Archive for the ‘Personal Posts’ Category

Quais du Polar 2022 : my festival.

April 4, 2022 11 comments

In a previous billet, I had told you about the crime fiction festival Quais du Polar, set in Lyon for the 18th time.

The whole city was full of activities dedicated to the “polar” genre, a nickname for crime fiction in French. Even the weather was committed to the cause, the temperatures were polar, we even had snow! In April. In Lyon. Only Craig Johnson and the Icelandic writers felt at home with this, I imagine.

So, what did I do? I started with a rencontre musicale autour du jazz avec Jake Lamar, ie a musical experience around jazz.

Jake Lamar is an African-American from New York who’s lived in France for thirty years. His last book, Viper’s Dream is a crime fiction novel set in Harlem from 1936 to 1962 and the story revolves around jazz musicians and how the music changed in these years. Lamar is a fan of jazz, his book includes his playlist at the end and the jazz band Les Paons had prepared several songs that agreed with his writing. They were very good and the public had the chance to hear Lamar about his love for jazz and then discover his musical preferences with Les Paons. Wonderful experience.

One of my great friends was staying with us for the festival and we decided to attend a panel, la puissance noire des éléments, about wilderness or natural elements influencing a plot to the point that they are characters as much as the human characters.

As you can see on the picture, we were not in the wilderness for this panel but in the great room of the City Hall.

The writers invited to his panel were Olivier Norek, whose last book is set in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, David Joy and the importance of the Appalaches mountains in his work, Dolores Redondo who wrote a book about the hurricane Katrina and Marie Vingtras who wrote a novel set in Alaska. The journalist who hosted the debate was a bit prejudiced against Marie Vingtras who was the only one who had written a book about a place she’d never been to and where extreme weather plays a key part in the plot. To be honest, I’m not sure you can describe the cold in Alaska without experiencing it yourself. Unless you’re from British Columbia, Norway or Greenland. But for most French people who shiver when three snowflakes hit the ground and who live in a country that is mostly a garden, you need to have a hell of an imagination to write about Alaskan wilderness and be convincing. Maybe she’s that good.

Dolores Redondo decided to write about the Katrina tragedy because she was so shocked by what happened to people in New Orleans, how help took five days to come and rescue the poorer population who was stuck in town because they didn’t have the means to leave. She wrote a crime fiction book based on true facts.

That was the first time I heard David Joy speak and he intrigued me.

We managed to get into another panel, le Coeur noir des Appalaches. A lot of people were interested in this panel. The writers invited were John Woods, Kimi Cunningham Grant and David Joy. Covid happened and only David Joy was among us and we ended up spending an incredible hour with him.

Christine Ferniot from the culture magazine Télérama did an outstanding interview. She knew his books in-and-out and asked intelligent questions in such a calm and tranquil way that she pulled him out of his shell and made him talk about himself, his country, his Apalachees, the opioid pandemic around him, his love for literature.

We listened to him talk freely about his favorite writers, the importance of books and literature in his life and what matters the most to him. What outrages him. How he sees his mountain culture disappear. How he soaks up everything around him and feels more natural in the woods than in cities. Where his characters come from. His vision of the role of an artist and his quest to understand the human condition. What he wants to achieve with his books. We went off tracks and left the highway of book tours to meander in his inner literary garden.

We had a lovely and moving time with him and the great news is that you can have a lovely time with him too as all the conferences are available on the Quais du Polar website, on the replay part.

The next day, I went to a literary cruise with Olivier Norek.

We spend an hour with him and he talked about his new book, Dans les brumes de Capelans but also about himself, his experience as a policeman and how he writes his books. He’s a lot closer to an IT project manager than to Hemingway but it works! He was nice and friendly and being on the Saône river, seeing the city from the water added to the pleasure of this conference.

And of course, I spent time at the giant book fest and came back with several books:

The Kurkov is not a crime fiction novel but the blurb reminded me of Romain Gary. It just sounded like a book that he could have written. Obviously, I couldn’t resist. The English title is The Good Angel of Death. Have you read it?

The most frustrating part of the festival is that there are so many tempting panels that it’s hard to choose which one to attend. But everything is on the Quais du Polar website and now I just have to find some time to listen to other panels. (I’ll have to listen to the one called Marseille la noire).

According to newspapers, there were around 100 000 visitors at the festival and the independant bookstores sold for 250 000 euros of books in three days. A great success and see you next year from March 31st to April 2nd.

Quais du Polar 2022 : let’s get ready!

March 19, 2022 18 comments

In two weeks, the crime fiction festival Quais du Polar will open. It’s a three-days celebration of crime fiction all over the city. The program is available on the Quais du Polar website and you can download it in pdf file if you’re interested.

The organization of the festival outdid themselves. There are the usual panels with several writers gathered around a theme, the giant bookstore in the gorgeous hall of the Chamber of Commerce, the mystery to solve in the city with a booklet of clues and questions. There are also crime escape games in several museums of the city.

Last year, the festival was in June, during COVID restrictions and they had to do things outdoors. They started the “literary cruises” on the Saône River, using the city’s bateaux-mouches. I went on the cruise with Florence Aubenas last year and this year, I’m very happy that I snatched a ticket for a literary cruise with Olivier Norek.

The Opera and Théâtre de l’Odéon are also involved and I booked a ticket for a Jazz & Literature event with Jake Lamar and Les Paons. I have wonderful memories of the one with James Sallis and Michael Connelly in a previous edition of the festival.

There are tons of talks with writers, opportunities to get signed books, chat with authors and discover the city of Lyon and sneak into places where you usually don’t go, like the grand room at the city hall. Almost everything is set in the city center withing walking distance and all events are free.

The festival has a broad approach of crime and works with the police and the justice to show how things work in real life. The police organize tours at the national school for commissaires de police and police officers set near Lyon. One year, you could do a tour at a police station with police officers to explain how they work. for a tour or have police officers explaining their jobs in police stations.

Last year, I attended a panel at the tribunal with judges and lawyers specialized in cold cases. This year, the festival goes further with bus tours with CSI, police and judicial experts. People you see on the screen and hope to never meet in real life, at least, not in their official capacity.

For the rest, I’m thrilled to spend time at the festival with friends and relatives. Let’s hope that the weather cooperates and it’ll be a fantastic weekend.

Last but not least, the authors without whom this festival wouldn’t exist. Here are the authors invited to the festival. The photos come from the official Quais du Polar website. I put a book sign on the writers I’ve already read (not many, actually). Let me know in the comments which ones you recommend.

Marcel Proust & Paris Exhibition – People and characters

February 28, 2022 18 comments

I imagine that a lot of readers of In Search of Lost Time wonder who were the real people behind the main characters of Proust’s masterpiece. The characters are so striking that they stay with you years after you’ve read La Recherche and it’s natural to want to dig out who was who between the Narrator’s life and Marcel’s. It doesn’t help that the Narrator is named Marcel, it blurs the lines between fiction and autobiography.

The Marcel Proust and Paris exhibition that I mentioned in my previous billet showed real life person vs characters.

Odette de Crécy

Odette de Crécy is the courtesan who captures the imagination and the heart of Charles Swann. We meet her in the first volume, Swann’s Way. She’s also the mother of Gilberte, the Narrator’s first love.

Odette de Crécy is modelled after Laure Hayman. She was a courtesan, first the mistress of Proust’s great-uncle Weill, then of his father Adrien. The rumor says the Marcel wanted to take over the family tradition and propositioned her but she rejected him. She had a salon, 4 rue La Pérouse in Paris, where famous writers went. Some dukes too but not their duchesses. She wasn’t too happy to recognize herself in Odette de Crécy, even if Proust always denied that it was her.

Charles Swann

Charles Swann is the key character of Swann’s Way. He was friends with the Narrator’s parents, went to salons in the high society and his love for Odette led him to the bourgeois salon of Madame Verdurin. He was very cultured and refined, his love for Odette was a surprise in the higher circles.

Swann’s real-life counterpart is Charles Haas (1832-1902) He was a star of several salons, including Madame Straus’s. Like Swann, he was Jewish, well-introduced in the world and known for his intelligence, his excellent manners and his broad culture. He was the lover of several famous ladies, like the actress Sarah Bernhardt. (Herself a model for La Berma in La Recherche)

Robert de Saint-Loup

Robert de Saint-Loup is the Narrator’s dear friend. They confide to each other, spend a lot of time together. They have a really close relationship. The Narrator knows about Robert’s liaison with the actress Rachel and Robert knows that the Narrator hides Albertine in his home.

Proust had several friends from his high school days but two dear friends stand out in his life. The first one is Raynaldo Hahn. They were close friends during twenty-eight years, it ended with Proust’s death. Hahn was a musician and a composer. Their relationship started with a liaison that turned into a long-lasting friendship. I’d like to think that there is something of him in Robert de Saint-Loup. The specialists think differently.

Robert de Saint-Loup was modeled after two other friends of Proust: Prince Antoine Bibesco (1878-1951) and Bertrand de Salignac-Fénelon (1878-1914).

A scene in La Recherche, where Robert de Saint Loup goes for the Narrator’s coat when he’s cold in a restaurant has happened in real life between Marcel and Bertrand. Bertrand de Fénelon died in combat in 1914, his body was never found. Proust only learnt about his death in March 1915 and was very distressed by his loss. Specialists think that Fénelon misunderstood Proust’s love for friendship. He died the same year as Agostinelli and the grief has certainly fueled Albertine Gone.

The Baron de Charlus

The Baron de Charlus, brother of the duc de Guermantes is the most famous homosexual character in La Recherche. He’s an art afficionado, appreciated in salons for his artistic tastes. In La Recherche, we will see him in the throes of passion, we will follow him to gay brothels and discover the underground gay Paris. Proust knew it well too.

Everyone agrees to see Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921) in the Baron de Charlus. Proust and Montesquiou met in Madame Lemaire’s salon. They admired each other greatly and Proust called him “professeur de beauté” (teacher of beauty)

Montesquiou was a dandy, a poet and a novelist. He was the cousin of the comtesse Greffulhe. Like Laure Hayman, he was furious to discover himself as a character in La Recherche. I’ve never heard of him as a writer, even if he wrote eighteen collections of poems, two novels and twenty-two art and literature critics. He was very influencial in Proust’s life, for introducing him in salons and for developing his artistic tastes. He was an early promoter of lots of poets and artists, with an incredible capacity to unearth new talents and adopt new forms of art.

I haven’t read Against Nature by Huysmans, but Montesquiou also inspired the character of des Esseintes.

Madame Verdurin

Madame Verdurin has a salon that grows from bourgeois to high society in the course of La Recherche. She has around her a little clique of writers, musicians, painters and other professions. Madame Verdurin is based upon Madeleine Lemaire.

Proust was a frequent visitor in Madame Lemaire’s salon. He met there several of his close friends or acquaintances, like Raynaldo Hahn or Robert de Montesquiou. Madame Lemaire had a famous salon where numerous artists met. She was a painter herself and illustrated Proust’s first book, Les Plaisirs et les jours, in 1896. Like Madame Verdurin, she was very peremptory in her likes and dislikes and regular visitors of her salon were expected to bow to her judgements.

The duchesse de Guermantes

The duchesse de Guermantes was the Narrator’s ideal. He dreams about her and maneuvers to go to her salon. Being a regular guest at Oriane de Guermantes’s soirees is the highlight of his society life. The enchantment lasts a moment but the Narrator quickly discovers his idol’s flaws and the duchesse de Guermantes turns out to be not so likeable after all. The duchesse de Guermantes was created after the Comtesse Greffulhe, Madame de Chévigné and Madame Straus.

The Comtesse Greffulhe was a star in the Parisian high society at the turning of the 20th century. She was a painter and played the piano. She promoted various artists and loved Wagner, whom Proust adored too.

The Comtesse Geffulhe met Proust in 1893, at a soirée at the princesse de Wagram’s. She was a lot more intelligent than La Recherche lets out. She helped artists but also funded Marie Curie, as she was also interested in science.

Proust met Laure de Sade, future comtesse de Chévigné in 1891. She’s the descendant of the Marquis de Sade and she had a famous musical salon in Paris, 34 rue de Mirosmenil. Like the Narrator with the duchesse de Guermantes, Proust used to watch out for her when she was taking her morning stroll. Proust was fascinated by her and in love with her too. They remained friends during twenty-eight years, until she was hurt when she discovered herself in Madame de Guermantes and refused to read Proust’s novel.

Some say that the duchesse de Guermantes was also inspired by Madame Straus (1849-1926)

She also had a famous salon where artists gathered. Maupassant was a frequent visitor (She’s the main character of his novel Fort comme la mort). Robert de Montesquiou went to her salon too.

This is where Proust met Charles Haas, who will become Swann. In 1898, the Straus move into their new mansion, 108, rue de Miromesnil.

The duc de Guermantes

The duc de Guermantes is a formidable character in La Recherche but he’s not as interesting to the Narrator as his wife Oriane or his brother Charlus. Indeed, he has nothing in common with the Narrator. He cheats on his wife, he’s rude, talks with a booming voice, and is not interested in the arts.

He’s modeled after the comte Greffuhle. He was fabulously rich, cheated on his wife repeatedly and as soon as they were married. He loved hunting, understood nothing to art and disliked his wife’s artistic friendships. Sounds like the duc de Guermantes to me, indeed.


And what about Albertine? It is admitted that Albertine was modeled after Alfred Agostinelli (1888-1914) He met Proust in 1907 when he drove him to Normandy. Agostinelli was a chauffeur who became Proust’s secretary. Agostinelli was passionate about aviation and he died in a crash in 1914. Proust was in love with him but his love was unrequited. Now you know where Albertine Gone comes from.

Artists in La Recherche.

Bergotte is THE writer in La Recherche. The Narrator loves his books. Bergotte is a frequent guest at Madame Verdurin’s, which confirms her ability to detect real talents. He seems to have been made of Anatole France and Paul Bourget. Ironically, unlike Maupassant or Zola, they are not a writers that people commonly read today. The irony. Anatole France had national funerals when he died but I think that his books are unreadable today.

Elstir is THE painter of La Recherche. He’s an impressionist based upon Monet, Manet, Renoir, Helleu, Whistler and Boudin. Proust must have met Monet, Manet and Renoir through Mallarmé, who was close to Berthe Morisot’s circle. He’s also a member of Madame Verdurin’s salon.

Vinteuil is THE composer of La Recherche with his sonata. There’s no actual link with a real composer.

La Berma. This actress features in beautiful pages about Phèdre and theatre. It is notorious that Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) and Réjane (1856-1920) inspired the character of La Berma.

After writing about all these characters of La Recherche and their real-life inspirations, it strikes me that it was really a small world. The salons were very close, geografically and they all knew each other. How was it to be surrounded with so many great artists? What has become of salons today and what replaced them?

A lot of Proust’s models didn’t like how he portrayed them in his novels. Was he too harsh or didn’t they like that he saw through them so well? I suppose there are some clues in Proust’s abundant correspondence. What they didn’t foresee is that their socialite friend or acquaintance would give them a form of immortality. Truly, all these people would have been long forgotten if Proust hadn’t used them in La Recherche. So, literature gave them their immortality. The only ones who survived through their own merits are the painters who shaped out Elstir and and in a lesser way the writers who inspired Bergotte.

I hope you had fun with me in peaking at what was behind the scenes of La Recherche and read about its who’s who.

PS : Another thought. We must be grateful that Robert Proust was not the same prick as Paul Claudel. Otherwise, you bet that some serious editing about homosexuality would have been done in the volumes published after Marcel’s death. And let’s not think about what could have happened to his correspondence.

Marcel Proust & Paris Exhibition – Proust in Paris

February 24, 2022 35 comments

The exhibition Marcel Proust, Un roman parisien at the Musée Carnavalet shows the importance of Paris in Proust’s life and in In Search of Lost Time. (“La Recherche”). It explores Proust’s Paris and the fictional Paris of La Recherche.

Proust has lived in Paris all his life, except for his stays in Illiers-Combray or Cabourg and his travels to Venice. The exhibition traces his family’s origins, the apartments they occupied in Paris and the places they used to spend time in. There are even maps of them!

Proust was born in 1871 in Auteuil, a village incorporated to Paris in 1860 and which is now the wealthy 16th arrondissement. His great-uncle had a country house there and Proust’s parents found shelter there during the Commune. Then they moved to the 8th arrondissement, where Proust would spend all his life. This area of Paris was modeled by the Baron Haussmann: large avenues, trees, not far from the Bois de Boulogne.

Rich bourgeois had mansions built there. In today’s touristic Paris, it’s the Boulevard Haussmann and its famous department stores, the Garnier Opera, the La Madeleine Church, the Saint-Augustin Church. We have to remember that for Proust as a child, everything around him was rather new.

The exhibition shows all the places that were Proust’s quotidian in Paris, so there is nothing about Cabourg or Illiers, translated as Balbec and Combray in his novel.

Proust spent his early childhood in Auteuil. Laure Hayman, a famous cocotte of the time was his great-uncle mistress. Marcel went to play at the Champs Elysées and he had various crushes on girls. His father, Adrien Proust, was a gifted doctor who had a brilliant career fighting for hygiene and against epidemics (cholera). He studied how epidemics spread and how to prevent their spreading. I listened to a series of podcasts about his work and actions during the first lockdown and it was fascinating. Proust’s mother, Jeanne Weill, came from a rich Alsatian-Jewish family of tradesmen. They had stores in Paris. She was the one who shared Marcel’s interest for literature and the arts, and, as the Narrator’s mother, was devastated by her mother’s death.

Proust had his mother’s eyers, no? We can imagine that Proust’s younger brother, Robert, who became a doctor, was closer to their father.

Marcel Proust went to the high school at the Lycée Condorcet. The students there were mostly non-religious bourgeois as the others were in private Catholic schools. Imagine that he had Stéphane Mallarmé as a teacher! They say he was very influential in Proust’s youth. Personally, I find Mallarmé’s poetry unreadable, I tried again after reading Berthe Morisot’s biography. Proust met close friends during his formative years at Condorcet and was an active participant to the high school newspapers and started his first literary work during those years.

La sortie du Lycée Condorcet by Jean Béraud (1903)

Growing up, he met people who introduced him to the high society. I took pictures of all the key people who inspired the characters of La Recherche but that will be in another post. These are the years he spent in salons, translating Ruskin, writing articles for Le Figaro and gathering memories and material for his future masterpiece.

Une chanson de Gibert dans le salon de Madame Madeleine Lemaire
by Pierre Georges Jeanniot (1891)

Following the death of his father (1903) and his mother (1905), he had to move to a smaller apartment, still in the same neighborhood.

The exhibition shows what Paris was like for Proust at the time, knowing that he never left the very wealthy 8th arrondissement. Maps showed the places he used to go to, like shops and restaurants. Some still exist, like the bookstore Fontaine and the restaurant Maxim’s. The gay brothel he financed and frequented, the Hôtel Marigny was on the map too. There was a map of the theatres and operas he loved and out of the nineteen places, I counted that only three don’t exist anymore. They may have moved but they are still there and that, in itself, is a tribute to the vibrant Parisian theatre scene. See an illustration with this very contemporary street corner in the 10th arrondissement.

The most surprising thing was Proust’s subscription to the Théâtrophone service. It was a service you could subscribe to in order to listen to live theatre plays and operas over the phone. It started in 1890 and was in operation until 1932, replaced by the radio. Proust loved theatre and operas and he signed up for this service in 1911. He listened to Wagner’s operas and Debussy’s music. We’re talking about the first streaming service for music and theatre here. Isn’t that mind-blowing? Reading a bit about it, I discovered that this service was invented and sold by Clément Ader, who made a fortune out of it and used the money to finance his researches on aviation. From music to planes!

When we think about Proust, we picture the whirlwind of soirées, shows and salons, but Proust wasn’t disconnected from politics: he was a fervent support to Dreyfus and Zola. He followed closely the battles during WWI and stayed in Paris during the whole war. He was interested in the world’s affairs.

Meanwhile, in 1906, he starts writing La Recherche, as if he needed his parents gone to spend some serious time on writing. The first official recognition came with the Goncourt prize for In the Shadows of Young Girls in Flower in 1919. He finished the first draft of the whole La Recherche in 1922, and told his housekeeper Céleste that he was done and could die. He hadn’t left his bed much during the last years.

Proust’s bed, coat, cane and writing instruments

His brother Robert made publishing Marcel’s work his mission. Tough job as Proust never reviewed Time Regained and added corrections and additions with sticked bands of paper. The last volume of La Recherche, Time Regained, was published in 1927. Then, Robert published Marcel’s correspondence. Céleste Albaret’s book of souvenirs was published in 1973 and it’s a gold mine of information.

It was a fascinating exhibition with a lot of information and things on display. Paintings, posters, pictures, maps and scale models were numerous and all accompanied by useful explanations. I loved it and I’m not the only one. There were a lot of visitors, which explained the poor pictures. It wasn’t easy to take them.

I will post the pictures about people who mattered in Proust’s life and inspired characters in La Recherche and I hope I’ll have time to post about Paris in La Recherche, the second part of the exhibition.

Literary Escapade: Alexandre Dumas, Edmond Dantes and the Château d’If

February 21, 2022 31 comments

Le Comte de Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is one of my fondest memories of reading during my teenage years. It’s the definition of a page turner, I remember reading it with eagerness and delight. What a story!

With The Three Musketeers, it is the most famous novel by Alexandre Dumas and I don’t think I need to sum up its plot. If you’ve never heard of it, here’s a link to the related Wikipedia page and to its free pdf edition on Project Gutenberg. Now you have no excuse not to read it.

Alexandre Dumas published Le Comte de Monte Cristo in 1844 and a significant part of the plot is set in the Château d’If. It is where Edmond Dantes is imprisoned and where he connects with Abbé Faria. The Château d’If really exists, it’s near Marseille and tourists can visit it after a mere 20 minutes boat trip from the Vieux Port. How could I resist such a literary escapade?

Photo by Jean-Marc Rosier, from Wikipedia

The Château d’If is a fortress built on the orders of King Francis I between 1527 and 1529 and reinforced by the military engineer Vauban in the 18th century. (There are Vauban fortresses all over the country. The man was everywhere, I don’t know how he made it). The Chateau d’If was a prison during 400 years and became extremely famous when Alexandre Dumas set his novel there. The last prisoners left the Chateau d’If in 1914.

Dumas knew of the Chateau d’If through his father, who was a general in Napoléon’s army. For the General Dumas, this fortress was where the General Kléber’s coffin was kept after he was assassinated in Egypt in 1800. Bonaparte was embarrassed by his death and Kléber’s body remained at the Château d’If until 1814.

Alexandre Dumas visited If in 1834 for the first time. During a trip in the Mediterranean, he came across an island named Monte Cristo. The legend says that in the Middle Ages, monks amassed a treasury on this island and nobody ever found it.

So, life provides material for fiction but the writer is the one who ties together the real story of Pierre Picaud, the Chateau d’If, the island of Monte Cristo and the political context of the Restauration.

Le Comte de Monte Cristo was first published as a feuilleton in the Journal des Débats, from 1844 to 1846. The newspaper gave it a large audience as papers circulated more than books at the time, as they were cheaper and available in cabinets de lecture. (The cabinets de lecture were establishments where people could read newspapers and books against a small fee.) It was then published as a novel and immediately translated into 20 languages. So, Le Comte de Monte Cristo is one of the first international bestsellers!

Le Comte de Monte Cristo was a huge success when it was published. Dumas came to the Chateau d’If, in 1858, ten years after the novel was released as a feuilleton. To his astonishment, a guard, not knowing who he was talking to, explained the whole story of Dantes and Faria as if it were real facts. He showed the supposed cells of the two fictional prisoners and a passage between the two had even been built! It is still visible today.

This is a picture of Marseille, taken from If, only 1.5km away at sea.

How frustrating it must have been to be so close to the coast and unable to go back to the city! The only person who managed to escape this fortress is the fictional Edmond Dantes.

Readers started to visit the Château d’If as soon as the novel was published. It wasn’t officially opened to visitors but the novel was so popular that it drew people to see the fortress and Dantes and Faria’s cells. See, we’re not so original with Harry Potter or Hunger Games tours! I find this kind of trivia fascinating and I often realize that a lot of our modern behaviors started out in the 19th century.

Le Comte de Monte Cristo has an amazing plot, and it was made into a play by Dumas himself, into films and into a manga by Ena Moriyama. The clerk of the boutique at the Chateau d’If told me that she met a Japanese tourist who was staying in France for four months to learn French and was very happy to visit the castle as he was a huge fan of the Monte Cristo manga.

History and fiction are entwined in such a way that the Château d’If has 100 000 visitors per year, something it would never have without Dumas. Otherwise, it is a rather banal fortress, a prison whose most notorious prisoner is a character in a bestseller.

And, that is the lasting power of literature and books for you, my friends. 🙂

2022 Reading projects

January 9, 2022 43 comments

Now that you know all about my favorite reads for 2021, let’s have a look at my reading projects for 2022. They include the inevitable “Kill the TBR” part, probably only to allow myself to buy more books and end up with the same number of unread books come December 31st. Oh well. One of the great pleasure of life is visiting bookshops. I’ll never spend a whole year without buying a single book.

My 2022 reading year will include the books I’ll read along with my Book Club and with my sister-in-law.

That’s already 15 books, out of the 75 read every year.

2022 will see two major centenaries for French literature. It is the centenary of Proust’s death and the fourth centenary of Molière’s birth.

I’ll have a Proust Centenary event. I want to finally finish my reread of In Search of Lost Time. I also have several works by Prousts or Proust related books on the shelf. Time to read them! The Proust Centenary reading list is:

  • Albertine disparue by Marcel Proust
  • Le temps retrouvé by Marcel Proust
  • Proust by Samuel Beckett
  • Days of Reading by Marcel Proust
  • The Mysterious Correspondant. New Stories by Marcel Proust
  • Le mensuel retrouvé by Marcel Proust

I hope to be able to visit the Proust exhibition at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris. I’d love to visit Aunt Léonie’s house in Illiers-Combray but it’s like a six-hour drive to go there.

I’ll probably do something about Molière’s centenary too. I will see Le Bourgeois gentilhomme in May, it’s in my theatre subscription for 2022. I’m tempted to reread Le Misanthrope. We’ll see how things go on that front. I have already published several billets about Molière’s plays as he’s my favorite playwright.

I will also participate to various reading challenges and blogging events because I enjoy the book blogging community and also because it’s a good way to tackle the TBR. I try to pick books from the TBR for these events and to kill several birds with one stone.

So far, I’ve spotted several events.

The first one is the year-long Nonfiction Reader Challenge, a good way to decrease the Nonfiction TBR. There are twelve categories but I can’t really find one book per category, so I choose de Nonfiction Grazer status, meaning I can read whatever nonfiction book I want. Here’s my list, which overlaps with Book Club and Proust Centenary lists.

My daughter is spending a year in UofSC and I hope we’ll be able to visit the area next summer. I’ve chosen several books to read from the Appalachians and the Carolinas.

  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  • Country Dark by Chris Offutt
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • Serena by Ron Rash
  • Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash
  • All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

Have already been announced : Japanese Literature Challenge, Larry McMurtry 2022 for which I want to read Lonesome Dove, and the 1954 Club. (I have The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty on the shelf)

All this makes 30-35 books, all from the TBR, Yay! For the rest, we’ll where my mood takes me and how life goes. I only want to have fun, learn new things, do some armchair travels and spend time with books.

What are your reading projects for 2022?

Categories: Personal Posts Tags:

Let’s have a quick look at my 2021 year with books.

January 8, 2022 47 comments

I can’t believe we’re already in 2022. At work, I’m starting to see contracts that ends in 2030 and the first one struck me as being a mistake but after recounting the years, I thought, “Oh right, we’re that close to 2030 after all”. Before I share my 2022 reading projects with you, let’s have a look at my 2021 reading year.

I read 76 books, two less than in 2020 but the end of December has been busy, my concentration was shot and I couldn’t read anything. For a lot of bloggers, 76 books is what they read in three months, but for me it’s a good score.

I’ve read your posts full of stats about countries, writers’ gender, translated books, non-fiction vs fiction, numbers of pages read and all that and I admire you for checking out all these numbers. I work with numbers all day long and I keep them at bay from my reading. So, no stats like this from me, I’m afraid.

Here, I’m happy to live without numbers and only go with totally subjective opinions about books I read. So, here we go, with categories of my own.

Best Least Commented Billet

I looked into my billets in search of the least commented ones. Some of my favorite books of the year are in this category, sadly. Something happened to The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart, it fell into a pit and nobody cared about this Texan family saga. It is an amazing book, though. Rugged characters, beautiful writing and a story that takes you away to Texas for a while. I haven’t read Lonesome Dove yet, but I figure it’s the same kind of book.

Best Gallmeister Book

Frequent flyers of this blog know that I’m fan of books published by Gallmeister. They publish excellent American literature with a focus on crime fiction and Nature Writing, the books that Oliver Gallmeister loves and wishes to promote.

Among the eleven books that I read this year from their catalogue, my favorite on is Betty by Tiffany McDaniel. It’s a bestseller in France, readers, libraires and literary critics loved it. I was a bit reluctant to read it, as often with books with a lot of hype. (Still haven’t read Elena Ferrante for that same reason). It was a Book Club choice and I’m very happy the group pushed me to read it.

It’s based on the true story of Tiffany McDaniel’s mother growing up poor and part-Cherokee in Ohio in the 1950s. It is a beautiful homage to McDaniel’s grandfather too, written in a style that hooks you up. Violence and pain are part of the family story but it’s not a bleak book. Highly recommended.

There will be more Gallmeister books in 2022, starting with Italian crime fiction as they’ve branched out and started to publish non-American books.

Best Most Relaxing Book

This category is for comfort and fun books. I loved Miss Mole by E.H. Young . It was a wonderful study of character, an easy read with excellent insight. A total comfort book. Thanks for the recommendation, Ali.

I also had a blast with Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gishler. It’s like reading an action movie set in the near future and it was sheer fun. I owe this one to Guy.

But the book that combined comfort and fun was The Grey Ghost Murders by Keith McCafferty. It’s all-in-one for me: crime fiction, Nature Writing, fun and exotic.

Best Non-Book Post

Since 2019, I have a best-of category for my billets that are not a book review. This year, the most read and commented ones were about lists of books, my 20 Books of Summer List and my Book Club 2021-2022 List. That’s us, avid readers, we all love book lists, reading recommendations and book piles.

Sign of the times, there has been no Literary Escapade billet in 2021. I hope to resume these outings in 2022.

Best Read With-Sister-in-Law

I’m now in my third year of readalong with my sister-in-law. (Hi S!) It’s been a year with literary fiction and crime fiction. We couldn’t finish Elmore Leonard’s Western Stories. It’s well-written and all but we got tired of formulaic cowboy stories.

The most striking book we’ve read it The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. The characters are fictional but it’s based on the real place, the Dozier School in Florida. It was a reform school operated by the State of Florida and as you imagine, it was not a Care Bears kind of place. Reading it made me so angry on behalf of all the boys that were destroyed in that school and by the very people who were supposed to take care of them.

Best Translation Tragedy

A Translation Tragedy is a book available in English but sadly not in French or vice versa. This year I’ve read fifteen books that are not translated into English and nine that are not translated into French.

Among the nine books not available in French, three are from Australia and New Zealand, three are from America and three from UK. I think that Death on Demand by Paul Thomas would find its public in France as we are fans of crime fiction and his Maori maverick police officer would be a hit. Thank you, Kim, for organizing your Southern Cross Crime event as it led me to Death on Demand.

Nine of the fifteen books not available in English are French books, the others are from Italy, Colombia, Morocco, Japan, Egypt and Québec.

Noah’s Ark by Khaled al Khamissi is the book I’d want to see translated into English. The intertwined stories of the characters show the various reasons why people want to emigrate and how well it works for them.

Best Book-I-Want-To-Buy-To-All-My-Friends

I guess it’d be Convenience Store Woman by Sakaya Murata. The main character, Keiko Furukura, is a peculiar lady. She’s 36 and had been working at the SmileMart convenience store for 18 years. She’s single, never had a boyfriend, doesn’t wish to marry and loves her job. She doesn’t conform to the Japanese society norms. This novella is an easy read and shows an interesting side of Japan. Thanks Vishy for pointing this one to me!

Best Book Club Read

Our Book Club year was a success but the one book I want to show off is Entre deux mondes by Olivier Norek. It’s hard but not bleak and it will force you to see what happens to migrants on our shores and especially in Calais, in the North of France, across the UK. I wish that all the candidates to the French presidential election and the current British Home Secretary read it if they’re openminded enough to see the human beings behind their speeches and actions on emigration.

Best Non-Fiction

I loved the time I spent with Monsieur Proust’s Library by Anka Mulhstein.

It’s a slim book in which Anka explores Proust’s relationship with books, literature and writers. It’s a delightful book that will appeal to all readers, whether they’ve read Proust of not.

Best Random Discovery

By Random Discovery, I mean a book I read after leaping from another book. That’s exactly what happened with The Last Night at the Ritz by Elizabeth Savage. I read a book by her husband, Thomas Savage, realized that he was married to a writer and decided to try her books too.

The Last Night at the Ritz is told by an unreliable but likeable narrator and it goes back to a life of friendship between two women and their different paths in life.

Best Bleak Book

In 2021, I seemed to have the knack for picking bleak books, as I mentioned it in my billet B is for bleak : the bleak fest continues in Oktober. The bleakest book of my reading year was Les larmes sur la terre by Sandrine Collette.

In a dystopian future, Moe lands in a breaker’s yeard with her baby, gets a used car for housing and discovers that poor people are parked here with no real hope of ever going out. I’ve rarely read a book that dark and that hopeless. It has wonderful literary qualities in its style and the story is totally new. But wow, it’s taxing for the reader.

Best Spooky Book

Nothing prepared me for The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury. The main character is Tracy, a seventeen-year-old girl who lives in Alaska.

Her mother died the year before and their family fell apart after that. Her father and mother were mushers but now he doesn’t want to race anymore. And Tracy has a strange need to spend time in the wilderness, a need she shared with her mother. She has a special connection to wild life, one you’ll get to know if you read this book.

That’s all folks! 2021 has been an excellent reading year for me and I’m sure 2022 will be too. What was your favorite book in 2021? Say the first that comes to mind when you think “What did I read in 2021?”

Categories: Personal Posts Tags:

Happy New Year 2022!

January 1, 2022 35 comments

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you spent New Year’s Eve in good company and that you had a wonderful evening.

I wish you all and your loved ones a good health, a chance to go and see your relatives who live abroad, a peaceful professional life, an opportunity to make your dreams and projects come true.

I am thankful for all the healthcare professionals who bear with Covid-19, keep on nursing us and who have to take the brunt of the epidemic every single working day. I hope this year will be easier on them.

Let’s hope that this year will grow into an amazing transition year to a better future.

I wish us all an excellent reading year and I’ll come back later with my best-of-the-year list and 2022 reading projects. Meanwhile, here are the bookish gifts I got for Christmas. Look at my cool Mafalda tote bag and the cutest library socks ever!

I got myself a subscription to Quais du Polar, and along with it, the book Les jardins d’Eden by Pierre Pelot. I’m ready to read Nemesis by Philip Roth and see his take on a pandemic situation.

Many thanks to the book blogging community for sharing and exchanging about literature, libraries, book shelves, TBRs, book recommandations, for organizing challenges and events that bring us together. We make our lives better with civilized discussions about the immense pleasure that books and literature bring into our quotidian.

I’m looking forward to spending this new reading year with you.

Categories: Personal Posts Tags:

Paintings, theatre, music and books.

December 12, 2021 29 comments

As the pandemic once again rears its ugly head, I feel like the last few weeks of activities have been on borrowed time. I’ve been to a wonderful museum-thon in Paris with my girlfriends. We managed to pack four exhibitions and a theatre play in a two-day stay in the capital. How I love Paris. There’s no other city like Paris, except maybe Rome.

Our first visit was to my favorite museum, the Musée Jacquemart-André. It is boulevard Haussmann, where Proust used to live and where the great department stores always make me think of Ladies’ Paradise by Zola.

At the moment, the museum hosts an incredible exhibition, Botticelli, artist and designer. I’m not a great art connoisseur but I’ve never stared at a painting in awe as much as I have in front of The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. No printed or screen reproduction can give justice to the colors that leap out of the canvas, the fineness of the fabrics or the details in the hair and jewels. Look at his Portrait of young woman, (La Belle Simonetta in French.) *sighs with happiness*

We had lunch at the museum’s café which makes you think that Robert de Saint-Loup might stride into the room at any time for a chat with Marcel.

Different museum, different painter and a leap across the centuries: a major Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at the Centre Pompidou.

I always find this museum rather cold with its modern architecture and it has the worst waiting line management I’ve ever seen. The exhibition was worth the hassle though as they displayed paintings from all of O’Keeffe’s career. I’ve been to her museum in Santa Fe, so her work wasn’t new to me. We all know about her colorful and flower paintings and her later New Mexico period. I thought about books by Hillerman, Doss and Kingsolver.

Taos Pueblo by Georgia O’Keeffe.

I also enjoyed her New York paintings. They reminded me of Manhattan Transfer by Dos Passos and I wanted to hop on a plane and to go New York.

East River from the Sheldon Hotel by Georgia O’Keeffe.

The day after, we visited the Fondation Louis Vuitton that currently hosts an exhibition about the Morozov collection. It’s like the Barnes collection, for Russia. It is the first time that that this impressive collection of Impressionist art travels abroad. The Morozov brothers, born around the same time as Marcel Proust, bought paintings from all the major artists of the time. I discovered several Russian painters I’d never heard of and was grateful to know, like Valentin Serov who painted this portrait of Morozov.

Ivan Morozov by Valentin Serov

He’s leaning towards us, as if he were going to speak to us. I’d never heard of Aleksandr Golovin, Konstantin Korovin, Pyotr Konchalovsky, Natalia Goncharova or Ilya Mashkov and it was a marvelous discovery.

We went out of the museum, stars in our eyes. What do we owe to these art afficionados who collected paintings and sometimes helped painters survive! I am grateful for the Morozov, Vollard, Barnes or Shchukin of this world. And also to the Jacquemart-André who left their town house and their art collection to be a museum.

Our trip to the Musée d’Orsay brought us to another art collection, this time by Paul Signac. This is him, on his boat, painted by Théo Van Rysselberghe.

En mer, portrait de Paul Signac by Théo Van Rysselberghe

Signac owned up to 400 paintings, thanks to his family’s money and through exchanges. His collection favors Impressionism, Fauvism and Divisionism.

Between the Morozov and the Signac collection, I came across several painting of my favorite area of the French Riviera, the Estérel massif and the Maures massif. It brought me back to holidaying there, hiking in the hills with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, the scent of warm pine needles and other aromatic plants mixed with the iodine from the sea, the heat of the sun and the sound of cicadas.

Les roches rouges de l’Estérel by Louis Valtat

Although we had been on our feet all day, our evening was at the Théâtre Hébertot to see The Importance of Being Earnes by Oscar Wilde. The Théâtre Hébertot is one of the old theatres of Paris. It dates back to 1838 and was named the Théâtre des Batignolles at the time.

Maybe Lucien de Rubempré and Oscar Wilde went there, and Balzac and Hugo. There’s always a kind of magic to see plays in old theatres, as if the generations of spectators and actors had left their imprint on the walls and in the air.

The play was directed by Arnaud Denis, Evelyne Buyle and Olivier Sitruk.

I had read the play and knew we couldn’t go wrong with Wilde and no matter how many kilometers we in our feet, we wouldn’t fall asleep in the theatre. Happy to report I was right.

Everything was perfect: the text, of course, served by a vivid production and an excellent set of actors. Their acting did justice to Wilde’s sense of humor. He’s quick at repartee and the actors’ tone and acting enhanced the text beautifully. It’s French vaudeville laced with Irish sense of humor and the mix is explosive. I wonder if Wilde thought about The Game of Love and Chance by Marivaux when he wrote The Importance of Being Earnest. There are similarities in the devices used in the two plays: quiproquos, change of identity and the question of honesty between lovers.

We laughed, we felt energized and had an amazing time.

Literature was also on my mind when I went the concert of Stephan Eicher, a Swiss German singer who was very famous in the early 1990s.

His album Engelberg, sang in English, French and German, was a huge success in France in 1991. This was the tour that partly celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of this album and like most of the audience in the theatre, I bought when it went out.

I loved this album and the songs in French written by Philippe Djian who is probably my favorite living French writer. He started to be famous in the 1980s with novels like 37°2 le matin (Betty Blue), Echine and Maudit Manège. The songs Déjeuner en paix and Pas d’ami (comme toi) are representative of the atmosphere of Djian’s books at the time.

I was in my teenage years and Djian’s books were something new. First book with a gay couple in a book whose focus was not homosexuality. They happened to be gay, that’s all. First book with a man and woman as best friends. A lot of references to American literature, happening at the time 10:18 started to publish a lot of American writers in paperbacks, thanks to their director Jean-Claude Zylberstein. On top of this, this friendship between Eicher and Djian, some sort of modern Montaigne and La Boétie. They are still friends and Djian wrote the lyrics of Eicher’s latest album in 2019.

This concert was a trip down to memory lane, a sunny path surrounded by good music, lots of reading and bonding with my Mom over Eicher and Djian. My love for American literature started there, with a French writer who worships Carver and a publisher who brought Jim Harrison and many others to French readers. Maybe it’s time for a reread of Echine or Maudit Manège.

I hope that vaccines continue to do their jobs to give a bit of respite and leave us a rather free access to culture because we really need all the beauty we can get in this world, be it brought by artists born 500 years ago or by contemporary ones. Happy Sunday everyone!

Back to the theatre! Yay!!!!

September 22, 2021 14 comments

I’ve wanted to write a billet about how happy I am to be able to go the theatre again. Nothing compares to sitting in a theatre and watching a play and I missed it dearly. I usually have a subscription to the theatre in Lyon and go to ten to twelve plays during the season. In 2020-2021, almost all plays were cancelled due to the Covid crisis. As soon as the theatres reopened, I bought tickets. I hope theatres will survive these long months they had to keep their doors closed.

I started end of June in Paris, with St Ex in New York, a play written and directed by Jean-Claude Idée. In France, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is nicknamed St-Ex, hence the title of the play. It focuses on a special time in Saint-Exupéry’s life.

We’re in 1942, he’s living in New York with his wife Consuelo, who has an affair with Denis de Rougemont. Saint-Ex has an American mistress, Sylvia. He’s writing Le Petit Prince and he’s hitching to go back to France, enroll in the army and fight in the war.

The four of them fight, discuss art, writing and try to discourage St Ex to go back to Europe and risk his life at war. I didn’t know much about St Ex’s life, except for his experience as a pilot. I knew nothing about his temper, his relationship with his wife or anything else. Phew! If the play is accurate, he and Consuelo were like oil and water, fighting, making up, hurting each other and all in the name of love. The play shows a St Ex who’s not happy to be far from combat but is also pressured to give his support to the Général de Gaulle.

Le Petit Prince stems from this time and I understand that the temperamental rose is actually Consuelo in real life. The play was vivid and it showed an interesting moment in St Ex’s life.

End of August, I was in Paris again and went to see Le Cercle des Illusionnistes, written and directed by Alexis Michalik.

This play won several Molières, the most prestigious prize for theatre. Michalik has the knack for embarking you in his unique brand of storytelling. I’d already loved his Porteur d’histoires.

Le Cercle des Illusionnistes opens in 1984, it’s a football championship and Décembre steals a handbag in the metro. He contacts its owner, Avril, a pretty young lady because he wants to get to know her.

He starts telling her the story of Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, watchmaker, magician and illusionist of the 19th C. He was before Houdini and invented lots of techniques that are still used by conjurors. He was also a creator of automatons, ran a theatre in the heart of Paris.

The play goes back and forth between 1984 and the 19th century and we discover Robert-Houdin, his life and his heritage. It’s the kind of play that removes you temporarily from your life, puts a smile on your face and just makes you happy. Most needed in these stressful times.

Yesterday was the beginning of my new season here at the theatre in Lyon. It opened with Skylight by David Hare, directed by Claudia Stavisky. The play dates back to 1995 and was translated into French by Dominique Hollier.

We’re in the 1990s in a poor neighborhood in London. Kyra lives in an old apartment building, it’s cold because the central heating isn’t good. Tom comes to visit her, uninvited. He’s in his fifties, a successful businessman whose company was just listed on the stock market. Kyra teaches mathematics to underprivileged children. They were lovers and Kyra left him when his wife Alice discovered their relationship. They still love each other but butt heads over their past.

They confront their present, what they want to do with their lives. Their path differed. Kyra comes from a rather wealthy background, lived and worked with Tom for a while, left him to earn a lot more and live modestly. Tom came from a poorer background and became a successful and rich businessman.

The play questions the power of love and what we can accept and compromise for it. Love isn’t enough to build a solid and healthy relationship. These two still love each other but can’t live together.

The play also explores social issues. Tom and Kyra have different stances on money. Kyra despises money in a way that only people who grew up without money worries can afford to. Tom knows better and enjoys the perks money brings him. What’s more meaningful or valuable? Teaching mathematics to underprivileged kids and help them move forward through education or founding and running a successful business that provides jobs for people? Are the two approaches irreconcilable?

Hare’s text is excellent, alternating between feeling and debating, between emotion and humor. The actors, Patrick Catalifo, Marie Vialle and Sacha Ribeiro, who plays Tom’s son were outstanding. We were in this apartment with Tom and Kyra, eager to know how things would turn out for them.

It’s a relief to resume watching plays live. Stay tuned, next week I’m going to see L’Ile des Esclaves by Marivaux, a play were masters and servants reverse their roles. 18th century magic.

Crime fiction readalong with S.

September 5, 2021 23 comments

For our third readalong, S. and I have decided to leave American West books behind and have a year of reading atmospheric crime fiction from different countries. We have settled for twelve books that cover all continents. We’ll read one per month, starting this September.

Les larmes noires sur la terre by Sandrine Collette. It’s not available in English and the title means Black tears on the earth. It’s set in a junkyard in France, a place we’d rather think doesn’t exist. I’ve already read a Collette book Il reste la poussière and I was impressed by her style. Someone should translate her into English.

The Black Ice by Michael Connelly. No need to explain who Connelly and Bosch are. I’m looking forward to spending time in LA with them.

The Shaman Laughs by James D. Doss will take us to the Ute reservation. I’ve read several books by Tony Hillerman and I expect to find in Charlie Moon a cousin of Jimmy Chee or Joe Leaphorn.

L’île des âmes by Piergiorgio Pulixi. It means The souls’ island and it’s not available in English. Set in Sardinia, it’s Italian crime fiction that delves into local folklore and customs on top of the usual crime investigation.

Yeruldelgger by Ian Manook is the beginning of a French crime fiction series set in Lapland. According to Goodreads, it’s available in German, Italian, Greek, Romanian, Vietnamese, Czech and Spanish.

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny. I’m looking forward to going back to Québec and see what Gamache is up to.

Adieu Oran by Ahmed Tiab. A series of violent crimes happen in Oran, Algeria. Commissaire Fadil is in charge of the investigation. Another book only available in French.

Les disparus de Pukatapu by Patrice Guirao is set in Tahiti. We’ll see what’s beyond the paradisiac islands. Only available in French.

La Maison où je suis mort autrefois by Keigo Higashino. The title means The house where I once died. This is a Japanese crime fiction book and it’s not available in English either.

The Survivors by Jane Harper will be an opportunity to travel to Tasmania.

Dead at Daybreak by Deon Meyer and we’ll fly out to South Africa

Les hamacs de carton by Colin Niel is set in French Guyana. As I’ve already read it , I will go back to New Zealand, reunite with the Maori cop Tito Ihaka and read Inside Dope by Paul Thomas.

I am grateful for translators who brings these books to French readers and for the publishers who promote foreign literature.

Twelve books, twelve months, twelve armchair travels. What do you think of our selection?

20 Books of Summer 2021 : It’s a wrap!

September 4, 2021 20 comments

I’m late with the wrap-up of my 20 Books of Summer challenge. Life got in the way of blogging lately, mostly for good reasons. Holidays. Getaway weekends. Driving our daughter back to her campus. This summer, I’ve read 20 books, abandoned one, and wrote only 13 billets. *sheepish* I read seven books out of the original list.

I don’t think I’ll be able to catch up with all the billets as I’m drowning in work and I keep reading and adding to the billets pile.

I’m happy with my armchair travelling as my books took me to Egypt, Pennsylvania, Montana, Australia, Mississippi, Romania, Iran, Scotland, France, Denmark, Tennessee, New York, Colombia, Texas and Massachusetts.

As I began to compile the list of books, I noticed several recurring themes, all unintentional.

Uprooted, colonized and ostracized people

L’Arche de Noé by Khaled Al Khamissi. From story to story, the reader discovers all the reasons why people want to leave Egypt and how to emigrate to a Western country.

A Most Peculiar Act by Marie Munkara. Set in the Northern Territory in Australia, this satire explores the absurdity of the Aboriginal ordinances Act of 1918. You need to read it to believe the way Aborigines were treated by the Australian government.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Matthis. Mini billet upcoming. I expected to like this one better than I did.

The Man Who Saw the Flood and Down by the River Side by Richard Wright who comes back to the devastating 1921 flood in Mississippi.

Terre des affranchis by Liliana Lazar. Mini billet upcoming. Liliana Lazar is a French writer of Romanian origin. She writes in French but the story is set in her native corner of Romania. It’s not available in English.

Space Between Us by Zoyâ Pirzâd. Mini billet upcoming. I wish I had had the time and energy to write about this one for WIT Month. She’s an Iranian writer and Space Between Us is a lovely book that deserves to be read. It is set among the Armenian community in Iran.

In Search of One’s Self

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I wasn’t completely fine with this one, too many irritating clichés for my tastes.

Rosa Candida by Auđur Ava Ólafsdóttir. A coming-of-age novel and thoughts about fatherhood, filiation, parenting and gardening.

Keep the Change by Thomas McGuane. The story of an outsider from Montana who feels like a fraud as painter but cannot run the ranch he inherited either.

Art related books

Sundborn ou les jours de lumière by Philippe Delerm. Sundborn is about a group of Scandinavian painters and incidentally, there’s an exhibition about one of them, Kroyer at the Musée Marmottan-Monet in Paris. You enjoyed the paintings I included in my billet. Here’s one of them

Monsieur Proust’s Library by Anka MuhlsteinThis is a perfect companion read for In Search of Lost Time. It focuses on reading in Proust’s masterpiece and on his literary influences.

Vers la beauté by David Foenkinos. Antoine, an art history teacher, becomes a museum attendant at the Musée d’Orsay after his life is turned upside down. Will staring at his favorite Modigliani painting heal his wounds?

The crime fest was bigger than expected.

Vintage by Grégoire Hervier. This one took me in search of a mysterious guitar and to the origins of rock music. I ended up with a new blues and rock playlist. Plus I had fun looking up all the guitars he talks about.

The Lonely Witness by William Boyle. An excellent neo-noir book set in the atmospheric Brooklyn.

Perdre est une question de méthode by Santiago Gamboa. I enjoyed my visit to Bogota in company of Victor Silanpa, journalist extraordinaire and amateur sleuth.

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke. I loved this multilayered book as it explores the early 80s in booming Houston, its oil industry, the years after the civil rights movement and the main character’s personal struggles.

Lesser Evils by Joe Flanagan. Upcoming billet. A book I’m ready to buy to all my friends and another great find by Gallmeister.

Money Shot by Christa Faust. Upcoming billet. This is the first book with Angel Dare, former porn star. It’s a hell of a ride in the world of crime and porn industry.

Dark Island by Susanna Crossman. No billet. I bought this one at Quais du Polar and read it right away. It’s the dark tale of a group of people who are invited by Josh on an isolated island in Brittany. Josh’s personality makes people uneasy and the tensions in the group are a recipe for drama. I haven’t been able to figure out whether it’s available in English or not. The author is British, the book has been written in English and yet it seems to be only available in French translation.

Colin-Maillard à Ouessant by Françoise Le Mer. No billet. A thriller set in Ouessant, Britanny. The plot was well drawn, the duo of inspectors was an odd pair but the writing wasn’t as fine as like it in my crime books now. It’s the first of a series, it may be a bit clumsy before the series improves.

Abandoned book

Call Mr Fortune by H.C. Bailey. It’s cozy crime from the 1920s, a collection of short stories with Dr Fortune as the amateur sleuth. The plots have the complexity of a Scooby Doo episode. The humor is fun but the stories weren’t catchy enough to keep my attention. And since reading hours are a rare commodity, on the Abandoned Books pile it went.

Books from the original list that I didn’t read

  • Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett
  • Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash
  • Ballad of Dogs’ Beach by José Cardoso Pires
  • The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury
  • Tales From the Otherworld by Ji Yun
  • On Monday Last Week and The Shivering by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’m still interested in reading them, of course but I read Dark Island, Lesser Evils, Space Between Us right after buying them. When I received Eleanor Oliphant through my Kube subscription, an easy read was what I needed at the time, so I dived into it. I had Black Water Rising on the shelf and a discussion with Buried in Print pushed me to finally read it. I couldn’t resist Open Press’s copy of Monsieur Proust’s Library and I now have two other books by Anka Mulhstein on the TBR. And my visit to the Musée d’Orsay led me to Antoine from Vers la beauté.

I read 14 books from the TBR but new books have joined the pile. Oh well, now I’m all set for the next reading months.

Categories: Challenges, Personal Posts Tags:

Book Club 2021-2022 : The List

August 14, 2021 35 comments

This is my 1001th post and it’s not about the 1001 books you must read before you die –btw, there’s Promise at Dawn by Romain Gary among them—but it’s about the 12 books we’ll read for our 2021-2022 Book Club. This year I’m a little late with the list but, well, better late than never.

Without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, THE LIST 😊

August 2021

Between Two Worlds by Olivier Norek (2017). Its original French title is Entre deux mondes and I’m not sure it’s been translated into English. It’s available in Spanish, Italian and German.

Olivier Norek is a French crime fiction writer who used to be a commissaire de police in tough areas in France. He writes from experience and Entre deux mondes is about migrants and the way we treat them. I’m looking forward to reading this, no matter how hard it’ll be.

September 2021

Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyun-sook. (2008) The French translation is entitled Prends soin de maman. That’s a shot at Korean fiction and I’ve heard it’s a good start.

October 2021

Chances Are… by Richard Russo. (2019) It’s been translated as Retour à Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve read several books by Richard Russo, some pre-blog and some since starting Book Around the Corner. That’s why you’ll only find a billet about Straight Man.

November 2021

Magellan by Stefan Zweig (1938) and the title is the same in French. Zweig decided to write about the explorer Magellan during his own transatlantic journey.

December 2021

Betty by Tiffany McDaniels. (2020) Gallmeister kept the original title when they published it into French. They have already sold 300 000 copies of it in France and other francophone countries. Impressive.

It is based upon the author’s mother’s life in the Appalachians. Betty has a hard life and finds solace in writing. It may sound trite and it can be if the author is not up with the challenge but since I’ve yet to read a bad book published by Gallmeister, I expect it to be excellent. I might not connect with it but I know it’ll be good literature.

January 2022

Touch and Go by Lisa Gardner (2013), translated into French as Famille parfaite. A little bit of crime fiction can’t hurt. I’ve never read Lisa Gardner but I’m sure I would never have bought her book based on its cover. I expect it to be a page-turner and a good distraction.

February 2022

The Awakening and Selected Short Stories by Kate Chopin. In French, it becomes L’Eveil. I’ve been meaning to read The Awakening for years and I’m glad we picked it up for our book club.

March 2022

La Salle: Explorer of the North American Frontier by Anka Mulhstein, or in French, Cavelier de La Salle, ou l’homme qui offrit l’Amérique à Louis XIV. It’s a biography of the 17th century explorer whose dream was to link the Great Lakes to ports in the Gulf of Mexico. This should be interesting and I hope, as easy to read as her Monsieur Proust.

April 2022

Real Life by Adeline Dieudonné (2018) is the translation of a French novel, La vraie vie. It sounds like a coming of age of a young girl who lives in an unusual family.

May 2022

Ceux qui partent by Jeanne Bennameur (2019) I don’t think that this French novel has been translated into English. It is about the emigrants who used to arrive at Ellis Island.

June 2022

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1968), translated as De sang froid. I’m going to read it in French, I don’t think I can read it the original. I’m not sure I’m cut out for it but I’m sure curious about this classic.

July 2022

Thursday Night Widows by Claudia Pineiro (2005) or in its French translation, Les veuves du jeudi. Wealthy men meet every Thursday without their wives who call themselves the Thursday Night Widows. All is fine until the men are found dead, electrocuted. Accident or murder?

That’s it, twelve books for twelve months. Have you read any of them? If yes, what did you think about the ones you’ve read? If one of these books has been on your TBR for years, don’t hesitate to join us for a readalong.

Quais du Polar 2021 – Day #2

July 7, 2021 7 comments

So, we’re Wednesday and until now, I didn’t have the time or energy to write about my second day at Quais du Polar on Sunday.

I had booked a seat at a Literary Cruise on the Saône River and the speaker was Florence Aubenas. She’s a famous French international reporter and a war reporter. She works at Le Monde. She was abducted in Iraq in 2005 and was kept prisoner during five months. She’s also well-known for going undercover as a cleaning lady in 2009. She wanted to live the life of underpaid blue-collar workers who work insecure jobs and report about it. It became a bestseller, Le Quai de Ouistreham and it has been made into a film by Emmanuel Carrère.

the cruise boat

I was curious to hear her talk about her experience and about her last book, L’inconnu de la poste. She writes about an actual murder case that happened in Montréal-La-Cluse, in the Jura region. It’s a village of 3500 souls where the postmistress was murdered when she was on duty. Florence Aubenas was sent there to cover the story, got hooked up with the mystery around it and went there on and off during several years. She relates this story in her book.

It was a delightful hour as she’s fascinating to listen to. She’s very friendly, close to the public and we all listened with rapt attention. The setting was great too because we got a cruise on the river out of it and I think it was a great idea to organize a conference in such a neat setting.

After that, I had planned to visit the bookstores set up in tents on the bank of the Rhône River with a friend but the weather was not cooperating at all. We gave up and stayed put in a restaurant.

In the afternoon, we went to Noir in Lyon, a panel of writers who wrote crime fiction books set in Lyon. There was Coline Gatel for her second book set during La Belle Epoque, Gwenaël Bulteau for his novel set in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood during the Dreyfus Affair, Loulou Dedola, a BD author and François Médéline for two books, L’ange rouge and La sacrifiée du Vercors, set during WWII. This panel was a bit too messy for my tastes but I got to discover local writers.

Noir à Lyon

I manage to spend some time at open bookstore, chatted a little with Dominique Sylvain and upon her recommendation, bought the fourth volume of her Lola & Ingrid series.

This festival was the first one I went to in this COVID times. They managed to reorganize it in the season (usually it’s the last weekend of March) and to relocate it in several places in the city. There was a lot less visitors than usual, probably because you had to book conferences in advance, because the weather was terrible and only a few international writers managed to come. But it felt good to go to a real book festival and hopefully, things will get back to normal in March 2022.

Many thanks to the staff and volunteers who gave their time and energy to celebrate crime fiction in Lyon.

Quais du Polar 2021 – Day One

July 3, 2021 21 comments

For newcomers to my blog, Quais du Polar is a crime fiction festival set up in Lyon, France.

In 2020, the festival was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, it was scheduled early in April but was postponed to July 2nd to 4th. Since we still have some restrictions, the organization was changed to avoid large gathering in closed spaces.

The former big bookstore set up in the Chamber of Commerce…

The giant bookstore in 2019

has been replaced by an outdoor book market along the banks of the Rhône river and you have to book a ticket online to attend a conference.

The conferences are still organized at the City Hall, the Chamber of Commerce but new places have been added to the mix. Tomorrow, I’m going on a literary cruise on the Saône river.

I had two reservations for today and I have two for tomorrow. I’m happy with the two events I attended.

This morning, I went to the Paradis Noirs panel. (Black Paradise) The authors were David Vann (USA), Susanna Crossman (UK and France. I wish my English were as good as her French), Patrice Guirao (France) and Piergiorgio Pulixi (Italy).

These four writers have written a crime fiction novel set up in a paradisiac place, namely Sardinia, Tahiti, Komodo Island in Indonesia and an island in Brittany. The journalist asked relevant questions, monitored the speaking time properly and ideas bounced between the writers, showing the similarities between the books. The authors had enough time to share their ideas and obviously enjoyed interacting with each other. I was intrigued by their books:

  • Komodo by David Vann,
  • Les Disparus de Pukatapu by Patrice Guirao
  • L’île sombre by Susanna Crossman
  • L’île des âmes by Piergiorgio Pulixi

I love reading crime fiction in exotic settings, I’m afraid the TBR increased by three books after this panel.

Quais du Polar is about crime fiction but the local authorities involved with crime solving partner with the festival to share how things are done in real life. It helps that Lyon is the city where CSI was developed (with professor Lacassagne, see my billet about Les suppliciées du Rhône by Céline Gatel), where Interpol is located and is the third largest criminal court in France.

Once I visited the school for commissaires de police and saw how they teach the students how to work on a crime scene. Sometimes, a police station is open to the public and the officers share their quotidian.

This year, I went to a conference about cold cases at the court. The speakers were a public prosecutor, Jacques Dallest and two lawyers specialized in solving cold cases, Maître Seban and Maître Corinne Herrmann. The discussion was about cold cases and how the French justice doesn’t handle them well-enough. They shared anecdotes, explained why the judicial system is not as efficient as it should be and how to improve it. They say that they manage to reopen cases when families or journalists come to see them with something new. There’s also the possibility to reexamine clues with new forensic methods.

It was fascinating to be in the room where the hearings are done and listen to them talk about their work.

If you’re curious about Quais du Polar, check out their website here. You can also see the conferences in replay.

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