and it met my expectations. Given the ending, I wonder if there will be a third series with a spinoff of the Pitt branch in New York. It might be nice to have a new source of comfort read.

PS: I put the two covers from the English and the French editions. They are not the same but look alike.

Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld

January 14, 2017 12 comments

Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld (2011) French title: Triburbia. Translated by Françoise Adelstain.

greenfeld_triburbiaTriburbia relates the quotidian of a group of fathers in Tribeca, Lower Manhattan, New York. Tribeca was an industrial neighborhood until the 1970s. In the 1980s, artists started to live in lofts in this area as the rents were cheap. It then became a trendy place where a lot of influential people live.

Triburbia is a mosaic of stories about self-analysis, marriages and children, a sort of chick lit told from a male point of view. These fathers are writer, sound engineer, gangster, photographer, … Not blue collar, not white collar either, part of an undefined class I’ll call artistic. These men have jobs with flexible hours and meet for breakfast in a café after dropping the children to school. That’s how they met, actually, through their offspring going to the same school.

They all arrived in Tribeca before it was trendy and witnessed the gentrification of the neighborhood. They have the classic angst seen in chick lit: how’s my marriage doing? Shall cheat with M. X’s wife? How are my children compared to others? Am I getting old? Am I successful? Where did my dream go? They’re as vapid as the characters of Notting Hell by Rachel Johnson.

What makes a big difference with chick lit though, is Greenfeld’s style. I read him in French, so I don’t have quotes but he has a knack for colorful and humorous descriptions. If you want to discover his style, have a look at Guy’s review, here.

Although Greenfeld gives a good picture of the gentrification process of Tribeca but I couldn’t muster a lot of interest for these self-absorbed men, their snotty daughters or their wives. They have unconventional professions, crave for success and despise people who have regular jobs, especially bankers, accountants and the like. (We’re in Manhattan, remember, so high paying job often involve working in the finance industry) Finance is too grown-up, not glamorous enough. I found them judgmental, snobbish and shallow. Having children is not a good enough reason to stop smoking pot or behaving like teenagers.

The book is divided in chapters whose titles are the address of the character who stars in it. It is a way to show how snobbish people are, the location of your loft matters. We discover this little microcosm, how people are linked to one another. The characters pop up from one chapter to the other as the reader makes the links between the members of this tribe. They are under pressure to be rich with an artistic job, which isn’t easy to achieve. These men don’t admire Hemingway and his Moveable Feast. They have no admiration for filthy poor but underestimated artists, they only have admiration for artists who are as rich as a hedge fund managers. In other words, they want to have their cake and eat it: the liberty to create with the financial wealth of a yuppie job.

In the end, this milieu is as codified and rigid as the bourgeoisie. The codes are different, that’s all. You must be rich but appear not to care about money. You must live as if common rules didn’t apply to you: it’s not a big deal if the children are late to school, or if you do drugs. You must live in a loft. They are supposed to be free of social codes but they just created new ones, the live-as-a-cool-and-successful-artistic-family code. The biggest difference with their bourgeois counterparts is that they don’t have trophy wives. These men have married women with successful careers, women who didn’t give up their jobs when their first child was born to become stay-at-home mothers and PTA wonders.

This Tribeca tribe questions their life choices and for the most, their career happened by chance. They had an opportunity, they seized it or drifted from their original dream to something else. They cheat on their partner but don’t necessary want a divorce. They realize that their couple may not be so great, that their family might be a façade. To me, they looked like a team of immature Peter Pans who think they are superior to others but have the same mid-life crisis as anyone.

Triburbia has good critics but I thought it was as futile as its characters. I always have trouble sympathizing with self-indulgent trendy-lefties who look down on non-artistic people. It’s a form of haughtiness that is not becoming. The gentrification process of the neighborhood was interesting to follow, as traditional shops are pushed to close or move out as rents increase. Greenfeld’s writing is the redeeming quality of the novel. He really nailed Tribeca’s inhabitants with a great sense of humor.

Yay! I’m this week’s Triple Choice Tuesday!

January 10, 2017 2 comments

triple-choice-200Kim at Reading Matters has a weekly rendezvous with another book blogger and guess what? This week, it’s me!

In this billet Kim asks a fellow blogger about three books that are special to them. If you want to discover mine, click here!

Thanks Kim, I’m honoured to be part of the Triple Choice Tuesday bloggers.

 

2016 in reading

January 7, 2017 33 comments

Let’s have a quick look at my 2016 reading year. I’m not much into reading statistics because numbers are for my office life, not my literary life. I’ll just say that I read 62 books in 2016, which is not much compared to other book bloggers but not so bad if you consider that I have a full time corporate executive job and a family. All this reading wouldn’t be possible without a wonderful husband, that’s for sure.

I have ended 2016 the way I started it: concerned about my growing TBR. Sure, I read 19 books out of it without including my Book Club reads that also qualified for it. But I got crime books at Quais du Polar, French Canadian books when I was in Québec in August, people lent me books and I got tempted here and there. Consequence: the TBR is higher in January 2017 than it was is January 2016. *Sigh* I’ll try to do better in 2017.

What where the highlights of my reading year?

Book I’d buy to all my friends if it were available in French.

The Hands. An Australian pastoral by Stephen Orr. It’s the story of farmers in a remote part of Australia. The painting of the land, the harshness of their lives and the family dynamics are extremely well-drawn. It stayed with me for the descriptions of the landscape, the curiosity about everyday life in such an isolated place and the characters.

The book that will make you understand what alcoholism does to your flesh and to your mind.

Leaving Las Vegas by John O’Brien. It’s the book that was made into the eponymous film. It’s the meeting of two lost souls, a prostitute and an alcoholic. As a woman, I should have felt closer to Sera but in the end, I was drawn to Ben. It’s a book that stayed with me for its violence and its honesty and I’m looking forward to reading another one by him, Stripper Lessons.

Old book that best resonates with today’s society

Business Is Business by Octave Mirbeau. See how much Isidore Lechat sounds like some modern politicians in this incredible play that dates back to 1903. Isidore and Trump have definitely something in common.

Best of Guy’s recommendations.

In 2016, I read six books recommended by Guy and all of them were very good. I loved the Charlie Hardie series by Duane Swierczynski and I urge you to try them. I loved Calling Mr King by Ronald De Fao, the story of a hitman who’s tired of his job and starts obsessing with architecture and I laughed out loud when I read Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan. These aren’t famous books and that’s where Guy’s a genius: he’s able to find little gems like this in the forest of books put on the market. Guy, a publisher should hire you.

A classic that is even better than its reputation.

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. I’ve been to an exhibition about Wilde in Paris and it pushed me to read his most famous play. It’s so good that it’s like a giant literary quote.

Best Sugar Without Cellulite Book

I didn’t have time to write a billet about it but I had a delightful reading journey with Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. I couldn’t put it down.

Best book blind date.

Le garçon by Marcus Malte is a book I read after a libraire set me up with it. What a ride! It won the prestigious Prix Femina, so I guess it will be translated in English.

Best book from my Québec reads.

The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay. Discover the life of a neighborhood in French speaking Montreal.

Worst reading experience of the year.

A Season in the Life of Emmanuel by Marie-Claire Blais. It’s bleak, violent and lacks nuance and compares to The Passport by Herta Müller, a book I didn’t like either. At least I’m consistent

The billet you liked the most.

Here’s the billet that got the most likes and comments: Literature in relation to American paintings in the 1930s. I always hesitate to publish billets about the exhibitions I visit or book festivals I attend. Who cares about my life, really? But each time, these billets get lots of comments and likes. So I’ll keep writing about events as long as they are book related.

The billet you missed.

I’d like to draw your attention to The Great Depression. America 1927-1932 by Paul Claudel. It is an excerpt of Claudel’s correspondence as the ambassador of France in Washington from 1927 to 1932. I know, it’s in French but there might be similar books in your language. It’s focused on economics and it was really enlightening. Lots of current issues and proposed solutions existed already and it was fascinating to put things in perspective.

That’s all folks! You can find another overview of my reading year in my Reading Bingo 2016 billet. 2016 was another great reading year and I expect 2017 to be at least as good. I don’t have plans but I will continue to work on the TBR.

I really want to thank all the visitors, commenters and “likers” of Book Around The Corner. It’s a pleasure to share my thoughts with you and interact with other readers. I’m always amazed that you’re willing to spend some of your free time reading me. I’ll try to be better at reading your blogs; I owe several of my best reading experience to other bloggers and that’s a great side of book blogging. And last, if any of you comes to Lyon, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Cheers to a wonderful 2017 reading year!

Categories: Personal Posts Tags:

Bonne année / Happy New Year

January 1, 2017 34 comments

Hello everyone!

2017I wish you and all your beloved ones a Happy New Year and as we traditionally say in France, I wish you a good health. A French won’t wish you a Happy New Year before the time has come. It’s a sort of superstition, I suppose. What if something happens? (I would never throw a baby shower either, to afraid to jinx something and attract back luck. I’ve never heard of receiving presents before the baby is born.)
But now we’re officially in 2017, so it’s safe to wish you the best and hope that the world will be a better place because let’s face it, 2016 wasn’t a great year on that front.

Thank you to all readers and commenters for spending my 2016 reading year with me. I’ll post a best of 2016 list later, I can’t publish it before the year is over. What if I read a masterpiece right the last week of December and my best-of list is already published. 🙂

I have no plans for 2017, except to limit my TBR. I wonder of it’s just wishful thinking or one of those January good resolutions. Time will tell.

Categories: Personal Posts Tags:
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