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Saturday news: gloom and doom but saved by books

October 31, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

It’s been a while since my last Saturday News billet but I felt I needed one today to reflect on October and try to imagine what November will look like. We’re October 31st and we woke up here to what we call un temps de Toussaint, in other words All Saints’ Day weather. It’s misty, grey, rather cold and depressing, a bit like October.

The month started with bad news. Quino, the creator of the wonderful Mafalda had died.

Photo by Daniel Garcia. AFP

She’s my alias and you can read why I picked her here. It made the news everywhere in France. What can I say, we love witty cartoonists.

Things started to look up on October 3rd, when I went back to the theatre for the first time since this bloody pandemic started. I’ve seen Saint-Félix. Enquête sur un hameau français, written and directed by Elise Chatauret.

Built like a journalistic investigation, we see four city people invading a little village in the French countryside and ask question about a drama. A young woman settled there and started to breed goats. She died a mysterious death and our four investigators want to find out what happened. The text is between tale and journalism. They interview the villagers and we witness small town gossip but also the end of a kind of rural life. Young people have left, the village was dying and this newcomer came and started a new farm. The production was lovely, served the text well and the actors brought this village to life.

Being in the theatre again was great but the atmosphere was subdued. We were not allowed to linger in the bright lighted hall and socialize. It was silent, as we headed to our seats with our masks on and went out in a single file, respecting safety distances. Better than nothing, that’s what I thought.

That was positively cheerful compared to what was yet to come.

Usually, I don’t comment the news here but this time, I need to. On October 16th, Samuel Paty was beheaded for teaching about the freedom of speech. He was a history teacher, he was doing his job, teaching the official syllabus from the French state. Nothing, and I mean it, nothing can justify this assassination. There’s no middle ground on this, no “he should have known better” or “these cartoons are offensive to some people, let’s not show them”. Sorry but no, a thousand times no. The same way women shouldn’t stop wearing short dresses to avoid being raped, we shall not tone down our right to mock, criticize and point out the extremists of this world. We already have a law that restricts the freedom of speech and condemns racism, antisemitism and speeches that advocate hatred and violence. That’s it.

We have fought over a century to earn the right to live in a secular republic, a democracy with freedom of speech and we won’t back down. Caricaturists, chansonniers and humorists are part of our tradition, one that goes back to the 18th century at least. And I’m not sure non-French people realize how deeply rooted in our culture secularism is. In the Third Republic, the one that established once for all freedom of speech and secularism, teachers were the armed arms of the said republic. Assassinating a teacher is stabbing the republic in the heart. So, in the name of our freedom of speech and against fanatics who want to impose their way of thinking…

More about this history when I write my billet about the fascinating book Voices for freedom. Militant writers in the 19th century by Michel Winock.

The month ended with other assassinations of Catholic worshippers in a church in Nice and with the news of a second lockdown until December 1st. Depressing. The doctors already say that Christmas is compromised and the perspective of not seeing my parents for Christmas is dreadful but worst things could happen, right? So, we’re settling for a month of homeworking with our son still going to high school. He joked about it, saying he’ll go out to work when we stay home like children. Daughter is enjoying herself as she’s doing a semester abroad.

With the new lockdown, the French literary world is in motion to protect independent bookstores from bankruptcy. There’s a debate about the question “Are bookstores indispensable businesses?”. Readers rushed to stores on Thursday and some booksellers reported that they sold as many books as on the last Saturday before Christmas. The jury of the Goncourt Prize decided to delay the announcement of the 2020 winner until independent bookstores are open again. Lobbying worked and bookstores are allowed to sell through click-and-collect and due to unfair competition, Fnacs and supermarkets have to close their book sections. Let’s hope that it will not boost Amazon’s sales. We are determined to maintain our lovely network of independent libraires.

Staying home means more reading time and luckily, November is rife with bookish events. I hope to participate to several of them.

German Lit Month is hosted by Lizzy and Caroline, AusReading Month, by Brona, Novella in November, by Rebecca at Bookish Beck and Cathy at 746Books. And there’s also Non-Fiction November.

I’ve gathered my books for the month, my pile is made of my Book Club pick, my Read The West readalong and others from the TBR that fit into November bookish events.

Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement by Assia Djebar is our Book Club read and The Hour of Lead by Bruce Holbert is my Read the West book. Then I have The Catherine Wheel by Elizabeth Harrower for AusReading Month. The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island by Chloe Hooper is Australian non-fiction. For German Lit Month, I’ve picked from the shelves The Confusion of Young Törless by Robert Musil and a novella by Thomas Bernhard, Concrete. I’m not sure I’ll have time to read them all but it’s good to have goals, right?

Regular reader of Book Around the Corner know that I’m a fan of Duane Swierczynski. I follow him on Twitter and last year, he sadly lost his teenage daughter Evie to cancer. He’s organizing Evie’s Holiday Book Drive, a book donation to the Children’s Hospital in LA. It’s from October 23 to December 4. There are details about how to donate on the poster and on this web site, The Evelyn Swierczynski Foundation. Duane Swierczynski tweets at @swierczy.

In the middle of all this, I stumbled upon an article by Nancy Huston in the Translittérature magazine, issue by the French association of literary translators. She wrote about the English version of Romain Gary’s books. (She’s a fan too) He supervised the ‘translations’ of his books, wrote some directly in English and then did a French version of them. I realized that I never investigated who translated Gary’s books in English and I went online to get as many English versions of his books as I could find. I already had White Dog, The Ski Bum and the recently published The Kites. Now I also have Lady L, The Enchanters, King Solomon, Europa and The Talent Scout.

December 2nd will be the fortieth anniversary of Gary’ death and I’m up to something…

While I was writing all this, the sun came out and our gloomy morning turned into a sunny afternoon. I hope it’ll translate into this month of November.

What about you? How is it going on in your world’s corner?

  1. October 31, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    Yes, I couldn’t agree more, October has been dreadful but November promises to be worse… wishing you health and peace and may books help distract you!


    • October 31, 2020 at 6:10 pm

      November won’t be worse, I don’t want to start thinking that way.

      I wish you and the boys the best too. Happy reading too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. October 31, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    I know I don’t have to go into detail about the fear some of us are feeling over here. I’m both extremely relieved the election is here and dreading what might happen. My country doesn’t seem like my country any more. Books and art and the people who create it and appreciate it are lifelines in an insane world.


    • October 31, 2020 at 6:12 pm

      We’re all waiting for the result of this election since it has indirect impact on our lives.

      Books are lifelines, aren’t they? And lucky us, it’s a lockdown-friendly activity. Yay!


  3. October 31, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    Bleak times Emma. It feels like things just keep getting worse.On a more positive note, I’ll be interested to see what you have planned for Gary’s anniversary in December. I have two of his books in the TBR so I’ll try and mark the occasion, although my reading rate is terrible at the moment…


    • October 31, 2020 at 6:40 pm

      Very bleak times. I’m trying to concentrate on positive things.

      I’m not going to organize an event for Gary’s anniversary, been there, done that. Not very successful.
      I want to write something about English versions of his books. Let’s hope I’ll have time to do it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. October 31, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    Bravo Emma. There are so many horrors in the world and they need calling out. It is really bleak here too, with threats of another lockdown – though I imagine they’ll keep schools open so I will still be going into work. Thank goodness for books, I say – they’re most definitely keeping me sane at the moment.


    • October 31, 2020 at 7:15 pm

      Some things are non-negotiable, that’s all.
      As far as the pandemic is concerned, things are not looking up in Europe in general. I’m glad that the schools remain open.
      I’ve never been so happy to be a bookworm, really.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pat
    October 31, 2020 at 7:22 pm

    Wow that’s one long post, I guess as asked mine would more or less shadow your’s, I made it to the theatre too, saw Winterreise (a ballet) to Schubert’s music and then to see the Kyle Eastwood quintet (Jazz), but that’s over for the foreseeable future. I’ve nothing to add to your chapter on France in the face of terrorism against our way of life, and as for the Covid thing, I won’t have seen my parents, a daughter and my grandchildren for more than a year, so unless they poke my eyes out at least I can keep reading and as you say German lit month is just around the corner….
    I guess all in all that’s not too joyful!


    • November 1, 2020 at 10:14 am

      Yes, it’s a long post. I kept thinking and stuff kept piling up.

      I was looking forward to seeing Cyrano de Bergerac at the theatre next week. I’ll rewatch the film with Depardieu instead.

      Sorry to hear about your being away from your parents, daughter and grandchildren. It’s the hardest part of this pandemic, how it cuts us off family and friends.

      Like I said, I’ve never been so happy to be a bookworm. Put me in a corner with a good book and I’m happy. Given the stack I have at home and all the free classics I haven’t read yet, I’m settled. That helps.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. October 31, 2020 at 7:52 pm

    It was indeed a terrible month. Awful events in France, and so called migrants drowning as the tried to reach a better life in England. Yet our leaders here in the UK concentrate on trying to stop them instead of helping these desperate people. Sad times.


    • November 1, 2020 at 10:15 am

      We need to focus on the positive and part of it is the TBR I have at home and the additional reading time I’ll get from this.


  7. November 1, 2020 at 2:44 am

    First, I want to say how sorry I am about the terrorism. Our Prime Minister is a divisive fool but for once he spoke for all of us when he said that Australia stands with France in defence of freedom of speech. It is, as you say, not negotiable.
    Secondly, as you know, Melbourne is just emerging from a long lockdown and although there are still restrictions (e.g. I can’t travel beyond 25k to see my son and his wife who I haven’t seen since it started) the city has crushed the infection. What makes it work is near universal compliance, mutual cooperation and support, people in communities helping each other even when they are physically separated. We have a small neighbourhood Facebook group which has done shopping for people in quarantine, sharing alerts when a case has been known to have been in a certain area, making masks for people who don’t have them. We have just held a Covid-safe Halloween with contactless trick or treat, with many people who’d never done it before, decorating their houses to give the children some fun. It can be done, and while we know the virus can resurface if people are stupid and disobey the remaining restrictions, it gives hope that we know now how to beat it.
    And we know, because we are Melbourne, that we can bounce our economy back despite it all!
    Take care, stay safe and well, Lisa


    • November 1, 2020 at 10:22 am

      We should never give in to bullies, whoever they are.

      I’ve heard that Melbourne is starting to open up again. And it’s spring, that’s an added bonus. I hope you’ll be able to see your son and daughter-in-law soon. Not seeing family is the worst. At least, when it’s the children, they know how to handle technology.
      This second lockdown is less strict than the first as the schools remain open and people go to work unless they can work from home. We can’t go out more than 1km from the house, and only to workout, walk a dog. I guess running around the house will take a new meaning! 🙂

      Take care, you and The Spouse. We’ll find things to occupy ourselves and it’ll soon be over. 🙂


      • November 1, 2020 at 2:33 pm

        Yes, and we’re all here to chat to, any time:)


        • November 1, 2020 at 2:54 pm

          Yes, we’re in a great book community! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  8. November 1, 2020 at 7:00 am

    An impassioned defence of freedom. Well said, Emma! Lockdown is a pain, but bearable compared with terrorism. I’m sure our American cousins wish they had more lockdown and fewer deaths and of course the spectre of right-wing terrorism there is very real and will no doubt be (further) encouraged by the lunatic in the White House when the results start coming in in a couple of days time. I am unlikely to be able to spend christmas with my family, who are just a few kilometres away, but I count myself lucky to live where I do.


    • November 1, 2020 at 10:28 am

      Thanks. I needed to say something about freedom of speech.

      My mind knows that this lockdown is not a big deal and there are far worst things in the world but this last month was a bit trying.
      I too wonder what’s going to happen in the US next week. I wouldn’t care so much if their choice didn’t affect our lives too.

      Time to think positive and care about TBR, reading challenges and Gary’s propensity to rewrite his books in English instead of basically translate them.


  9. November 1, 2020 at 9:03 pm

    I’m really curious to find out what you’re up to on the Gary-in-translation topic! Side-by-side reading and comment on French and English versions would be lovely to read.
    The news coming out of France these last few weeks have been pretty awful, and I too am fervently hoping something good will come out of the US elections at l(e)ast. It does affect our lives even if we don’t live there, as you say.
    Here in Hungary, everything remains open, with compulsory mask-wearing as the only restriction, because the PM says everything’s absolutely fine… all the numbers show the contrary, but who cares about that?


    • November 1, 2020 at 9:08 pm

      Have you seen this article by Nancy Huston in Translittérature? It made me very curious.

      Yes the news are terrible and we try to stay safe. All European countries experience the same increase of the pandemic, so we need to do what we can. Take care.


  10. November 2, 2020 at 5:23 pm

    I echo your sentiments completely. Terrorism is just wrong and nothing ever justifies it. My heart aches for France and its residents. This year has been very difficult for everyone around the globe and I hope next year will be a lot better. Books are the savior as always during these trying times.


    • November 2, 2020 at 9:27 pm

      Thanks for your message.
      It’s a difficult year for everyone and I hope too that 2021 will be better than that.

      Books are good friends in these isolated times.


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