Home > About reading, Personal Posts, Translations > Fête du Livre de Bron – Bron literary festival.

Fête du Livre de Bron – Bron literary festival.

It’s currently the Fête du Livre de Bron, a festival for contemporary literatures, one of the numerous literary festivals in France. This year’s theme is La vie sauvage. (Wild Life in English). Friday morning, I attended two conferences, one by Oliver Gallmeister, the founder of Gallmeister publishing house and one by Pierre Schoentes, professor at the Gand university in Belgium.

Regular readers of this blog know that I love books published by Gallmeister. They are specialized in American literature with two strong preferences, Nature Writing and Noir fiction. All books show a certain side of America and in their way, question the American way of life. Their books are right in the theme of the festival.

Oliver Gallmeister was interviewed by Thierry Guichard and the interaction between the two was lively. It was interesting to hear the point of view of a publisher. He runs an independent publishing house and his only compass is that he publishes books that he loves. Old ones with new translations or new ones. He comes from the countryside and says that nature has always been part of his life.

Gallmeister publishes Edward Abbey, Pete Fromm, David Vann, Jean Hegland, Gabriel Tallent but also Ross McDonald, Craig Johnson or Thoreau. They publish writers whose books could not be transposed anywhere else. Books that are intrinsically American.

He talked about nature in America, the way it is part of the American psyche and in their daily life, something we can’t understand in Europe where wilderness is when a garden in unkempt. In the books Gallmeister publishes, nature is an important part of the plot. It’s almost a character or at least something so present that it influences the character’s way of life.

I’m not going to paraphrase everything he said about Nature Writing but I’d like to share what he said about publishing.

80% of the books they publish come to them through literary agents. Gallmeister starts to be well-known in America for publishing a certain type of American literature. They receive around 500 books per year and publish 20. Some of these books are not even published in English because no American publisher wants them. For me, it’s quite puzzling to read a book in translation that has not even been published in its own language. It’s the case of Evasion by Benjamin Whitmer.

Oliver Gallmeister said that France is a little paradise for some of the writers they publish. France still has a unique dense and active literary ecosystem made of libraries, independent bookstores, festivals and partly relayed in the school system. When they first come to France, their writers are amazed by the crowds they meet and it’s something I’ve witnessed at Quais du Polar. Writers are sitting at their table to sign their books and they’re pleasantly surprised by the queue of people, patiently waiting their turn to have their book signed and a quick word with its writer. There are a lot of people attending literature festivals, them being free probably helps too.

Can you imagine that? Some of Gallmeister’s writers are so successful in France that it helps them being published in their home country or live off their books. Some keep on writing thanks to the French public and their book buying. (Now I have an excuse to splurge at Quais du Polar…)

I’ve already mentioned that Gallmeister’s traductions are outstanding. They work with a steady team of translators and their watchword is to disappear. The translator shall not be visible and they have each translation controlled by a team to ensure that the translation reflects the author’s text. There is no room for the translator’s voice or interpretations. Their efforts are visible in their translations. I speak English well enough to hear the American under the French, but it’s still written in a French that a French would speak. And yet, it reflects the American way of speaking and Frenglish with literal translation of expressions doesn’t have its place here, which is excellent because it’s irritating. It sounds odd to readers who don’t speak English and they leap to the face of the English-speaking reader. Honestly, it made me want to be part of their team who checks on translations.

I loved this interview because I truly share Oliver Gallmeister’s passion for American literature and also his non-academic relationship with literature. He doesn’t lose the most important part of why we read: pleasure. I managed to muster the courage to talk to him at the end of the conference and ask if they’d branch out to Australian literature and suggested a book that seems right in their publishing policy: The Hands by Stephen Orr.

Last info: Gallmeister will have a stand at the London Bookfair on March 15th.

The second interview was in total contrast with the first one and soon became a snooze fest. Pierre Schoentjes is certainly a very competent academic. He has written an essay about “nature writing” in French literature, which explains why he was Oliver Gallmeister’s counterpart. His first sentence included a word of literary theory that I didn’t know. That didn’t bode well for the rest of the talk. His speech was not totally accessible to non-academics. Sadly, he reminded me why I never wanted to go to university and study literature.

To sum it up: there’s no real nature writing in French literature for different reasons. There’s a genre called “régionalisme”, about peasant stories and it’s not considered as noble as literary fiction and it’s a put off. Europe doesn’t have wilderness anymore. Post WWII intellectuals were mostly urban writers and were more interested in the working class than in nature. It seems that books about nature were a political statement, either to contrast with the brutality of war (Giono) or to promote ecology.

The two interviews really illustrate my perception of American vs French literature. American writers (at least the ones I read) tell stories and nature or wilderness can be part of their story. French writers often fail to avoid the pitfall of introspection and intellectualization of things even when it’s not needed. One example: The Sermon on the Fall of Rome by Jérôme Ferrari. An American writer published by Gallmeister would have written a story about the two friends taking over a café in Corsica. All the stuff about Saint Augustine would never have been there.

I don’t want a novelist to show off how erudite they are, it’s boring and in a way, it says, “I only write for like-minded people”. I see literature as a way to escape, a way to see the world and broaden my horizons. Why should I need a degree in literature to read novels?

So yes, I’m going to be a very good customer to Gallmeister. The icing on the cake? The book covers are gorgeous.

On Saturday, I attended the interview of Fabrice Caro, a BD (comic books) writer and novelist. It was a very funny interview by one of his passionate reader, Maya Michalon. We went through his work as he shared anecdotes about his life, his creation process and his interactions with the public.

I bought his BD Zaï, zaï, zaï, zaï, the story of the absurd manhunt that starts in a supermarket when a consumer forgot his loyalty card. He had no papers. I haven’t read it yet but from the excerpts I’ve heard yesterday, it’s totally hilarious in an off-beat sense of humor. The idea behind the loyalty card is to show what could happen to someone who doesn’t have an ID card.

I’d also like to read his novel, Le discours and his other autobiographical BDs entitled Le Steak haché de Damoclès, Like a Steak Machine and Steak It Easy. He can’t tell you why all the titles have steak in them, except for the pleasure of a good word.

There were a lot of other conferences that seemed fascinating but alas, one is always caught put by pesky things called work and chores.

  1. March 10, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    Wow, Emma, you get a big virtual bouquet from me for recommending Stephen Orr’s The Hands!
    Tell me, is there really no wilderness anywhere in France, or Europe more generally? We are so lucky here in Australia!


    • March 10, 2019 at 2:02 pm

      Thanks Lisa, bouquet well received here! I sincerely think that The Hands is the kind of book they’d published. I tried to pitch it and OG asked me if I was sure it wasn’t translated it yet. The chance that it will change something is tiny but I take it and the odds are better than if I hadn’t said anything.

      I believe you have cell phone reception on top of the Mont Blanc. I think it says all about wilderness in France, at least. There must be isolated places near the North pole in Sweden and Norway, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 10, 2019 at 4:14 pm

        So all those Grimm’s Fairy Tales with their scary forests no longer exist!


  2. March 10, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Sounds like two really interesting events, and even your summary of the Schoentjes discussion makes it sound quite interesting to consider. I think Romania still provides some kind of wilderness, and as for phone coverage – not that long ago central Brittany wasn’t that well covered, not sure it has improved now.
    Anyway, lucky you to have been able to enjoy this literary festival. I’m looking forward to the Budapest book festival.


    • March 10, 2019 at 4:26 pm

      Schoentjes has written an essay, it’s called “Ce qui a lieu, essai d’Ecopoétique”. You can look him up. I’m sure he’s very competent, it’s just not my cup of tea. I’m only a reader. I’ll never be an academic. I have a lot of respect for them but I couldn’t be one.

      I’m sure we can find some places in Ardèche where the phone reception is sketchy. But nothing is comparable to Montana, a State with the same surface as Germany and only 1M inhabitants…

      Will you write a post about the Budapest book festival?


  3. March 11, 2019 at 12:37 am

    Such an interesting post Emma, thanks for sharing your experience of these talks. I just read L’homme qui plantait des arbres in English translation this week so your post with its explanation of French nature writing was very well timed for me!

    I have a degree in literature and much as I enjoyed my studies I still hate it when I go to talks where speakers are treating it like we’re back at university & they want to prove how clever they are. As you say, a total snooze-fest.


    • March 11, 2019 at 7:08 am

      A friend told me it’s a wonderful book, her children loved it.

      I’m sure this speaker is excellent in his specialty and he has written an essay on the topic.

      I’m just not receptive to that kind of talks, probably because I don’t have the proper tool box to understand them.

      I don’t think he wanted to prove he was clever. He was his normal self, not realising that his academic ways might be incomprehensible for common readers.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. March 11, 2019 at 1:15 am

    Interesting theme. I have the Stegner BTW along with a couple of his other titles. Not sure when I’ll get to it as the TBR list is huge (but shrinking)


    • March 11, 2019 at 7:10 am

      I’m really glad I could attend this conference.

      I knew you’d be interested in the Stegner !
      Good for you that the TBR is shrinking. I’m afraid mine isn’t…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. March 11, 2019 at 4:41 am

    fascinating facts about Gallmeister. thanks for sharing


    • March 11, 2019 at 7:11 am

      You’re welcome.
      Have you ever read their translations? If yes, what do you think about them?


  6. March 12, 2019 at 11:54 am

    You’ll be pleased to hear I didn’t learn, or use, any formal language at all while doing my M.Litt and I still have only the sketchiest knowledge of Lit. theory, though I did spend a couple of terms studying French (and English) theorists. Re wilderness: we have good mobile phone coverage out on the Nullarbor though I’m guessing the 3,000 odd kms from Perth to Adelaide encompasses no more than 50,000 residents, and the central 1500 km of that no more than a few hundred. And if you head north it’s nearly 3,000 km to the next bitumen road. Not much mobile coverage out there!


    • March 17, 2019 at 7:18 pm

      Good to know that theory and big words are not necessary. Honestly, he was probably very good but I’m not the right public.

      I guess it depends on what the phone company decide to invest in.
      We drove from Alice Springs to Uluru and there were lots of km without cell services. A lot. You just hope you’re not going to have a breakdown.


  1. March 31, 2019 at 7:16 pm
  2. April 14, 2019 at 7:45 am

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