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White Dog by Romain Gary

May 8, 2014 42 comments

White Dog by Romain Gary 1969 French version: Chien Blanc.

 If evil things were done only by evil men, the world would be an admirable place.

Gary_CentenaireToday is the 8th of May and Romain Gary would have been one-hundred-year old. For the centenary of his birth, I decided to read the English version of Chien Blanc. The title is literally translated into White Dog but that’s where the literal translation stops. I mean it when I say the English version and not the translation. White Dog has been self-translated by Romain Gary and he took the liberty to change passages, split one chapter in two, change references that were too French, add ones that were more American. From what I’ve seen, and sadly I don’t have time to compare more thoroughly the two texts, the global text is close enough to be the same book but not enough to be called a translation. He just adapted his speech to his American public to better reach out to them.

So what’s it all about? White Dog is a fictional non-fiction book, meaning that it’s a memoir without a journalistic aim at accuracy. Maybe there’s a genre for that, I don’t know. White Dog is focused on the year 1968 in Gary’s life. It’s the year Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy got killed, the one of the Spring of Prague, the one of the student revolution in France and in other countries too.

The book opens in Los Angeles. Romain Gary lives in Beverly Hills with his wife Jean Seberg while she’s making a movie. Their son Diego Alexandre is six. Romain Gary is an animal lover and specifically a dog person –White Dog is dedicated to his dog Sandy—so when a lost German shepherd lands on his door and seems lost, he takes him in and names him Barka. (“little father” in Russian). A few days later, he realises that Batka is a white dog, a dog that has been trained in a Southern State to attack black people. Gary decides to bring him to Jack Carruthers’ zoo, he wants him to reform Batka. Unfortunatelyn it’s easier said than done.

At the time, Jean Seberg is a fervent militant of the fight to civil rights for black people in America. She gets more and more involved with different groups of black activists, giving them money and support. Gary watches all this with wariness. Her naïve involvement in that cause puts forward their differences: he’s French, she’s American, he’s 24 years older than her and his lucidity, political sharpness and experience in the French Foreign Office make him analyse the situation with more accuracy. She doesn’t want to understand his point of view. White Dog shows how their different vision, not on the rightness of the cause, but on the nature of the black political movement, drives them apart. In White Dog, Gary lets the world know how much he loves his wife, as you can see in this passage, even if they’ll get a divorce in 1970, :

We part, and I walk back home wondering how my America is doing, if Sandy and the cats look after her, if she misses me, if those exquisite features under the short-cropped hair are sad or serene, and if those sweet peepers still look at the world and people with the same belief in something than can never be world or people, and which has always had so much to do with prayers…I miss my America very much.

The book is split in three parts, the first one describing Gary’s efforts to have Barka reformed, the second detailing his stay in Washington DC during riots and his views on the “black problem” in America and the last one picturing Mai 68 in Paris and the student riots.

White Dog is one of Gary’s best books. He’s everywhere in these pages and it helps understanding the novels he wrote. He describes how he liked to spend time in a python’s cage in Carruthers’ zoo and that leads us to Gros Câlin. When he wants to be anywhere else but with himself, he thinks of Outer Mongolia, like Lenny in The Ski Bum. His relationship with Jean Seberg gave us the one between Jacques and Laura in Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid. White Dog shows his inner struggles, his need to write off his problems by writing them down in a book. It pictures a man with strong beliefs, ready to stand to his ground even if his ideas are out of fashion. I love that passage about Stupidity.

The black-white situation in America has its roots in the core of almost all human predicaments, deep down within something it is high time to recognise as the greatest spiritual force of all time: Stupidity. One of the most baffling paradoxes of history is that all our intelligence and even our genius have never succeeded in solving a problem when pitched against Stupidity, where the very nature of the problem is, precisely, what intelligence should find particularly easy to handle. Stupidity has a tremendous advantage over genius and intellect: it is above logic, above argument, it has no need for evidence, facts, reasoning, it is unshakable, beyond doubt, supremely self-confident, it always knows all the answers, it looks at the world with a knowing smile, it has a fantastic capacity for survival, it is the greatest force known to man. Whenever intelligence manages to prevail, when victory seems already secured, immortal Stupidity suddenly rears its ugly mug and takes over. The latest typical example is the murder of the “spring of Prague” in the name of “correct Marxist thinking”.

Gary_White_DogHe’s an uncompromising moderate. He sees violence as being violence, not a means to defend a cause. He’s disgusted with the so-called good deeds done by the Hollywood circles. He’s appalled to see an old black friend turn into a vindictive and unrealistic activist. He’s a strange mix of a strong will not to give up in human nature and an ingrained cynicism gathered through the years, in spite of him.

His style is brilliant. Funnily, I could hear the French under the English. It doesn’t have the same ring as the passages of French literature translated into English I’ve read. When it’s done by a native translator, the general feeling is that it is an English text. Here, I can hear that English is an acquired language for a French native (or almost) speaker. I spotted mistakes Francophones tend to make when they speak English and turns of sentences that sound like a Frenchman speaking English. It made me smile.

It is risky to re-read a book you have loved when you were young. Will it be as brilliant as the first time? So far, all the Garys I’ve re-read have passed the test of years with flying colours. This one is no exception. It’s thought-provoking, witty and lovely at the same time. Gary has a knack with words and his style shines through and through, even if he’s not aiming at beauty or poetry:

I drive through Coldwater Canyon with enough stones in my heart to build a few more cathedrals.

I’m happy I picked this one for Gary’s centenary. It’s him as a man and him as a novelist too. The mix is potent. Highly recommended, the kind of book your want to share with your friends right away.

PS: I have tons of quotes and I can’t share them all but here’s a last one:

All this must have been happening in a wonderful smell of roses. Whenever I leave Jean alone, I am immediately replaced by bouquets of roses. Dozens of them come to fill the void, all with visiting cards, and I have estimated at various times that my flower value is about a dozen roses per pound. It is flattering and very satisfying to know that as soon as you leave your gorgeous wife alone, an impressive number of people rush to the florist’s in the admirable hope of replacing with roses your sweet-smelling self.

PPS: Another thing: White Dog has been made into a film by Samuel Fuller in 1982. You might have seen it.

Black Dog of Fate: A Memoir by Peter Balakian – Highly recommended

April 22, 2020 16 comments

Black Dog of Fate: A Memoir by Peter Balakian (1997) French title: Le chien noir du destin.

Today, I had decided to write my billet about Balakian’s memoir, Black Dog of Fate. Coincidentally, I also listened a radio program about Charles Aznavour today, and he’s a very famous member of the Armenian diaspora and I first heard about the Armenian genocide through him.

I could write a lengthy billet about this book that tells the story of the Balakian family and of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. It would be too long and wouldn’t entice you to read the book. And it would be a pity because it’s worth reading, really.

Balakian opens his memoir with his childhood in New Jersey. He was born in 1951 and he talks about his grandmother, his parents and his family life in suburban New Jersey. His family customs are different from the WASP boys around him in his bourgeois neighborhood. This part of the book reminded me of American Pastoral and The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. The two writers describe a different way-of-life between them and the WASP children. They had formal meals, the relationship with between parents and children were different. The fathers especially have a different way to raise their sons, their vision of masculinity is less macho, I should say, for lack of a better word. Balakian says it quite well:

In the world of my friends’ dads, my father stood apart. No backslapping or hearty handshakes, or greetings of “old buddy” or “man.” No polo shirts or khaki pants or slip-on canvas sneakers, or buddies for gold on Wednesdays, when doctors were supposed to be riding the fairways in orange carts and lime-green pants and white visors. No weekend cocktails with the McKays or the Wheelers. Nor did my father joke with me about macho ideals, the kind that Hemingway and John Wayne embodied. He made no jokes of the kind my friends’ fathers would tell, in sly moments when mothers were out of the room and fathers and sons bonded. Because he was 4-F in World War II owing to high blood pressure, something he never mentioned, he had no war stories either.

This very attaching part of Balakian’s memoir is a testimony of growing up American with immigrant parents and trying to fit it, to be as American as the others. While his family kept some family traditions, they also immersed themselves in the American way-of-life.

Balakian never heard anything about the Armenian Genocide of 1915 until he was in his twenties. His awareness of the massacre didn’t come from his family and at home, it was total silence about these events. Slowly, he will investigate and research his family’s past, describe the genocide and work for its recognition.

Part of his memoir comes back to historical facts, describing the Armenian people, where they lived, what was their status in the Ottoman Empire. He describes the genocide and it’s absolutely awful. 1.5 million people were eliminated in appalling circumstances. It is comparable to the Nazi methods (Balakian said that the laissez-faire of other countries and the Turkish methods inspired Hitler) The refugees became stateless. And even worse than the crime is the fact that for a long, long time, no country acknowledged this genocide.

As Charrey and Lipstadt have written, the denial of genocide is the final stage of genocide; the first killing followed by a killing of the memory of the killing.

I also loved the part when Balakian visits Lebanon and Syria, going back to the places of the massacres and on the trail of his grandmother’s stay in Syria before emigrating. It’s a very moving passage, chilling too.

At first, he didn’t understand why he’d never heard of the Armenian traumatic past before reaching adulthood. But his journey through history helped him understand his family better.

At some place in their minds my parents must have found the real issues of being Armenian too hard, too painful, too absurd. As my aunt Gladys had put it, “It was a pill too bitter to swallow, a pain too bad to feel.” In affirming the American present, my parents had done their best to put an end to exile. In the suburbs of New Jersey, they found rootedness, home, belonging. Yet, the past was a shadow that cast its own darkness on us all. The old country. I realize now that it was an encoded phrase, not meant for children. Spoken by numbed Armenians of the silent generation. It meant lost world, a place left to smolder in its ashes.

Reading Balakian memoir is a way of resisting against those who would like to erase this genocide and keep going as if it never happened. It happened and we, European countries, should be ashamed of the time it took us to acknowledge it.

Highly recommended.

Agnes is more black and white than grey

March 31, 2014 11 comments

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë. 1847.

This month our Book Club’s choice was Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë and since it’s a classic, I assume I can afford a bit of spoilers in this billet.

Agnes Grey is the daughter of a clergyman who ends up working as a governess to earn her living after her family is impoverished by poor investments. She first lives at the Bloomfields’ where she’s supposed to teach to three young children. All of them are little devils who treat her like a servant.

Master Tom, not content with refusing to be ruled, must needs set up as a ruler, and manifested a determination to keep, not only his sisters, but his governess in order, by violent manual and pedal applications; and, as he was a tall, strong boy of his years, this occasioned no trifling inconvenience.

Their weak parents don’t support her educational aims and she can’t discipline the children. Their parents never scold them or make them respect their governess. The mother spoils her children and can never find a fault in them while the father blames Agnes for not managing to tame them. Eventually Agnes has to go.

She seeks another position and arrives at the Murrays’. This time, she’s in charge of four older children, two boys and two girls. The two boys are soon sent to boarding school while the two girls stay at home. The oldest, Miss Rosalie Murray is a stunning beauty and she’s soon out and ravishing hearts around her. She’s praised for her beauty and shallow is her middle name. She’s a shameless flirt while her sister Matilda is a tomboy. Matilda loves her dogs, her horses and spending time with lads and hunters.

As an animal, Matilda was all right, full of life, vigour, and activity; as an intelligent being, she was barbarously ignorant, indocile, careless and irrational; and, consequently, very distressing to one who had the task of cultivating her understanding, reforming her manners, and aiding her to acquire those ornamental attainments which, unlike her sister, she despised as much as the rest.

Like the Bloomfield children, they have no intention to study anything. They have a loose schedule, decide of meals and activities at random hours and have Agnes at their beck and call. During her stay with the Murrays, she will become acquainted with Mr Edward Weston, the new parson. There seem to be mutual attraction between the two but how will it end for Agnes?

In our Book Club meeting, we all agreed to say that Agnes Grey was interesting but not a page turner and that it had flaws. The interesting part was about Agnes’s treatment in the families and the image it gave of the Victorian bourgeoisie. We’re far from the benevolent country people we encounter in Jane Austen’s novels. Actually, the only two Austenian characters are Agnes who sounds like Elinor in Sense and Sensibility and Edward Weston, who manages to be named after Edward in Price and Prejucide and Mr Weston, the man who marries the governess in Emma. No, the high society in Agnes Grey is not really people you care to associate with. The husbands are cruel; they like to torture animals and let the children do it. Indeed, Mr Bloomfield delights in Tom’s wicked ways with a bird and Mr Murray loves to hunt. They don’t care much about their wives and children. They tend to like eating and drinking. The wives and mothers are weak and conceited. They don’t want to trouble themselves much with educating their children. Mrs Murray doesn’t hesitate to marry her daughter to Sir Thomas Ashby because he’s rich and has a large estate. She perfectly knows he’s a bad match for Rosalie but doesn’t mind sacrificing her daughter’s happiness for greed and social status.

They all have poor education and poor moral values. The girls grow up to be very ignorant. They are never asked to put effort in their studies. Nobody cares that they can hardly read, never learn anything and have the attention span of a goldfish. They are brought up to marry well but can flirt in the meantime. Agnes endures seing the Misses Murray busy batting eyelashes to Captain Somebody and Lieutenant Somebody-else (a couple of military fops). What would be flirting in the English countryside in the 19thC without the military stationed nearby, I wonder?

With Agnes Grey, Anne Brontë dives in her own experience as a governess to describe the odd place of a governess in a household. Agnes is lonely. The family treats her like a servant and the servants don’t acknowledge her as one of them. She’s not good enough to be part of the family but of too high a rank to be among domestics. Agnes is intelligent, a bit young and naïve but she’s clever enough to analyse her situation. And that’s what makes her position difficult. She perfectly knows she’s being bullied.

Either the children were so incorrigible, the parents so unreasonable, or myself so mistaken in my views, or so unable to carry them out, that my best intentions and most strenuous efforts seemed productive of no better result than sport to the children, dissatisfaction to their parents, and torment to myself.

The Bloomfield children don’t hesitate to beat her up and the Misses Murray have her sit in the place in the carriage where she always gets motion sickness. She’s not the mistress of her days and Miss Murray will ensure to have her occupied to squash any possibility of free time. They send her to performs their charity duties in their place and do their utmost to smother any burgeoning romance between Agnes and Mr Weston.

Agnes Grey underlines the narrow path traced to women of her time. Agnes’s mother married Mr Grey out of love and had to turn her back to her rich family for that. She became poor and never got assistance from them since she married below her rank. Women of their class don’t have a lot of choices to earn money. They can be governesses or teachers in school. That’s about it. As Gissing will point it out in The Odd Women that lives children with teachers that don’t have a true calling for teaching. Agnes has no experience with teaching; Anne Brontë never mentions textbooks or teaching methods or programs to be covered according to the children’s age. Agnes seems to play it by ear but perhaps there were manuals. Even with more docile children, could she be a good governess?

This was the interesting side of Agnes Grey. Now the annoying part. Anne Brontë was 27 when she wrote this novel. She had left home and lived as a governess. She wasn’t a child anymore and the ending of Agnes Grey is well, too romantic for me. I expected drama and a dramatic death due to pneumonia caught wandering in the fields in a rainy day or at least due to melancholy. I kept waiting for a Balzacian ending and got something more Hollywood-like. Agnes lacks substance compared to Jane Eyre. God, how dull she is! I know she’s young, she’s had a sheltered life and she went through tough times in these families. But does she have to be so forgiving, so religious and such a doormat? (Patience, Firmness, and Perseverance were my only weapons; and these I resolved to use to the utmost.) Don’t we all remember fondly of teachers who were strict but fair? Wouldn’t she have gained a bit of respect from her employers by standing up for herself? Was her position as a poor woman so precarious that she couldn’t take the risk to be fired? There’s a boring passage of her discussing religion with a cottager of the neighbourhood, Nancy Brown. What a moralising speech and a picky inspection of conscience! Agnes is so virtuous it hurts (Lady L. wouldn’t have liked her a bit) and I’m sorry, virtue being rewarded in the end seems a bit too simplistic to me. We’d know the trick if you only needed to be a good girl to have your wishes come true, wouldn’t we?

So, yes, Agnes Grey gives an interesting portrait of the Victorian little nobility but lacks in characterisation. Agnes is too good and the children/adolescent she teaches too are too bad. Despite this black and white picture, it’s still worth reading.

West of Rome by John Fante – two novellas

November 15, 2020 4 comments

West of Rome by John Fante (1986) French version in two books Mon chien Stupide et L’Orgie. Both translated by Brice Matthieussent.

Life is quite busy at the moment and I’m late: the TBW pile keeps increasing, mostly because I’m too tired after work to open my personal computer and face a screen again. Let’s not talk about all the interesting blog reviews that sit in my inbox, unread. Sorry, fellow book bloggers.

West of Rome by John Fante was our Book Club read for…ahem…September. (see before)

The good news about being so late is that I can now cheekily add it to my November in Novellas reading since West of Rome is actually composed of two novellas, My Dog Stupid and The Orgy.

For French readers who’d read this in translation, it’s published in two different books, Mon chien stupide and L’Orgie. Both are translated by Brice Matthieussent.

John Fante died in 1983, these two novellas were published posthumously.

West of Rome

In West of Rome, we’re in Point Dune, California, not far from Santa Barbara, end of the 1960s, early 1970s. The Vietnam war is not over, it gives us a timeframe. Henry writes scenarios for Hollywood and he’s currently unemployed. Henry is 55, he’s been married to Harriet for twenty-five years, they have four children, Dominic, Tina, Denny and Jamie. The youngest one is Jamie and he’s 19.

But she was very good, my Harriet, she had stuck it out with me for twenty-five years and given me three sons and a daughter, any one of whom, or indeed all four, I would have gladly exchanged for a new Porsche, or even an MG GT ’70.

This is Henry for you. He’s offensive the way Post Office by Bukowski is offensive. (Bukowski rediscovered Fante and was instrumental to the republishing of his books) He’s a questionable father figure and has the nerve to be disappointed in his children. Dominic wants to go to New York and be an actor but he’s stuck in California because he’s in the army reserves. Tina is in love with a surfer, Rich. Needless to say, Henry despises Rich. Denny is in college, relies on his mother to writer his literature papers and has a black girlfriend which is not acceptable for Henry. Jamie is the only one he tolerates. Henry is terribly rude to his wife, even if he loves her:

Backing the Porsche out of the garage I sensed the flat deadness of my cheek, the place where Harriet had not kissed me goodbye. For a quarter of a century the habit of a goodbye kiss had been part of our lives. Now I missed it the way a monk missed a bead in his rosary.

Henry is one of these insufferable persons who are loud, obnoxious, rude and volatile. You never know what he’s going to say. He’s got a weird view on life, it’s like his internal camera always watches scenes at a weird angle that screws up is assessment of a situation. He’s unemployed (and lazy), 55 and not dealing well with the children growing up. Harriet is the eternal peacemaker, the communication channel between the children and their father who can be an insensitive prick and extremely hurtful.

When Henry finds an Akita dog sprawled on his lawn, he takes him in. He calls him Stupid. In White Dog by Romain Gary, the dog was white because he was trained to attack black people and Gary discovered it after he took him in. Here, Henry discovers that Stupid humps male humans and especially Rich. Imagine Henry’s glee when Stupid molests him.

Stupid becomes the catalyst that makes the family explode. He’s as obnoxious as Henry and when Henry decides to keep him, the kids rebel but Henry doesn’t change his mind.

I knew why I wanted that dog. It was shamelessly clear, but I could not tell the boy. It would have embarrassed me. But I could tell myself and it did not matter. I was tired of defeat and failure. I hungered for victory. I was fifty-five and there were no victories in sight, nor even a battle. Even my enemies were no longer interested in combat. Stupid was victory, the books I had not written, the places I had not seen, the Maserati I had never owned, the women I hungered for, Danielle Darrieux and Gina Lollobrigida and Nadia Grey. He was triumph over ex-pants manufacturers who had slashed my screenplays until blood oozed. He was my dream of great offspring with fine minds in famous universities, scholars with rich gifts for the world.

Henry knows that the kids are growing up and that they will leave the nest soon. It starts with meal independence…

Otherwise it had become a do-it-yourself kitchen, everyone cooking to his own taste. It had to be that way because everyone wakened at a different hour and nobody could be depended upon to show up for dinner except Harriet and me.

…and end ups with kids moving out. Henry fears the empty nest syndrome, despite his tantrums against his kids.

I can’t help thinking that My Dog Stupid is partly autobiographical. Indeed, Henry, like Fante is a semi-successful screenwriter who loves golfing. Harriet, like Fante’s wife Joyce has money of her own and the patience of a saint. The Fantes had four children, three sons and a daughter. If this is what their home life was like, he must have been a difficult man to live with.

The Orgy

The Orgy is totally different from My Dog Stupid. We’re in Colorado, in 1925 and the Narrator is a lot like Arturo Bandini, the hero of Fante’s Bandini Quartet. The narrator is ten, his family is Italian, his father Nick is a bricklayer and his mother a stay-at-home mom and a fervent Catholic. If in West of Rome, Stupid was the family member who divided the family in two camps, in The Orgy, the bone of contention is the friendship between Nick and Franck Gagliano. (Something also present in Wait Until Spring, Bandini.)

His name was Frank Gagliano, and he did not believe in God. He was that most singular and startling craftsman of the building trade—a left-handed bricklayer. Like my father, Frank came from Torcella Peligna, a cliff-hugging town in the Abruzzi. Lean as a spider, he wore a leather cap and puttees the year around, and he was so bowlegged a dog could lope between his knees without touching them.

And Often, but not always, Frank was my father’s best friend. But he was always and without exception my mother’s mortal enemy.

The boy works along with his father as a waterboy, he carries water to the crew on building sites. Once, a worker quits after getting rich on the stock market and as a farewell gift, gives Nick the deeds to a mine concession. Frank and Nick start going there on the weekends to dig for gold. Once, the boy goes with them and sees his father through a new light.

In The Orgy, Fante takes us back into familiar grounds: Nick, the Italian bricklayer, non-religious, womanizer and good friends with another Italian atheist. The mother, Catholic and judgmental, sprinkling holy water in the house, hardworking but kind of a harpy too. And the three children, taken back and forth between the two extremes, loving both parents and having a hard time finding a middle ground between the two.

Fante is a talented writer, he has an eye for descriptions, a fondness for his characters who are not always likeable and a wonderful sense of humor. Here’s Henry going grocery shopping:

And so my day began, a thrill a minute in the romantic, exciting, creatively fulfilling life of a writer. First, the grocery list. Varoom! and I roar down the coast highway in my Porsche, seven miles to the Mayfair Market. Scree! I brake to a stop in the parking lot, leap from the car, give my white scarf a couple of twirls and zap! I enter the automatic doors. Pow! The lettuce, potatoes, chard, carrots. Swooshl The roast, chops, bacon, cheese! Wham! The cake, the cereal, the bread. Zonk! The detergent, the floor wax, the paper towels.

I never knew that the difference between a writer and me was the Porsche because for the rest, I can relate. 😊

Saturday news: gloom and doom but saved by books

October 31, 2020 22 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?

Blog anniversary: 10 years of book blogging

April 30, 2020 76 comments

Today is the 10th anniversary of my blog, Book Around the Corner, and it’s been ten wonderful years of reading, of interacting with avid readers and of shamelessly promoting Romain Gary. For ten years now, I’ve shared my reading journey with you and taken you to literary escapades, Quais du Polar and to the theatre. I’ve met other bloggers in real life and made new friends.

Photo by Romain B. ©

Blogging has changed in the last decade but I don’t mind. My goal was to have a literary salon open to the world, meet readers from other countries and think about the books I read. That’s what I have, so, I’m happy with what Book Around the Corner has become.

When I started this blog, writing in English was a double hurdle. First hurdle: writing. I’m an Excel-spreadsheeter, not a writer. Second hurdle: in English. A big, daunting one but I was determined to shrug off all the errors I would make. Reaching out to readers in other countries was worth the ridicule of grammar mistakes, misspellings and weird syntax. I had to learn small literary things, like how to write book titles (yep, no capital letters in those in French). Then there’s the question: in which English am I supposed to write? I’ve settled on American English for all my posts except the ones about a Canadian, Australian or British book. Then I switch to the local spelling.

I like to think that my English has improved over the years, I sure read faster than I used to.

I also try to bring a French touch to my corner of the English-speaking blogosphere. As the years went by, I incorporated French words in my blogging, like billet or libraire. I’ve updated my About Page to inform newcomers of these little quirks.

Ten years of new authors

Fellow bloggers expanded my reading horizon. I discovered lots of new writers, some I would never have found simply by browsing display tables in French bookstores. I had never read Hungarian or Australian literature before. I didn’t know much about classic Noir literature either. I couldn’t name all the authors I read thanks to fellow bloggers. Jim Thompson, Sam Selvon, Barbara Pym, Duane Swierczynski, Dezső Kosztolányi, Stephen Orr are only examples. There are a lot more, some I haven’t read but encountered through other bloggers reviews.

Ten years among the cozy Book Blogging Community

It’s also been ten years of wonderful interactions with readers all over the world. I love being part of the book-blogging community. I try to participate to readalongs, literary events and sometimes memes.

Special hello to Guy, Max, Lisa, Marina Sofia, Bill, Tom, Vishy, Bénédicte, Madame Bibilophile, Andrew, Kaggsy, Simon, Karen, Nino, Jacqui, Susanna, Sue, Tony, Helen and Scott and all commenters on the blog. Thank you for your time and messages. Interactions through comments are the salt of book blogging and I enjoy them.

Thank you to regular readers who click on the Like button frequently but don’t necessarily comment. Special thanks to Erik (Perpetually Past Due), Kim (By Hook of By Book), Melissa, Carl, One Book More, Sandomina, Paula Bardell-Hedley (Thanks for the systematic RT of my billets, too), Desiree B Silvage, Bereaved and Being A Single Parent (special hugs to you), Shalini, Cathy, Bookmaniac and my sister-in-law, S.

Welcome to new followers and don’t hesitate to leave messages, I love them and always answer.

I wish I had more time to read your blogs and interact with you in your own literary salons but alas, my reading and blogging time are limited.

Ten years of shameless promotion of my favorite writer, Romain Gary.

I think ALL of my followers have heard of Romain Gary now. A few of you gave him a chance.

Susanna from A Bag Full of Stories mentions Life Before Us in her post Authors I Discovered Thanks to the Bookish Community.

Lisa didn’t like The Kites in its new American translation by Miranda Richmond-Mouillot and James Henderson recommends The Roots of Heaven for its passion for freedom and dignity.

Vishy fell in love with Promise at Dawn and Guy didn’t start with the easiest Gary to love, Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid

Tony, from Tony’s Book World read White Dog and found it excellent. Another review for Promise at Dawn, this time by Grant at 1streading’s Blog. Jacqui also thoroughly enjoyed Promise at Dawn and hopes to read more by Gary.

Are there any new Gary lovers that I’m not aware of?

Ten years of sharing my love for literature. 

If you’ve ever picked a book after reading one of my billets, please let me know which one it was in the comments. I’m curious and that’s probably the most rewarding part of book blogging. If I bring new readers to a writer I like, I’m happy. In the end, it’s all about the books and the promotion of literature.

Thanks again for reading and for your time.

I wish you the best in these social distancing times. At least, blogging and reading are hobbies that are compatible with this crisis. Meanwhile, we’re going to enjoy the anniversary cake baked by my daughter and her friend.

Bakers: Marion & Héloïse

Cheers and warm hugs to everyone!

Emma

PS: About the first photo: my son created the setting and took the picture. Gary, Proust, a TBR, an absorbed reader and a few Gallmeister. I guess he knows me well. 🙂

Categories: Personal Posts Tags:

Book FanCarroting Award

March 8, 2016 15 comments

I’ve been tagged by the French book blogger Bookmaniac for this little Book FanCarroting Award invented by another blogger, Le Roi Carotte. I thought the questions were intriguing, so, here we go…

Which book would you like to see re-written by your favourite writer?

I’m going to answer a bit differently. I wish Philip Roth wrote the sequel to White Dog by Romain Gary. It would be a heck of a book.

What release do you wait impatiently?

New translations of classic Noir like Chandler, Himes…The old translations are incomplete, full of outdated slang and they really don’t do justice to the original. I’ve written about this here.

If you had a less-than-15-words sentence to say to your favourite writer, what would be?

If Romain Gary were alive and in front of me, I’d say “You changed my life”.

To what places described in a book would you like to go?

Almost all the books I love make me want to visit the places they describe unless they’re awful places, like a concentration camp, a hellish jungle or that village in Herta Müller’s book. Well you get the drift. Yes, I’ve been to places solely or partly because of books. Budapest. London. Vienna. Dublin. New York and other places in the USA. To Proust’s Cabourg. To Hardy’s Dorchester. To Shakespeare’s Elsinor. I want to go to the Lake District. To Stratford-Upon-Avon. To Cornwall. To the Hamptons. To Jim Harrison’s Michigan and Upper Peninsula. To Craig Johnson’s Wyoming. To Didion’s Sacramento. To Boston. To New Orleans. I want to go to Awad’s Lebanon. To Louise Penny’s Québec. To Cicero’s Sicily. To Mahfouz’s Cairo. To Moscow and St Petersburg. To Gary’s Vilnius. And to Melbourne to meet Lisa…

The list is endless due to my bottomless curiosity. Some of these visits are filed under the category Literary Escapades.

Please describe your literary paradise.

It would be a world where I have Hermione’s wonderful clock that allows you to relive your day. First I’d go to work and take care of my family. Then I’d rewind the clock and start by reading and blogging day. This second day would be spent in my fantastic library in a Haussmanian appartment with high ceilings, wooden floors and mouldings. Bookshelfs everywhere, a ladder to get the books on the top shelves. A big fire place, comfortable armchairs and a samovar. *swoon*

Then I’m supposed to tag three other bloggers. Instead of doing that, I’ll point out to Bookmaniac a blogger with similar tastes, Tony from Tony’s Reading List and that would be for his love of Japanese literature.

 

 

Reading Bingo

November 13, 2014 27 comments

I discovered this Reading Bingo on Marina Sofia’s blog Finding Time to Write. There are 24 random book categories and you need to find out if you’ve read a book that fits in each of them. I thought it was a funny idea so I indulged and like Marina Sofia, I tried to stick to books read in 2014.

reading-bingo-small

1) More than 500 pages: Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos. It’s fantastic.

2) Forgotten Classic: Cheese by Willem Elschott. It’s a classic for Belgium. So I’ve heard. It’s hilarious, btw.

3) Book that became a movie: The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry.

4) Book Published This Year: Sorry, I only buy paperbacks and I don’t have time to go to a library.

5) Book with a number in the title: The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. I’m cheating a bit here, since I abandoned the book but it’s my only read with a number in it.

6) Book written by someone under 30: Nothing in this category.

7) A book with non-human characters: White Dog by Romain Gary. Please, please, read it. It’s a lot more than a dog story.

8) Funny: Several books qualified for this because as Elizabeth Bennett would say I dearly love a laugh. I picked Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis because I really had a lot of fun with this one.

9) Book by a female author: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Nothing very original. Sadly, most of the books I read this year and that were written by women were a disappointment.

10) Mystery: The Midnight Examiner by William Kotzwinkle. Totally wacked. It could be in the Funny Book category too which is strange for crime fiction, I know. Are you curious now?

11) Novel with a one-word title: Drive by James Sallis. It’s also been made into a film.

12) Short stories: Indian Country by Dorothy M Johnson. It’s difficult to find in English but it’s available in French.

13) A book set on a different continent: On Parole by Akira Yoshimura. It’s set in Japan and relates the story of a man who liberated on parole and needs to start again in Tokyo.

14) Non-fiction: A Parisian in Chicago by Marie Grandin. She was French and accompanied her husband in Chicago 1892. She describes the city and the American society. Fascinating.

15) First Book by a favourite author: Nothing in this category

16) A book I heard about online: Almost all the books I buy come from blog sources. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCord is one of them.

17) Bestseller: I rarely read bestsellers. The last one I read was Fifty Shades of Grey. Out of curiosity about the society we live in. I turned fifty shades of red just thinking so many readers enjoyed that crap.

18) Book based on a true story: Sutter’s Gold by Blaise Cendrars. It’s about John Augustus Sutter’s life, the history of California and the Gold Rush.

19) Book at the bottom of the TBR pile: It’s a bottomless pile.

20) A book that a friend loves: I’ll pick books among the Humbooks I got for Christmas, No Beast So Fierce by Edward Bunker.

21) A book that scares me: The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth scared me. It’s not a scary in a Halloween sort of way, it’s scary because it’s a long poem. I wasn’t sure I could read a novel written in verses in English. Apparently, I can. It’s also a book two blogging friends love.

22) A book that is more than 10 years old: I picked the oldest book I’ve read this year (so far) and it’s Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë.

23) The second book in a series: I have nothing for this category. (yet)

24) A book with a blue cover: Run River by Joan Didion. Billet to come. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Didion_Run_River

I hope you enjoyed scrolling through my reading bingo. It’s a fun way to look back on books I’ve read this year. I’d love to read about your Reading Bingo.

Cheers!

Emma

Romain Gary Literature Month: wrap-up

June 3, 2014 18 comments

I wanted to publish this a little bit earlier but work got in the way. May is over now and so is Romain Gary Literature Month. It’s time to wrap things up and give you the list of the Romain Gary billets I’m aware of. If there are some more, please let me know.

Gary_CentenaireCaroline published a billet about a collection of short stories and unfortunately, she wasn’t thrilled by them. Gary is better with novels; it seems to me his prose blooms better in longer works. Passage à l’Est re-read Education Européenne and the novel was up to her memories. It’s a good one to read. Gary wrote it while he was roasting in Africa and it’s set in the cold and snowy winter of a Poland at war. Guy wasn’t enthralled by Your Ticket is No Longer Valid. It is not one I’d recommend for a Gary beginner unless you’re also a Philip Roth fan. I hope Guy will still want to try another one. Vishy loved Promise at Dawn and he’s willing to read The Roots of Heaven and White Dog. Déborah read Le Vin des morts. This is an early novel that had never been published. It’s been released for Gary’s centenary and now I need to read it too. I’m curious about it and Gary fans seem to like it. James Henderson re-read The Roots of Heaven and wrote an excellent review of Gary’s first Goncourt. And I read White Dog, the English version of Chien Blanc. My billet is here; it’s really excellent and I highly recommend it. (the book, not the billet)

Thanks to all of you for participating, reading or re-reading my favourite author. I will add links to you blogposts on my new page Reading Romain Gary. For late bloomers or late participants, let me know if you write something about him and I’ll add it to the page.

Meanwhile in France, his centenary was well celebrated. The great news besides Le Vin des morts is that Romain Gary’s work will be published in the edition La Pléiade. For non-French readers, La Pléiade is a luxurious edition of literature. It’s an honour for a writer to have his books in this collection. It is named after the famous group of French Renaissance poets. Gary would be proud to be edited in this collection, I think. For book publishing, it’s like royalty. Gary’s publisher Gallimard edited special bookmarks for the occasion and I’m glad my favourite independent bookstore gave me a set. Finally, bookstores celebrated the event, like here in Divonne-les-Bains:

 librairie_Gary

If you want to know more about Gary’s celebration in France, have a look at Delphine’s blog Romain Gary & moi.

I hope other readers will discover him, just like one of my friends recently did. She’s on her way to read them all.

Reading Romain Gary

June 3, 2014 16 comments

Gary_Centenaire Welcome to the Reading Romain Gary page.

You’ll find information and posts about my favourite writer.

General blog posts:

Romain Gary forever Literature and life

Litlove : Hodwinked

Reviews of his books:

1945 : Éducation européenne

Passage à l’Est : Romain Gary et son Education européenne

1946 : Tulipe 1949 : Le Grand Vestiaire

1952 : Les Couleurs du jour

1956 : Les Racines du ciel (prix Goncourt)

James Henderson: Passion for freedom and dignity

Edith : Book review The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary

Marina Sofia: #1956Club Romain Gary

1958 : L’Homme à la colombe

1960 : La Promesse de l’aube

Promise at Dawn from book to play

Vishy : Promise at Dawn by Romain Gary

Tom : You are going to be an Ambassador of France; your mother knows what she is saying – Romain Gary’s Promise at Dawn

Tom : She was, by now, in the throes of a particularly revolting literary seizure – Gary fights for the honor of the French uniform

Grant : Promise at Dawn

1961 : Johnnie Cœur (Theatre)

1965 : Pour Sganarelle (Frère Océan 1) (Non fiction)

1962 : Gloire à nos illustres pionniers (nouvelles)

Caroline: On some short stories by Romain Gary

1963 : Lady L.

Any time a noble and generous idea inflates until excessiveness, it becomes narrow-mindedness.

1965 : The Ski Bum

America, Switzerland, Outer Mongolia and Italy

1966 : Les Mangeurs d’étoiles (La Comédie américaine 1)

1967 : La Danse de Gengis Cohn (Frère Océan 2)

Whose mind am I in?

1968 : La Tête coupable (Frère Océan 3)

1969 : Adieu Gary Cooper (La Comédie américaine 2)

1970 : Chien blanc

White Dog by Romain Gary

Tony: White Dog by Romain Gary – A Racist dog

1971 : Les Trésors de la mer Rouge

1972 : Europa

1973 : Les Enchanteurs

Litlove : The Enchanters

1974 : Gros-Câlin

Life is a serious matter because of its futility Literarilly fantastic

1974 : La nuit sera calme (Fictional interview)

1974 : Les Têtes de Stéphanie

1975 : La Vie devant soi (prix Goncourt)

Susana: ‘UMA VIDA À SUA FRENTE’ (‘THE LIFE BEFORE US’) BY ROMAIN GARY

1975 : Au-delà de cette limite votre ticket n’est plus valable

Guy : Your Ticket is No Longer Valid

1976 : Pseudo

1977 : Charge d’âme

1977 : Clair de femme

1979 : La Bonne Moitié (Theatre)

1979 : L’Angoisse du roi Salomon

1979 : Les Clowns lyriques

1980 : Les Cerfs-volants

The Kites (Les cerfs-volants) by Romain Gary

The Kites by Romain Gary – supplement with spoilers

Lisa: The Kites, by Romain Gary, translated by Miranda Richmond Mouillot #BookReview

1981 : Vie et mort d’Émile Ajar (posthume)

1984 : L’Homme à la colombe

2014 : Le Vin des morts

Biographies

  • Romain Gary, A Tall Story by David Bellos
  • Romain Gary by Dominique Bona
  • Romain Gary by Myriam Anissinov

Other books

  • S. ou l’espérance de vie by Alexandre Diego Gary
  • Romain, un certain regard by Lesley Blanch
  • Tombeau de Romain Gary by Nancy Huston
  • Lectures de Romain Gary.
  • Un certain M. Piekielny by François-Henri Désérable
  • Romain Gary s’en va-t-en guerre by Laurent Seksik

Blog:  Romain Gary & moi

Categories:

Romain Gary Literature Month: let’s get started!

May 1, 2014 23 comments

Gary_CentenaireHere we are! 1st of May! I declare that the Romain Gary Literature Month is open. Back in January, I mentioned that 2014 is the centenary of Romain Gary’s birth. It is an event in France. Le Vin des morts, his first novel written under his real name Romain Kacew has been published. Lectures are organised and Folio publishes La Promesse de l’aube with a cover mentioning the anniversary. I’ve decided it will be the banner for this event. Let’s celebrate Romain Gary! I’ve been showering you with billets and quotes by him since January. I hope you were tempted to try one of his novels; I tried to pick passages from different books.

I will be reading White Dog in English and write a billet here. If you decide to participate, please, leave a comment with the link to your review. I’ll read them all.  If you don’t have a blog and want to publish a guest review on Book Around The Corner, please contact me via email or by leaving a comment. In any case, comments are welcome, I’m looking forward to discovering your thoughts, positive or negative, about my favourite author.

Now, let’s look at covers:

Gary_EnchanteursGary_ChienGary_clair_femmeGary_LadyLGary_RacinesGary_VieGary_adiuGary_calin

Romain Gary captures my fascination for America in one sentence

April 20, 2014 6 comments

I’m reading White Dog in English for Romain Gary Literature Month in May and on the second page, here’s a quote that sums up

That day, a rainstorm hit Los Angeles with the kind of larger-than-life fury you soon come to expect in America, where everything tends to be more dramatic and violent than elsewhere, with both nature and man trying to outdo each other at the art of showmanship.

I’ve been to America several times now and every time the size of everything hits me. Everything seems huge from buildings, to cars, roads, portions in restaurants. And renaming French fries into Freedom fries is a perfect illustration of the dramatic side of the country, one that leaves me dumbfounded.

Incidentally, the equivalent of that sentence in the French version of the book is:

Ce jour-là, une averse démesurée comme le sont la plupart des phénomènes naturels en Amérique lorsqu’ils s’y mettent, s’était abattue sur Los Angeles.

The second part of the English sentence is absent from the French one. I knew there was a good reason to read White Dog in English. I suspect it’s going to be a slow read if I’m tempted to check the French version of every quote.

PS: Here’s Delphine’s billet about Promise at Dawn illustrated by Joann Sfar. She included pictures of Gary and the corresponding drawings by Sfar.

Wednesdays with Romain Gary, Part Fourteen

April 16, 2014 13 comments

Les Racines du Ciel. 1956 English title: The Roots of Heaven.

Gary_LecturesRomain Gary won his first Prix Goncourt with Les Racines du ciel. It was published in 1956 and it’s the story of Morel who is in Africa to save elephants. Great challenge. This novel is an ode to wilderness and a plea to humanity to preserve natural resources. Gary advocates that preserving natural beauty is a way for humanity to prove its superiority to its basic instincts. Elephants are at stake, but there’s more to the story than preserving elephants and stopping illegal hunting. Morel is an idealist, a type of character Gary liked to explore. I picked a quote that sums up Morel’s fight and vision of nature:

Est-ce que nous ne sommes plus capables de respecter la nature, la liberté vivante, sans aucun rendement, sans utilité, sans autre objet que de se laisser entrevoir de temps en temps ? Are we no longer able to respect nature— freedom in living form —, which offers no yield, no usefulness, which has no other aim than to let itself be observed from time to time? Translation more than reviewed by Erik McDonald.

I had a lot of trouble translating this; the French sentence with all the commas isn’t easy to put together in English. Many thanks to Erik for his help. That quote asks the ultimate question: are we still able to admire and respect beauty for free.  Where is our civilisation going if we can’t value beauty for itself not for what it brings us?

Les Racines du Ciel was written nearly sixty years ago and I can’t help wondering what Morel would do about global warming. The preservation of elephants is the cause Morel fights for. Gary takes advantages of his character’s presence in Africa, in the soon-to-be former French colonies to discuss decolonisation and more importantly, its aftermath. He always has a sharp analysis of the world he lives in. These regions will be free from the French in the early 1960s and Gary already sees the dictatorships coming. I admire Gary for his capacity to decode the world around him. He’s sharp about politics but he also feels the trends in society in France or abroad. White Dog, Lady L, The Ski Bum, Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid…a lot of his books have that side analysis seep through the pages.

In my opinion, The Roots of Heaven is an excellent book but perhaps not the one I’d choose for a first Gary. It’s been made into a film which I haven’t seen.

PS: The celebration of Gary’s centenary continues in France and you’ll find useful links here, in Delphine’s post. I really want that version of Promise at Dawn illustrated by Joan Sfar. It weighs two kilos so it’s not very handy but I’m really curious about it.

 

Joyeux Noël and Happy Humbook!

December 25, 2013 22 comments

Hello everyone !

Mafalda_ChristmasI wish you all a Merry Christmas, or as we say here, Joyeux Noël. I hope you’re having a nice day with your families or if you’re far away from them, that you are among good friends. I still wonder about Christmas in places where it’s warm or even hot at that time of year. I can’t imagine spending Christmas by a swimming pool. Christmas is such an important time for children and memories of them stay with you and shape your idea of what a Christmas should be. For me Christmas goes with hot beverages, fires, cold, snow sometimes, mandarins, chocolate and short days. We have a tradition here in Lyon: the papillottes. It’s a chocolate wrapped in a shiny paper in which there is a message. Now, it’s a quote from a famous writer; lots of aphorisms by Oscar Wilde, JB Shaw, Jules Renard or Alphonse Allais. But it originally started at the end of the 18th Century when a young chocolate-maker in love with the girl living in his building but on an upper floor started to send her chocolates wrapped in billets doux. Lucky girl: chocolates and love letters all in one.

From a blogging point of view, Christmas is also the day when willing copinautes exchange Humbook gifts. This year, we were five: Brian from Babbling Books, Lisa from ANZ Lit Lovers, Stu from Winstonsdad’s Blog plus Guy and I.

So here are the books Guy and I picked for Brian, Lisa and Stu.

For Lisa:

La première gorge de bière et autres plaisirs minuscules by Philippe Delerm. It exists in English but we thought you could try it in French in its Kindle version. It’s not fiction. It was a great success when it was published in France a few years ago. It’s a collection of short texts about the small pleasures of life. (The title means, The first sip of beer and other tiny pleasures) It reminds us that if we pay attention, we have lots of happy moments in our everyday life. It reflects the notion of pleasure that we have in French, a notion I have trouble translating into English.

For Stu:

All yours by Claudia Piñeiro. We wanted to find a book in translation, so here is an Argentinean book. Since you had enjoyed her Thursday Night Widows, we imagined you’d like this one too. I haven’t read it but Guy has and his review is here.

For Brian

The Plague by Albert Camus. No need to present Albert Camus. I’m looking forward to reading your review of it.

Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo. In this historical novel, Hugo brings to life the upheaval of the Chouans in Vendée in 1793.

We hope we’ve made good choices and will be reading your reviews of your Humbook gifts in 2014. I’m curious to discover what Lisa picked for Stu and vice versa.

Gary_White_DogGuy, you expected a Romain Gary last year, you’ll have one this year. 2014 will be the centenary of Gary’s birth. I have chosen White Dog. On paper, it has lots of ingredients that should interest you. It’s in California and in Paris, in 1968. It involves Gary’s life with Jean Seberg. It’s about a dog which needs to be reformed. It describes the political movements of the time from the inside through Seberg’s involvement with the Black Panthers. Cherry on the Christmas pudding: It has been made in to a film.

The other book I’ve picked for you is Lorraine Connection by Dominique Manotti. It’s a political crime fiction book set in the area I grew up in. I really hope I’ve made good choices.

I just have to wish you a happy reading and I leave you with a picture of a Christmas chimney.


cheminee

Happy New Year from France

January 1, 2013 27 comments

 Bonne année

I wish you all a Happy New Year. I hope 2013 will be good for you and your beloved ones. I wish you the best for this New Year.

Blogging and interacting with fellow avid readers has changed my way of reading. It’s become less solitary. When I had no reading plans three years ago, I find myself with some right now. I’ll read the books I got for Christmas through our Humbook Gift Event. I want to finish In Search of Lost Time; two more volumes to go after La Prisonnière. I already know that I won’t like Albertine disparue but I’m looking forward to reading Le Temps retrouvé. I remember it was fantastic.

I also have the books we chose for our Book Club. In January, we’re reading Notre Coeur by Maupassant, you’re welcome to read it along with us if you wish. I want to read more of Thomas Hardy, the next one on my list is Far From the Madding Crowd. Then I’d like to explore other European writers. And I bought White Dog by Romain Gary in English. I want to compare it to the French version. You can’t talk about translation because Gary adapted the “novel” in English by himself. So I’m curious about it.

Anyway, I’ll start first with a Japanese book as Tony hosts January in Japan for the first time this year. Therefore I’m currently reading N*P by Banana Yoshimoto.

More importantly, I’m on a serious book buying ban this year. My TBR is huge and it needs to go down. To keep my promise, I even pre-ordered Andrew Blackman’s next novel, Virtual Love, which will be released in April. See how earnest I am about it; I’m trying to set some boundaries to avoid temptation. So I’ll need to steer clear of bookshops and refrain from downloading books after reading enthusiastic reviews on other blogs. That’s going to be a tough fight with myself.

I will continue to read other blogs and comment when I can or if I have something to say. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to thoroughly follow as many bookish blogs as I’d wish to. Thanks again to all the readers who intend to follow my literary life. I send a friendly Hi to all those who will pop here now and then or land here by accident after typing something in their search engine.reading_yearPS: Special message to all the persons who arrive here after searching “How French men treat their women”: as far as I’m concerned, I’m well treated… 🙂 Please find another sentence to word your thoughts, this one sounds so Neanderthal to me.

Categories: Challenges, Personal Posts
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