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Literary escapade: Bécherel, a book village in Brittany

July 28, 2020 35 comments

There are several book villages in France and one of them is Bécherel, in Brittany. What’s a book village? It’s a village whose main activity consists in bookstores. Yes, you heard me: a whole village with second hand bookshops. When I discovered there was one near our accomodation in Brittany, I had to visit. Of course. How could I resist?

I arrived early and the village was quite deserted and the bookstores closed.

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I had a walk around the village and took pictures of the various bookshops there:

Bécherel_Bookstores

As you can see, the whole village is made of houses in old stones, everything is beautifully kept.

I spent a lot of time in the bookstore Le Donjon. It’s like a chocolate factory for book lovers. Books everywhere, several floors, odd decorations and stuff lying around. This is the top floor, with the crime fiction paperbacks and children books.

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This is another floor with its off-the-wall decoration:

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and another floor. Every nook and cranny is filled with books and objects.

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and last but not least…

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This was my favorite shop. I was alone in the store and I asked whether they had a lot of clients. The libraire said that they don’t get too many people at the same time but there’s a constant flow of visitors. I could explore the shelves to my heart’s content and I’ll tell you what books I bought in another billet.

Here are pictures of other bookstores:

Bécherel_Bookstores2

One of the rooms in the bookstore Abraxa was striking:

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Look at this flamingo sitting on a wall whose red bricks are made of books. Yes, we need more education.

Here’s another picture of the village. Isn’t it lovely?

Bécherel

It made me think of cozy crime fiction, of Louise Penny’s Three Pines, minus the freezing winters. I can imagine a Miss Marple or a Miss Silver looking for a murderer among supposedly non-violent villagers.

I could have spent a lot more time (and a lot more money ! 🙂 ) exploring all the village’s bookstores. I did come home with a pile of books that almost offsets all the efforts I did to reduce the TBR. Oh well.

Stay tuned to find out about my book haul!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literary Escapade: an evening with Gallmeister at Au Bonheur des Ogres

March 7, 2020 26 comments

I suppose that every usual reader of this blog knows that I’m huge fan of the publisher Gallmeister. Last month, the bookstore Au Bonheur des Ogres organized a meeting with one of Gallmeister’s representatives, Thibault. The aim was to talk about this publisher’s story and editorial line.

Before telling you all about this fascinating insight of a publisher’s workings, let’s talk a little bit about Au Bonheur des Ogres. (The Ogres’ Paradise, if I translate into English the French play-on-words on Zola’s novel The Ladies’ Paradise). It’d be a strange name for a bookshop if it weren’t the title of the first installment of the Malaussène series by Daniel Pennac. Read Guy’s review here and rush for this series if you’re in need of good entertainment. In Lyon, Au Bonheur des Ogres is a cozy bookstore operated by an enthusiastic libraire (*), Antony, who welcomed us after hours to discuss Gallmeister’s literature.

Thibault started the evening with a warm thank you to Au Bonheur des Ogres and a statement about the unique book ecosystem that we have in France. It survives under the shield of the Lang Law, something I’ve mentioned before and that is the fixed price for books. The price of a book is set by its publisher and only 5% discounts are allowed. You’re not tempted to browse through books in a bookstore, go out empty-handed and buy your book online. It won’t be cheaper. So, you buy it right away and this helps maintaining a dense network of independent bookstores in the country. This network is not always doing well, but they’re still there.

In France, ebook sales don’t take off and Amazon only represents 4% of Gallmeister’s turnover. We, readers have the power: we are the ones who decide through our buying habits where we’d rather purchase our books and we can keep the big bad American wolf at bay. Our libraires participate to the diversity of the French book ecosystem: they ensure that a large diversity of books reach their shelves and are available to meet their readers. They are a link between indie publishers and readers.

Therefore, Gallmeister’s policy has been to bet on independent bookstores and libraires.

Oliver Gallmeister founded his eponymous publishing house in 2005. Maybe I should say home instead of house, because it seems to be a good home for books, writers and literature. OG is an avid reader of Nature writing and stories featuring trappers, cowboys, and nature as an essential part of the narration and the plot. He’s able to read American literature in the original. Sadly, some of these marvelous books weren’t translated into French and that where the adventure began. A publishing house centered around American literature about nature, people living in the wilderness for a while, of people living in small towns and rural areas. Gallmeister publishes what OG loves to read and reflects his passions. He loves fly-fishing and Thibault told us with a kind humor that they publish a book per year that features fly-fishing. The employees call it “The Trout” and it comes out every November. Now you understand why I keep stumbling upon books about fly-fishing or where fly-fishing is involved! It’s even become a family inside joke.

The first Gallmeister books were The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, a story about fun and crazy eco-terrorists in Utah, and Indian Creek by Pete Fromm. I’ve never read Pete Fromm but Thibault told us that he writes about nature beautifully but truthfully. It’s not always a welcoming place for mankind and he doesn’t romanticize his experience of living in the woods. I now have his A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do on the shelf.

Gallmeister’s first bestseller was Sukkwan Island by David Vann, a novella included in Legend of a Suicide. Interesting fact, a bestseller means selling 80 000 copies of a novel. They sold 300 000 copies of Sukkwan Island. David Vann is better known in France than in his own country.

This novella was a turning point in Gallmeister’s young life. US agents started to contact OG directly to push new books. (Fun fact: in France, anyone can send a manuscript to publishers, there’s no need for an agent but in the US, you can’t.) And Gallmeister sometimes publishes books in French that haven’t even been published in America.

One of OG’s goal is that his writers are able to live of their writing. He also pushes their American agents to keep fighting and find them a US publisher when they argue that the book was already a success in France.

French people are HUGE readers of American literature and literature in translation in general. Gallmeister has found an editorial line that appeals to the French public. For example, Gabriel Tallent has sold more copies of My Absolute Darling in one year in France than in three years in the US. (Last time I saw it in a bookstore, it had a banner that said 400 000 copies) I wonder how it is in other European countries.

Thibault explained that right from the start, Gallmeister decided to rely on indie bookstores to promote their books and it made the difference, it’s part of the DNA of the house and a reason for their success. And of course, they need readers to keep buying books in these bookshops.

I think that they publish a kind of literature that fascinates the French readers and a type of books that has no French equivalent. It makes us travel, it’s far from our everyday life and doesn’t linger on first world problems of the upper classes. Their books tell stories about hardworking misfits, loners and blue-collar people. They question the American dream and show a lesser known side of America.

Thibault was here to talk about literature, share his passion for his job and tell us about the book industry and the innerworkings of Gallmeister. He failed to mention that part of Gallmeister’s success is also their innovative and killer marketing. It’s respectful of literature and readers. The books have original covers, all in the same style because there’s one illustrator. No pictures of faceless people. No aggressive colors. No cheesy or girlish stuff for female writers. The books are classy and distinctive. Here are bookmarks and a stylish catalogue of their paperback collection, Totem.

I have read or bought 34 of their 161 paperbacks, 21%. The catalogue gives a short bio of the authors and a blurb of their books. The last pages say all about the Gallmeister spirit. It’s a resume of the Totem collection with random facts like: which translation took the longest time, which one is the most beer-soaked book and the list of the most encountered animals. I loved the humor in the mention: “we didn’t list all the fish, for the lack of space”

They pay attention to the whole book chain: the printers, the illustrators, the authors and of course, the translators. The translations are impeccable, the American vibe is there and yet, it’s perfect French. New translations are crucial for Noir as their first translation was sometimes sketchy when they were published in Série Noire. This is why Gallmeister has started to re-translate all of Ross McDonald’s books.

The choice of books shows flawless literary tastes, whether the book speaks to you or not and their books are centered around five themes now: Wilderness, Cities through Noir fiction only, Intimate stories, the place of America in the world and a common theme: Noir is the Ariadne’s thread, different in each book but always present in the background.

The next big release is a new translation of Gone With the Wind, not a book I would have picked but I might after Thibault shared some passages. In 2021, they’ll expand to new countries, Italy, UK and Germany.

You know I lack of objectivity when it comes to this publisher but I truly had a lovely evening. It’s nice to hear about what’s behind the scene and how a small publishing house operates. Many thanks to Au Bonheur des Ogres for hosting this event. For me, it was a breath of fresh air after a day in the office, a wonderful way to leave my office-related worries behind and focus on reading and sharing the love for books with likeminded people. Of course, I brought two books home.

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(*) A libraire is a booklover who recommends books to other readers in a bookstore and eventually sells them. In English: a bookseller.

Literary Escapade: Turin, Italy

February 23, 2020 27 comments

I missed my weekly post last Sunday because I was visiting Turin. It’s a great city to visit, great food, beautiful building, exceptional Egyptian museum and impressive cinema museum. However, this is a literary blog, so I’ll focus on the literary elements of my stay. I haven’t read Italian books for the occasion (book buying ban, remember?) but I will. According to my tourist guide, I should look for:

  • The House on the Hill by Cesare Pavese (La maison sur la colline) I’ve never read Pavese, it could be a good start.
  • Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg (Les Mots de la tribu) This one’s about a Jewish family in Turin from 1920 to 1950. (Btw, Primo Levi was from Turin too)
  • The Watcher by Italo Calvino (La Journée d’un scrutateur) I’ve read books by Calvino, pre-blog but not this one.
  • The Two Cities by Mario Soldati (Les Deux Villes) I don’t think that Soldati’s books have been translated into English. I’ve already read The Ophans’ Father and I remember I liked it.
  • Scent of a Woman by Giovanni Arpino (Les Ténèbres et le Miel) I’ve already read A Lost Soul by Arpino and I enjoyed his style.
  • The Sunday Woman by Fruttero and Lucentini (La Femme du Dimanche) This one is crime fiction, I’ll look for it at the giant bookstore set up for Quais du Polar.
  • The Tattooed Colleague by Margherita Oggero. (La Collègue tatouée), not available in English. This one is more recent (2002), I’m tempted to read about today’s city.

Apart from the last one, all these books date back to the 20th century. If anyone knows a book set in contemporary Turin, please leave a recommendation in the comments.

Since I can’t read in Italian, I didn’t buy any books during my trip but I still had look at bookshops. There’s the international one, Luxembourg. I’ve seen other independent bookstores in the city.

On the via Pô, there are bouquinistes, like in Paris.

Sorry for the French word but according to the dictionary, the English way of saying bouquiniste is secondhand bookseller. I’m sorry guys, but you really need to find affectionate words for bookish stuff. The word bouquiniste is not as cold as secondhand bookseller, which is a matter-of-fact way to describe the activity. In French, bouquiniste implies that a libraire (not a retailer, but a booklover who happens to sell books) is trading secondhand books with love.

Everything was in Italian, so there was no need to spend time browsing through the books. It’s only frustrating to find a book you’d like to read, just not in Italian. Since I couldn’t buy book, I came home with bookish stuff, too bad captions were in English. For once, Italian would have been better.

Last but not least, I visited the Royal Library. (Reale Biblioteca)

Impressive room full of books in glass cases. I glanced at the covers: old books in Italian, French, English and German. There were mostly books about geography, history, politics, science but also statistics. See the number of books that were at my eyelevel: can you imagine that I manage to drop my eyes on French books about fishing?!!!!

It’s starting to feel like it follows me wherever I go. 😊 But no, still not ready to buy a fishing pole.

In case there wasn’t enough things to love already with the food, ice creams, coffees, art and whatnots, Turin people seem to have a thing for my beloved Mafalda. A bookstore was selling Mafalda tote bags and of course, I brought one home.

How could I resist, right? Then I saw a dress with Mafalda patterns and greeting cards.

I tell you, Mafalda rocks!

I had a wonderful time in Italy, and this was only the book part. Next Literary Escapade will be about the publisher Gallmeister. And while I go gallivanting in Italy, my pile of TBW grows and I haven’t read or commented on bookish blogs.

About reading, a quote by Margaret Atwood

January 3, 2020 12 comments

In A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing published in the magazine America, Margaret Atwood writes:

A book is a voice in your ear; the message is –while you are reading it –for you alone. Reading a book is surely the most intimate experience we can have of the inside of another human being’s mind. Writer, book, and reader –in this triangle, the book is the messenger. And all three are part of one act of creation, as the composer, the player of the symphony, and the listener are all participants in it. The reader is the musician of the book.

As for the writer, his or her part is done when the book goes out into the world; it is the book that will then live or die, and what happens to the writer is at that point immaterial, from the point of view of the book.

I agree with her about the intimacy of reading. Besides going to places I’ll never see in real life, being in someone else’s mind is the most fascinating experience of reading. Sometimes it’s a terrifying place to be, sometimes it’s comforting in a ah-you-too? kind of way and sometimes it’s eye-opening.

Her last paragraph about the writer’s role after the book is published? It probably explains why I rarely read interviews of writers about their books, especially when they are on tour to promote their new one.

Fête du Livre de Bron – Bron literary festival.

March 10, 2019 18 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bookish news in my small world

January 26, 2019 20 comments

Over the last few weeks, I have gathered miscellaneous bookish things I wanted to share with you. They caught my attention during my daily life activities and stayed with me.

Literary events

Angouleme BD festival

This weekend is the Festival de Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême. It’s the 46th edition of this festival dedicated to BD, a French acronym that covers comics, graphic novels, manga… The Grand Prix of the Angoulême festival has been awarded to Rumiko Takahashi, the Japanese author of mangas. Did you know that France is the second market in the world for mangas? (After Japan, of course) 18 million of mangas were sold in France in 2017 and it represents 38% of the BD sales in France. We are unique in the Western world for this and it started with my generation. We watched manga cartoons on TV and we were hooked.

 Fête du Livre de Bron – a festival for contemporary literature.

It’s organized from March 6th to 10th, 2019. Oliver Gallmeister will give a lecture, Nature Writing, une tradition anglo-saxonne. I hope I can attend this as I’m curious to hear this wonderful publisher of American literature.

Quais du Polar – March 29th – March 31st.

I have my subscription to Quais du Polar! Nordic Crime will be celebrate during the 15th edition of this cime fiction festival. I received my badge, my two free books and now I need to browse through the writers that will be invited and see if I have one of their book on the shelf already.

Translations

Good news! Il reste la poussière by Sandrine Collette is now translated into English. It’s published by Europa Editions and it’s entitled Nothing But Dust. See Claire’s review here.

Other great news, La Daronne by Hannelore Cayre will be available in English in September. It will be The Godmother, in a Coppola sense, not the Disney one. It will be published by Old Street Publishing.

I also stumbled upon a German translation of Un certain M. Piekielny by François-Henri Désérable. I hope it’ll make it into English one of these days.

Economy and Literature.

When literature takes interest in economy and vice versa.

I’ve started to read the number 79 of the magazine L’Economie politique as it is about literature and economy and how the two interacts. Some articles are more difficult than others, I’m not done yet. I didn’t know that Robinson Crusoe was used in economy theories. I enjoyed the article about writers and the literature and book market. I’m looking forward to reading the one about economy and Zola.

I’m not going to post a billet about it. Sometimes I struggle to understand the content in French, so writing a summary of it in English is insuperable.

When the French tax law for 2019 favors independent bookstores.

When browsing through the tax changes voted last December, I stumbled upon an article about new tax exemptions for independent bookstores. Chain stores are not in the scope of this law and I’m happy our deputies voted texts to protect our network of independent bookstores.

 

America – A French magazine

America is a magazine founded by François Busnel and Eric Fottorino. It started when Trump was elected as president and it is meant to last the four years of his presidency. Each magazine has a theme to make us discover America. François Busnel is best known in France as the presenter of the weekly literary live TV show La Grande Librairie. It’s a famous TV program in France, one that managed to gather 841 000 viewers on December 11, 2018 and keeps getting high ratings for that kind of show.

America includes long interviews of writers, reportages by French and American writers, a chronology of events in Trump’s America, beautiful illustrations and pictures. It’s a gorgeous magazine, the right mix of long articles and news in brief, of contemporary writers and older ones, of literature, cinema and TV.

This quarter’s number is about race in America, it opens with a poem by Maya Angelou and includes a long interview by Russel Banks, a text by James Baldwin and other reportages and interviews.

Silence, on lit!

Quiet! We’re reading, that’s the meaning of Silence! On lit. It’s a charity devoted to developing reading in schools. The idea is simple: everyday students read at the same time during 15 minutes. The middle schools (collèges) have arranged their schedule around this new reading time. Any reading material is allowed: books, magazines, BDs…Anything. The whole school gets quiet during 15 minutes as all the students in all the classrooms are reading what they chose to read. The repetition helps improving at reading. It’s a real success where it’s implemented. New readers emerged and for the others, it’s a quiet time to settle down after other activities and be ready to learn something else after.

It’s a charity, and of course, they need money to buy more books for school libraries because they need a bigger stock of books if all the students read at the same time and want to borrow something from the library. I like their idea a lot, because 15 minutes is not long and I think that their small steps approach is interesting and takes reading down from its pedestal of intellectual activity.

Libraries Without Borders

Libraries Without Borders is a French charity whose aim is to help alphabetization and promote access to culture and education through libraries. They work locally in 30 countries.

In France, they were recently involved in La nuit de la lecture. (Reading night). Libraries Without Borders gave book bags to a group of migrant children. French children from Alsace prepared personalized book bags for each child, as a welcome to France and the French language gift. For my Australian readers, have a look at what they do for Aboriginal communities. (Here)

Why this billet? you might ask

I know there are tons of initiatives to foster reading, to improve literacy or to build bridges between communities. There are also tons of book festivals everywhere in France. All the events, actions and news I shared are just drops in this ocean of literary-oriented activities. But they were the drops that brightened the world news I heard every day.

My 2018 reading year in twelve books

January 6, 2019 36 comments

In 2018, I read or started a total of 55 books, not a lot compared to other bloggers. It’s stable from one year to the other, I guess that one book per week is all I can manage. I abandoned five of them either because I didn’t like them or because they were too difficult to read. It was a good reading year, but not outstanding.

After showing you some of my 2018 bookish moments and wrapping up my year of reading Australia, allow me to share my twelve favorite reads of the year.

Best atmospheric crime fiction: The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

I loved being in New Orleans with Dave Robicheaux and I want to go to Louisiana now.

Best companion book: The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

Kamel Daoud retells the story from Camus’s famous classic The Stranger from the Algerian perspective and gives a thought-provoking vision of colonization and post-colonial Algeria. A punch-in-the-gut book, important to read along the original.

Best political crime fiction: Spada by Bogdan Teodorescu

I hope, I really hope that Spada will be translated into English because it shows the underbelly of political communication and how the exploitation of a crime in the media transform politicians into pyromaniacs who set the country on fire.

Best oxymoron book: The Anarchist Banker by Fernando Pessoa

A banker’s speech that will convince you that indeed, no one is more anarchist than this bourgeois banker. Incredible. Funny as hell.

Best coming-of-age novel: The Poor Man’s Son by Mouloud Feraoun

I’m not sure it’s really a coming-of-age novella, since I’m not good at putting books in neat literary boxes. The Poor Man’s Son gives a good vision of life in poor Algerian villages during the French colonization. It’s based on the writer’s own experience.

Best almost-feminist book: The Easter Parade by Richard Yates

The sad story of two sisters, one who follows the expected path of marriage and motherhood and the other who tries to break free of this yoke.

Best African-French book: Small Country by Gaël Faye

Gaël Faye relates his own story as a child in Burundi when the civil war starts in Burundi and during the genocide in Rwanda. Poignant.

Best crazy serious book: The Alienist by J.-M. Machado de Assis

How a doctor who wants to cure madness turns a city into a madhouse inside and outside his psychatric ward. Voltaire would have loved this. It’ll make you laugh and think.

Best Australian literary fiction: I, For Isobel by Amy Witting

Also a coming-of-age story, I guess. Isobel is trying to find her independance and shake off her childhood to become her own person. It’s a well-drawn story of a young girl who loves to read in a family who doesn’t value books and tries to smother her personality.

Best I-want-to-give-it-to-all-my-friends book: The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy

I loved The Tin Flute for the accurate and loving depiction of working-class neighborhoods in Montreal during WWII. It’s really a shame that there is no recent English translation of it. English speaking Canadians are missing out on an excellent book.

Best end-of-my-world book: The Emperor’s Tomb by Joseph Roth

Poor Trotta lives through the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and cannot recover from it. Neither could Roth. Don’t read it as historical fiction to learn historical facts but more to see what history does to a man.

Best book to raise awareness about a sensitive topic: Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, edited by Anita Heiss

Very brave indigenous Australians share with us their personal experience of growing up Aboriginal in Australia. They come from the whole country, from various backgrounds and are of all ages. It helps the reader understand what racist barbs and ingrained prejudices do to the people who receive them right in their faces. Powerful.

I’ve already talked about my project to read American literature in 2019 in my Happy New Year billet. I will read La Débâcle by Zola along with Marina Sofia in May. Join us if you want to.

For the rest, I hope to read more Australian lit and books from the TBR. I really need to read more from it than I buy books otherwise I’ll end up in the same position as this year: the TBR is as high as the end of the year as it was at the beginning. Only its composition has changed… Oh well, there are worst things in life!

To live without reading is dangerous. You’d have to believe what people tell you.

2018 in bookish moments

December 23, 2018 23 comments

I can’t believe that 2018 is almost over. It’s like a blur and I ran after time on a daily basis. I only posted one Literary Escapade billet, the one about Australia but I snapped bookish pictures all year long, when I attended festivals or simply when books and literature popped up in unexpected places. I’ll do my Best Reads of the Year billet later but first I wanted to take you through my literary snapshots of 2018.

In March, I attended the Fête du Livre de Bron where I had the opportunity to hear the captivating François-Henri Désérable.

Then it was Quais du Polar, a festival that regular readers of this blog have heard of before. It’s always a pleasure to wander in the giant bookshop and attend various panels. The next edition of the festival will be from March 29th to March 31st, 2019 and you can check out the authors who will be there here. If any of you happens to be in Lyon for the festival and want to meet, just send me an email.

In April, I was on the French Riviera and came across these Bancs de la liberté. (Benches of Liberty)

The caption on the bench says:

The Benches of Liberty are at your disposal, bringing together texts, words and pages which allow you to discover authors both from here and elsewhere. All the citizen of the world, on all continents, can freely share moments in time and the emotion of literature.

The bench I saw was in France, but there are some in Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. Let me know if you’ve encountered any of them. They are dedicated to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who said in Courrier Sud (1929), La seule vérité est peut-être la paix des livres. (« The only truth is probably the peace coming from books »)

During these holidays, I also came across this lovely trunk where readers can leave books for others to pick.

In May, I visited this incredible bookstore with books everywhere, ceiling included.

I spent a weekend in Paris and I visited the Montparnasse Cemetery. I wanted to write a Literary Escapade billet about it but time ran away from me. I visited as many writers’ tombstones as I could. As you can see, the tomb of Alexandre Dumas fils is as dramatic as La Dame aux camélias and Theophile Gautier’s tomb is as pompous as his style.

The tombstones of Stendhal and the Goncourt brothers were a lot simpler.

I also spent some time in bookshops, like in the Librairie Gallimard in Paris with its stairwell full of pictures of writers

Special displays caught my attention, a typical French one with all the “coup de coeur”, the little notes that libraires put on books to recommend them, one with a fantastic display about Philip Roth after he died and one special about books and boxing.

In November, I wanted to write a billet about the drama around literary prizes in France. We have Literary Prizes Week like some other countries have Fashion Week. The Goncourt Prize went to Leurs enfants après eux by Nicolas Mathieu. And for once, I want to read it. Several juries wanted to grant their prize to Le lambeau by Philippe Lançon. He was wounded during the Charlie Hebdo attack and this book relates his life after this traumatic event. The Femina Jury went first and jury of the Renaudot Prize was a bit pissed off because it was also their choice. They had to pick another book and went for Le Sillon by Valérie Manteau.

Now, Christmas is approaching fast and for the first time this year, I was told not to buy books to a relative because she has everything on her e-reader. As we all know, reading in general and books in particular are in competition with lots of other activities or hobbies these days. It’s common to say that people read less. And yet, books must convey a cozy feeling or something positive if I refer to cafés and shop windows. Just look at the pictures I took at the mall.

Apparently, cafés find that book decors attract clients, both in Moscow and in Lyon. I can understand the marketing rationale behind it, as cafés are associated with reading and authors often go to cafés to write. I didn’t see the marketing rationale between books and sneakers, though.

There are two ways of taking this trend to have books as a décor. The optimist will argue that after seeing books everywhere, some non-readers will pick a book one day and discover the joys of reading. The pessimist will compare these book décors to elevator music and see how uneducated people like me associate classical music to elevators and waiting rooms. So while I’m cautiously optimistic about these bookish décors, I still enjoy them.

I’ll end this with a quote by Jules Renard, one that encompasses well how compulsive readers like me feel about books and literature.

Quand je pense à tous les livres qu’il me reste à lire, j’ai la certitude d’être encore heureux. When I think of all the books I still have to read, I am sure there are happy moments ahead of me.

PS : I still have four billets to write. I hope I’ll have time to wrap them up before December 31st.

Novella book recommendations : the list

June 10, 2018 24 comments

Sorry it took me almost a month to compile the list of novella recommendations I gathered after my billet asking for reading ideas.

I listed all the book titles left in the comments and also the list of novellas from Mrs Bibi Lophile’s A Novella a Day In May. Lisa from ANZ LitLovers has a list of novellas on her blog. (See here) Jonathan Gibbs from Tiny Camels also had novella reading challenge, see here. I’m sure there are other blogs with challenges like this or lists of novellas but these are the ones I’m aware of.

Thanks a lot for responding to my post.

Now apart from Lisa’s and Jonathan’s list, let’s see what I gathered:

# French title English title Author Country # pages
1 La partie de cartes The Game of Cards Adolf Schröder Germany 178
2 Non traduit Such Small Hands Andres Barbas Spain 112
3 Parler seul Talking to Ourselves Andrés Neuman Argentina 168
4 La steppe. Histoire d’un voyage The Steppe Anton Chekhov Russia 160
5 Pereira prétend Pereira Maintains Antonio Tabucchi Italy 213
6 Nocturne indien Indian Nocturne Antonio Tabucchi Italy 126
7 Un bref mariage The Story of a Brief Marriage Anuk Arudpragasam Sri Lanka 208
8 Non traduit Our Spoons Came From Woolworth Barbara Comyns UK
9 Les boutiques de cannelle The Street of Crocodiles Bruno Schulz Poland 208
10 Djamilia Jamilia Chingiz Aitmatov Russia 96
11 Un homme au singulier A Single Man Christopher Isherwood UK 175
12 Le blé en herbe The Ripening Seed Colette France
13 Les aventures de Kornél Esti Kornél Esti Dezső Kosztolányi Hungary 154
14 Non traduit Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill Dimitri Verhulst Belgium 160
15 Non traduit Mirror, Shoulder, Signal Dorothy Nors Denmark 188
16 Psaumes balbutiés. Livre d’heures de ma mère Stammered Songbook : A Mother’s Book of Hours Erwin Mortier Belgium 192
17 Le brigand bien-aimé The Robber Bridgegroom Eudora Welty USA 144
18 L’oncle Daniel le généreux The Ponder Heart Eudora Welty USA 132
19 La troisième Miss Symons The Third Miss Symons FM Mayor UK 127
20 Le dimanche des mères Mothering Sunday Graham Swift UK 141
21 Les années douces Strange Weather in Tokyo Hiromi Kawakami Japan 283
22 Contes hassidiques Not available in English I.L. Peretz Poland 171
23 Sur la plage de Chesil On Chesil Beach Ian McEwan UK 183
24 Un Bonheur de Rencontre The Comfort of Strangers Ian McEwan UK 217
25 Non traduit After Claude Iris Owens USA 232
26 Le restaurant de l’amour retrouvé The Restaurant of Love Regained Ito Ogawa Japan 224
27 Premier amour et autres histoires First Love Ivan Turgenev Russia
28 Non traduit After Leaving Mr Mackenzie Jean Rhys UK
29 Voyage dans les ténèbres Voyage in the Dark Jean Rhys UK 207
30 Quartet Quartet Jean Rhys UK 144
31 Non traduit We who are about to… Joanna Russ USA 144
32 La maison muette The Dumb House John Burnside UK 208
33 Hôtel Savoy Hotel Savoy Josef Roth Austria 188
34 Si nous vivions dans un endroit normal Quesadillas Juan Pablo Villalobos Mexico 192
35 La compagnie des Tripolitaines Under the Tripoli Sun Kamel Ben Hameda Lybia 108
36 Comédie en mode mineur Comedy in a Minor Key Keilson Germany 227
37 Code barre Not available in English Krisztina Tóth Hungary 208
38 La mer couleur de vin The Wine-dark Sea Leonardo Sciascia Italy 210
39 Un regard de sang Seeing Red Lina Meruane Chile 224
40 Non traduit Birds of America Lorrie Moore USA 291
41 La femme de Gilles La Femme de Gilles Madeleine Bourdouxhe Belgium 154
42 L’Odyssée de Pénélope The Penelopiad Margaret Atwood Canada 159
43 Ours Bear Marian Engel Canada 141
44 La douleur porte un costume de plumes Grief is the Thing With Feathers Max Porter UK 114
45 La Solution finale The Final Solution Michael Chabon USA 105
46 Demoiselles aux moyens modestes The Girls of Slender Means Muriel Sparks UK 170
47 L’empreinte de l’ange The Mark of an Angel Nancy Huston Canada 328
48 La poursuite de l’amour The Pursuit of Love Nancy Mitford UK 253
49 Non traduit Up the Junction Nell Dunn UK 133
50 La couleur du lait The Colour of Milk Nell Leyshon UK 186
51 Clair-obscur Passing Nella Larsen USA 122
52 Non traduit Devil by the Sea Nina Bawden UK 175
53 Falaises Cliffs Olivier Adam France 206
54 La Théorie du panda The Panda Theory Pascal Garnier France 176
55 L’affaire Lolita The Bookshop Penelope Fitzgerald UK 188
56 Le mangeur de citrouille The Pumpkin Eater Penelope Mortimer UK 184
57 Non traduit The Murder of Halland Pia Juul Denmark 167
58 Non traduit The Disappearance of Signora Giulia Piero Chiara Italy 128
59 Le retour du soldat The Return of the Soldier Rebecca West. UK 112
60 Non traduit Two Pints Roddy Doyle UK 85
61 Le son de ma voix The Sound of My Voice Ron Butlin UK 122
62 Les braises Ashes Sándor Márai Hungary 219
63 L’héritage d’Esther Esther’s Inheritance Sándor Márai Hungary 156
64 Piège pour Cendrillon Trap for Cinderella Sebastien Japrisot France 240
65 Non traduit Stuck Like Lint Shefali Tripathi Mehta India 156
66 Nous avons toujours vécu au château We Have Always Lived in the Castle Shirley Jackson USA 234
67 Le garçon qui n’existait pas Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was Sjón Iceland 150
68 La cote 400 The Library of Unrequited Love Sophie Divry France 94
69 Lettre d’une inconnue Letter from an Unknown Woman Stefan Zweig Austria 138
70 Le voyage dans le passé Journey into the Past Stefan Zweig Austria 177
71 Le chat qui venait du ciel The Guest Cat Takashi Hiraide Japan 130
72 La sonate à Kreutzer The Kreutzer Sonata Tolstoy Russia 122
73 Au commencement était la mer In the Beginning was the Sea Tomás González Colombia 221
74 La passe dangereuse The Painted Veil W. Somerset Maugham UK 182
75 Le pont d’Alexandre Alexander’s Bridge Willa Cather USA 176
76 Une dame perdue A Lost Lady Willa Cather USA 190
77 Non traduit They Came Like Swallows William Maxwell USA 140
78 En lisant Tourgeniev Reading Turgeniev William Trevor UK 236
79 Ma Maison en Ombrie My House in Umbria William Trevor UK 188
80 La piscine The Diving Pool Yoko Ogawa Japan 71
81 La formule préférée du professeur The Housekeeper and the Professor Yoko Ogawa Japan 244

I’m sure anyone can find some reading bliss among all these books. The numbers in blue correspond to books I’ve already read. As you can see, I have a lot to explore.

Enjoy! And let me know if you read any of these.

PS: There’s also the Novella tag at Whispering Gums.

And I was so focused on other people’s recommendations that I forgot two of my own: The Poor Man’s Son by Mouloud Feraoun and The Anarchist Banker by Fernando Pessoa.

Book recommendations needed : novellas and short stories

May 13, 2018 34 comments

Back in January, I wrote a post about finding time to read thanks to novellas.

I had compiled two lists of novellas for overbooked friends who were willing to read more or find again time and pleasure in reading. Short books are quickly read and can be good companions for a work trip from Lyon to Paris. (2 hours one way with the TGV)

Well, great news! I’ve been asked for more books like this and I need a little help from my bookish friends.

I’m looking for ideas to draft this new list. I’m thankful for Madame Bibi Lophile’s project a Novella a Day in May. She reviews one novella per day during the whole month and I’ve been writing down the list of the books she reviews. Unfortunately, some of them aren’t available in French. There are great finds there, so have a look at her blog if you’re interested in novellas.

This is why I’m asking you to please leave recommendations for books that are less than 200 pages long. Any genre is possible, crime fiction, science fiction, literary fiction and whatnots. Translated books are most welcome, I’d love to have a list with literature from various countries. I’m looking for novellas but also short-stories collections because it’s also a format that fits well with short reading slots.

Thanks in advance for the help and I promise to compile all the recommendations and publish them in a future billet.

Finding time to read thanks to novellas

January 20, 2018 35 comments

When you work full time, have a family and young children, it’s not easy to find time to read. Your schedule is so packed that you think longingly of those blessed years when reading was possible. Book lovers get frustrated. This was something we shared and regretted during a girls night out and I suggested to turn to novellas. I challenged these ladies to read at least one novella per month. And I committed to spread around a list around twelve recommendations of books with less than 200 pages. In the end, I ended up with a two tiered reading cake of twenty-four novellas.

Here’s the first layer, the first challenge:

English title French title Author Country
Agostino Agostino Alberto Moravia Italy
Journey Into the Past Voyage dans le passé Stefan Zweig Austria
Doctor Glas Docteur Glas Söderberg Sweden
Beside the Sea Bord de mer Véronique Olmi France
A Slight Misunderstanding La double méprise Prosper Mérimée France
In the Dark Room Dans la chambre obscure RK Narayan India
Play It As It Lays Maria avec et sans rien Joan Didion USA
Awakenings Eveils Gaetano Gazdanov Russia
The Murderess Les petites filles et la mort Alexandros Papadiamantis Greece
In the Absence of Men En l’absence des hommes Philippe Besson France
The Road La route Jack London USA
Three Horses Trois chevaux Erri de Luca Italy

And the second one:

English title French title Author Country
Not available Le mec de la tombe d’à côté Katarina Mazetti Sweden
Alien Hearts Notre cœur Guy de Maupassant France
Not available Crimes exemplaires Max Aub Mexico
The Bookshop L’affaire Lolita Penelope Fitzgerald UK
Rendezvous in Venice Le rendez-vous de Venise Philippe Beaussant France
Cheese Fromage Willem Elschott Belgium
The Man Who Walked to the Moon L’homme qui marchait sur la lune Howard McCord USA
Princess Ligovskaia La Princesse Ligovskoï Lermontov Russia
Not available Aline C-F Ramuz Switzerland
Fame Gloire Daniel Kehlman Austria
Not available Teen Spirit Virginie Despentes France
Not available Je dénonce l’humanité Férenc Karinthy Hungary

Pick and miw is allowed, of course. I thought I’d share the lists in the hope that it might helped other readers pressed with time. It might be an opportunity to discover good novels and new writers. And I hope they’ll have the impression that they keep in touch with books and literature, even if they have limited time for it.

What you do do when life eats up your reading time?

Reading Bingo 2017

December 14, 2017 18 comments

Reading Bingo is back, according to Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books. The idea is simple: try to find a book you’ve read this year and that fits into the bingo card. I don’t have much time to do that, to be honest, but I find it entertaining. It’s also a way to remind you of billets you might have missed about books you might enjoy. I don’t read much compared to other book bloggers but apparently my reading tastes are eclectic because I manage to find a book for almost all the squares.

A Book with more than 500 pages : They Were Counted by Miklos Bánffy, the saga of a family at the turning of the 20th century in Transylvania, Hungary at the time, Romania today. The first volume is 750 pages long, there are two more of them.

A forgotten classic : I don’t know if The Dark Room by RK Narayan is a forgotten classic but I don’t think I’ve seen a review of this book on another blog and yet, it’s worth reading. This is the story of an Indian woman trapped in her housewife life. For a book written by a man in 1935, I find it very feminist.

A Book That Became a Movie: Elle by Philippe Djian has been made into a film by Paul Verhoeven with Isabelle Huppert in the lead role. The film won a Golden Globe Award in Best Foreign Language Film and a César. I haven’t seen the film but Isabelle Huppert is a good fit for Michèle, the character of Djian’s novella.

A Book Published This Year: I rarely buy books that have just been published. I find them expensive and I like to wait after all the buzz is gone to read a book. But given my love for all things Romain Gary, I had to read Un certain M. Piekielny by François-Henri Désérade, a book based on the quest for a character in Promise at Dawn.

A Book With A Number In The Title: Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann.

A Book Written by Someone Under Thirty: Edouard Louis was that young when he wrote The End of Eddy, a book based on his childhood.

A Book With Non Human Characters: At first I thought I had not read any book with non human characters. Then I remembered that No Word From Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza has an alien as a main character and that an owl played a crucial role in one Craig Johnson’s short-stories. (Wait for Signs. Twelve Longmire Stories). And I’ve read books with an animal in the title. I tried to read Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I loved the grim Caribou Island by David Vann. And The Duck Hunt by Hugo Claus is deserves a special prize for desolate and bleak stories. But at least I had fun with My Life as a Penguin by Katarina Mazetti.

A Funny Book: No Word From Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza. An Extra-terrestrial lands in Barcelona just before the 1992 Olympic Games. We follow his journal and his discovery of human way-of-life. Hilarious.

A Book By A Female Author: I’ve read several books by female authors but I choose Lady Audley’s Secret by M.E. Braddon because she was a writer at a time when it wasn’t so easy for a woman to be an author.

 

A Book With A Mystery: Let’s choose a seasonal read: A New York Christmas by Anne Perry. It was a nice cozy crime fiction where Jemima Pitt plays amateur detective in New York.

A Book With A One Word Title: I had several books with a one word title but I wanted to draw your attention to Corrosion by Jon Bassoff. The billet about this book didn’t get a lot of readers and it’s a pity for Bassoff very dark debut crime fiction novel.

 

A Book of Short Stories: Datsunland by Stephen Orr is a collection of short stories set mostly in Australia.

Free Square: I decided to use my free square to present a book that is a translation tragedy, ie a book not available in English. My favorite of the year is probably Harmonics by Marcus Malte, a haunting crime fiction story with a jazz background and a link to the war in ex-Yugoslavia.

 

A Book Set on a Different Continent: I asked recommendations for Australian literature and gathered a huge list. I’ve started with My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin.

A Book of Non-Fiction : Not hesitation there, it will be Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, the book about his experience in the Spanish Civil War in 1936/1937.

The First Book by a Favourite Author

Monsieur Proust by Céleste Albaret. It is her first book about one of my favorite authors. That’s a stretch, I know. It’s a lovely book written on the basis of Céleste Albaret’s memories of her life as Proust’s governess.

A Book You Heard About Online: Datsunland by Stephen Orr came as a review copy from Wakefield Press, an Australian publisher.

A Best-selling Book: Was Thirteen Ways of Looking successful enough to be a best selling book? I don’t follow those lists much and usually, the more I hear about something in the press, the less tempted I am to read it.

A Book Based on a True Story: The Arab of the Future by Riad Satouf. This is a graphic novel where Satouf tells his childhood in Libya and Syria. His mother is French and his father Syrian.

 

A Book at the Bottom of you To Be Read Pile: The Romance of the Mummy by Théophile Gautier. Pfft. It’s short but reading it seemed to last a lifetime. Gautier is not a writer for me.

 

A Book Your Friend Love: A warm hello from France to the friend who shipped me Heed the Thunder by Jim Thompson.

 

A Book That Scares You: A Cool Million by Nathanael West, a book that reminded me of Donal Trump and that’s scary enough.

 

 

A Book That Is More Than Ten Years Old: Random pick because I read a lot of books that are more than ten years old. So it will be Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. It’s lovely, witty and a nice sugary ride in London in the 1930s.

 

The Second Book in a Serie: Sorry, I have nothing for this one.

 

A Book With a Blue Cove: Eldorado by Laurent Gaudé. I was blown away by Gaudé’s story about some immigrants’ journey to Europe and about life in on the coast of Italy where boats full of immigrants arrive after braving the Mediterranean Sea. It stayed with me.

That’s all for this year! I hope you enjoyed playing Reading Bingo with me. If you’ve done your own Reading Bingo post, please leave the link to your in the comment section.

Saturday literary delights, squeals and other news

October 28, 2017 25 comments

For the last two months, I’ve been buried at work and busy with life. My literary life suffered from it, my TBW has five books, I have a stack of unread Télérama at home, my inbox overflows with unread blog entries from fellow book bloggers and I have just started to read books from Australia. Now that I have a blissful six-days break, I have a bit of time to share with you a few literary tidbits that made me squeal like a school girl, the few literary things I managed to salvage and how bookish things came to me as if the universe was offering some kind of compensation.

I had the pleasure to meet again with fellow book blogger Tom and  his wife. Tom writes at Wuthering Expectations, renamed Les Expectations de Hurlevent since he left the US to spend a whole year in Lyon, France. If you want to follow his adventures in Europe and in France in particular, check out his blog here. We had a lovely evening.

I also went to Paris on a business trip and by chance ended up in a hotel made for a literature/theatre lovers. See the lobby of the hotel…

My room was meant for me, theatre-themed bedroom and book-themed bathroom

*Squeal!* My colleagues couldn’t believe how giddy I was.

Literature also came to me unexpectedly thanks to the Swiss publisher LaBaconnière. A couple of weeks ago, I came home on a Friday night after a week at top speed at work. I was exhausted, eager to unwind and put my mind off work. LaBaconnière must have guessed it because I had the pleasure to find Lettres d’Anglererre by Karel Čapek in my mail box. What a good way to start my weekend. *Squeal!* It was sent to me in hope of a review but without openly requesting it. Polite and spot on since I was drawn to this book immediately. LaBaconnière promotes Central European literature through their Ibolya Virág Collection. Ibolya Virág is a translator from the Hungarian into French and LaBaconnière has also published the excellent Sindbad ou la nostalgie by Gyula Krúdy, a book I reviewed both in French and in English. Last week, I started to read Lettres d’Angleterre and browsed through the last pages of the book, where you always find the list of other titles belonging to the same collection. And what did I find under Sindbad ou la nostalgie? A quote from my billet! *Squeal!* Now I’ve never had any idea of becoming a writer of any kind but I have to confess that it did something to me to see my words printed on a book, be it two lines on the excerpt of a catalogue. Lettres d’Angleterre was a delight, billet to come.

Now that I’m off work, I started to read all the Téléramas I had left behind. The first one I picked included three articles about writers I love. *Squeal!* There was one about visiting Los Angeles and especially Bunker Hill, the neighborhood where John Fante stayed when he moved to Los Angeles. I love John Fante, his sense of humor, his description of Los Angeles and I’m glad Bukowski saved him from the well of oblivion. It made me want to hop on a plane for a literary escapade in LA. A few pages later, I stumbled upon an article about James Baldwin whose novels are republished in French. Giovanni’s Room comes out again with a foreword by Alain Mabanckou and there’s a new edition of Go Tell It on the Mountain. Two books I want to read. And last but not least, Philip Roth is now published in the prestigious La Pléiade  edition. This collection was initially meant for French writers but has been extended to translated books as well. I don’t know if Roth is aware of this edition but for France, this is an honor as big as winning the Nobel Prize for literature, which Roth totally deserves, in my opinion.

Romain Gary isn’t published in La Pléiade (yet) but he’s still a huge writer in France, something totally unknown to most foreign readers. See this display table in a bookstore in Lyon.

His novel La Promesse de l’aube has been made into a film that will be on screens on December 20th. It is directed by Eric Barbier and Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Nina, Gary’s mother and Pierre Niney is Romain Gary. I hope it’s a good adaptation of Gary’s biographical novel.

Romain Gary was a character that could have come out of a novelist’s mind. His way of reinventing himself and his past fascinates readers and writers. In 2017, at least two books are about Romain Gary’s childhood. In Romain Gary s’en va-t-en guerre, Laurent Seksik explores Gary’s propension to create a father that he never knew. I haven’t read it yet but it is high on my TBR.

The second book was brought in the flow of books arriving for the Rentrée Littéraire. I didn’t have time this year to pay attention to the books that were published for the Rentrée Littéraire. I just heard an interview of François-Henri Désérable who wrote Un certain M. Piekielny, a book shortlisted for the prestigious Prix Goncourt. And it’s an investigation linked to Gary’s childhood in Vilnius. *Squeal!* Stranded in Vilnius, Désérable walked around the city and went in the street where Gary used to live between 1917 and 1923. (He was born in 1914) In La promesse de l’aube, Gary wrote that his neighbor once told him:

Quand tu rencontreras de grands personnages, des hommes importants, promets-moi de leur dire: au n°16 de la rue Grande-Pohulanka, à Wilno, habitait M. Piekielny. When you meet with great people, with important people, promise me to tell them : at number 16 of Grande-Pohulanka street in Wilno used to live Mr Piekielny.

Gary wrote that he kept his promise. Désérable decided to research M. Piekielny, spent more time in Vilnius. His book relates his experience and his research, bringing back to life the Jewish neighborhood of the city. 60000 Jews used to live in Vilnius, a city that counted 106 synagogues. A century later, decimated by the Nazis, there are only 1200 Jews and one synagogue in Vilnius. Of course, despite the height of my TBR, I had to get that book. I plan on reading it soon, I’m very intrigued by it.

Despite all the work and stuff, I managed to read the books selected for our Book Club. The October one is Monsieur Proust by his housekeeper Céleste Albaret. (That’s on the TBW) She talks about Proust, his publishers and the publishing of his books. When Du côté de chez Swann was published in 1913, Proust had five luxury copies made for his friends. The copy dedicated to Alexandra de Rotschild was stolen during WWII and is either lost or well hidden. The fifth copy dedicated to Louis Brun will be auctioned on October 30th. When the first copy dedicated to Lucien Daudet was auctioned in 2013, it went for 600 000 euros. Who knows for how much this one will be sold? Not *Squeal!* but *Swoon*, because, well, it’s Proust and squeals don’t go well with Proust.

Although Gary’s books are mostly not available in English, I was very happy to discover that French is the second most translated language after English. Yay to the Francophonie! According to the article, French language books benefit from two cultural landmarks: the Centre National du Livre and the network of the Instituts français. Both institutions help financing translations and promoting books abroad. I have often seen the mention that the book I was reading had been translated with the help of the Centre National du Livre.

I mentioned earlier that the hotel I stayed in was made for me because of the literary and theatre setting. I still have my subscription at the Théâtre des Célestins in Lyon and I’ve seen two very good plays. I wanted to write a billet about them but lacked the time to do so.

Illustration by Thomas Ehretsmann

The first one is Rabbit Hole by Bostonian author David Lindsay-Abaire. The French version was directed by Claudia Stavisky. The main roles of Becky and Howard were played by Julie Gayet and Patrick Catalifo. It is a sad but beautiful play about grieving the death of a child. Danny died in a stupid car accident and his parents try to survive the loss. With a missing member, the family is thrown off balance and like an amputated body, it suffers from phantom pain. With delicate words and spot-on scenes, David Lindsay-Abaire shows us a family who tries to cope with a devastating loss that shattered their lived. If you have the chance to watch this play, go for it. *Delight* On the gossip column side of things, the rumor says that François Hollande was in the theatre when I went to see the play. (Julie Gayet was his girlfriend when he was in office)

Illustration by Thomas Ehretsmann

The second play is a lot lighter but equally good. It is Ça va? by Jean-Claude Grumberg. In French, Ça va? is the everyday greeting and unless you genuinely care about the person, it’s told off-handedly and the expected answer is Yes. Apparently, this expression comes from the Renaissance and started to be used with the generalization of medicine based upon the inspection of bowel movements. (See The Imaginary Invalid by Molière) So “Comment allez-vous à la selle” (“How have your bowel movements been?”) got shortened into Ça va? Very down-to-earth. But my dear English-speaking natives, don’t laugh out loud too quickly, I hear that How do you do might have the same origin…Back to the play.

In this play directed by Daniel Benoin, Grumberg imagines a succession of playlets that start with two people meeting up and striking a conversation with the usual Ça va? Of course, a lot of them end up with dialogues of the deaf, absurd scenes, fights and other hilarious moments. Sometimes it’s basic comedy, sometimes we laugh hollowly but in all cases, the style is a perfect play with the French language. A trio of fantastic actors, François Marthouret, Pierre Cassignard and Éric Prat interpreted this gallery of characters. *Delight* If this play comes around, rush for it.

To conclude this collage of my literary-theatre moments of the last two months, I’ll mention an interview of the historian Emmanuelle Loyer about a research project Europa, notre histoire directed by Etienne François and Thomas Serrier. They researched what Europe is made of. Apparently, cafés are a major component of European culture. Places to sit down and meet friends, cultural places where books were written and ideas exchanged. In a lot of European cities, there are indeed literary cafés where writers had settled and wrote articles and books. New York Café in Budapest. Café de Flore in Paris. Café Martinho da Arcada in Lisbon. Café Central in Vienna. Café Slavia in Prague. Café Giubbe Rosse in Florence. (My cheeky mind whispers to me that the pub culture is different and might have something to do with Brexit…) It’s a lovely thought that cafés are a European trademark, that we share a love for places that mean conviviality. That’s where I started to write this billet, which is much longer than planned. I’ll leave you with two pictures from chain cafés at the Lyon mall. One proposes to drop and/or take books and the other has a bookish décor.

Literature and cafés still go together and long life to the literary café culture!

I wish you all a wonderful weekend.

Book recommendation – Australian Literature : a sequel

September 25, 2017 14 comments

Hello everyone,

Thanks a lot for all the book recommendations I received when I asked about Australian lit books. What a great response to my billet!

You can find lists by Lisa here and here and one by Sue here. I compiled a list of all the titles I could gather from lists and comments and I want to share it with you, it might be useful.  I hope I didn’t miss one, there were so many!

  1. The Three Miss Kings by Ada Cambridge
  2. The Sitters by Alex Miller
  3. I For Isobel by Amy Witting
  4. Behind the Night Bazaar by Angela Savage
  5. Paris Dreaming by Anita Heiss
  6. Barb Wires and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss
  7. Double-Wolf by Brian Castro
  8. The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
  9. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
  10. Painted Clay by Capel Boake
  11. The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy
  12. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
  13. The Glass Canoe by David Ireland
  14. Ransom by David Malouf
  15. Remembering Babylon by David Malouf
  16. Fly Away Peter by David Malouf
  17. Glissando – A Melodrama by David Musgrave
  18. The Book of Emmett by Deborah Forster
  19. The Catherine Wheel by Elizabeth Harrower
  20. The Watchtower by Elizabeth Harrower
  21. Three Dollars by Elliott Perlman
  22. Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire
  23. All the Birds, Singing by Evi Wyld
  24. My Brother Jack by George Johnson
  25. Barley Patch by Gerald Murnane
  26. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  27. The Fortune of Richard Mahoney by Henry Handel Richardson
  28. Walkabout by James Vance Marshall
  29. Panthers and The Museum of Fire by Jen Craig
  30. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
  31. Gilgamesh by Joan London
  32. The Secret River by Kate Grenville
  33. The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville
  34. That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott
  35. True Country by Kim Scott
  36. Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar
  37. (For the Term of) His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke
  38. The Cardboard Crown by Martin Boyd
  39. Lexicon by Max Barry
  40. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
  41. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
  42. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail
  43. The Death of Bunny Munroe by Nick Cave
  44. And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave
  45. Amy’s Children by Olga Masters
  46. Loving Daughters by Olga Masters
  47. Voss by Patrick White
  48. The Tree of Man by Patrick White
  49. The Eye of the Storm by Patrick White
  50. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
  51. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
  52. The Broken Shore by Peter Temple
  53. The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea by Randolph Stow
  54. The Sound Of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan
  55. Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan
  56. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
  57. Floundering by Romy Ash
  58. Swords and Crowns and Rings by Ruth Park
  59. The Harp in the South by Ruth Park
  60. The Arrival by Shaun Tan
  61. The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
  62. The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
  63. A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
  64. The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll
  65. Life in Seven Mistakes: A Novel by Susan Johnson
  66. Drylands by Thea Astley
  67. Coda by Thea Astley
  68. Dirt Music by Tim Winton
  69. The Riders by Tim Winton
  70. Breath by Tim Winton
  71. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
  72. Black Teeth by Zane Lovitt
  73. The Dry by Jane Harper
  74. Forces of Nature by Jane Harper
  75. The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
  76. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
  77. The Eye of the Sheep by Sofia Laguna
  78. The Choke by Sofia Laguna
  79. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
  80. Goodwood by Holly Throsby

The titles in bold are the ones I already have on the shelf, so, obviously, I’ll start with these. I think that For the Rest of His Natural Life is a must read. Then I’ll try to mix genres, times and topics. I have a soft spot for short books, so I’ll probably take the number of pages into account. I know it shouldn’t be a criteria but sometimes you have to be pragmatic: it’s a way to discover more writers in a limited reading time.

In bold green is my wish list. I hope I’ll have time to read this soon and now I have to think about reading them in the original or in translation. Some might not be available in French, I haven’t checked out yet. So, this list is not final but I wanted to let you know what I was inclined to read.

Of course, if you have new reading ideas, don’t hesitate to leave a comment! 🙂

To be followed…

Emma

Quais du Polar 2017: Day #3

April 2, 2017 27 comments

Today was the last day of Quais du Polar 2017. This morning, we walked around the ground floor of the great book store. It is set in the great hall of the Chamber of Commerce, I suppose the stock exchange was here, the space suits this activity. As you can see, it was crowded and very busy. I wonder how many books were sold over the weekend.

This is only a fourth of a big bookstore.

This gives you an idea of the height of the building. This patio has a second floor with rooms.

I had the chance to talk to Dominique Sylvain and got her book Passage du désir. It called to me with its quote by Emile Ajar (Romain Gary) and its writer comes from the same region as me. It’s the first instalment of a series, so we’ll see. Marina Sofia introduced me to the Romanian publisher Bogdan Hrib and I came home with the book Spada by Bogdan Teodorescu. It’s a political crime fiction novel and I usually enjoy those. It’s going to be an opportunity to read something about Romania.

I attended a great conference by Michel Pastoureau at the Chapelle de la Trinité.

He’s an historian specialized in the history of colors. Since Quais du Polar’s color code is red and black, the interview was about the history and symbolism of the color red. I won’t relate everything he talked about but will concentrate on two ideas, the switch from red to blue as a preferred color and the origin of the French flag.

In Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, red was an important color and blue wasn’t used a lot. It changed at the beginning of the Middle Ages and blue became an important color. It came from a need to picture heavenly light as opposed to earthly light. Artists started to use the color blue for heaven while normal light was white or yellow. Then the Virgin Mary started to wear blue dresses on paintings and kings of France (Philippe Auguste, Saint Louis) wore blue clothes. It became fashionable. And red, a color much fancied until then lost its first place as a great color.

About the French flag. As you probably all know, the French flag comes from the Revolution and is blue/white/red. In school, we all learnt that it looks like this because white is the color of the monarchy and it’s squeezed between the colors of the city of Paris. Actually, this is inaccurate. The French flag comes from the American flag. After the 1776 American revolution, in Europe, the people who supported the ideas conveyed by this revolution started to wear blue/white/red ribbons. So, when the French Revolution decided upon a new flag in 1794, it went for the same colors as the American flag. And since the Dutch had already horizontal strips, they used vertical ones. And since the American flag comes from the Union Jack, I guess France has a flag based upon UK colors. Weird story, right?

It was a fascinating conference, Michel Pastoureau is a wonderful speaker. He knows how to tell anecdotes and the public was drinking his speech.

After that, I went to listen to David Vann discuss with a journalist about his books. It was set in the room that was the former Tribunal de Commerce. (Trade Court)

He explained how he wrote his books. Sukkwan Island was written in two phases. The first part was written in 17 days when he was in a sort of writing trance on a boat trip from Los Angeles to Hawaï. The second half was written after. I haven’t read the book but it’s a significant piece of information to understand the book.

He gave us a lot of background information about his childhood in Alaska, his family and his personal history because all of this gives us a better understanding of his novels. Again, I won’t retell everything, you can replay this lecture on the Quais du Polar website. It was a fascinating hour with him. He’s an agreeable fellow, he’s been a teacher, so he’s articulate and used to speaking in public too. Plus, he has a great sense of humor. He said he never thinks too much about what he writes and then he comes to France and discusses his books with journalists who ask pointed questions and he has a new view of his work. 🙂 Here, the journalist knew his work very well and was able to fuel the discussion with intelligent questions.

It was a delightful hour where he explained his work, talked about American literary tradition and described how his books are influenced by Greek tragedies. I’m really looking forward to reading Caribou Island.

And that was the end of the festival for me. I had a lot of fun, bought great books, had the chance to chat a bit with some writers and attended great conferences. The literary concert was truly marvelous.

Although they probably won’t read this, I would like to thank the team who organized this festival and all the volunteers who were everywhere to ensure that things run smoothly. I found the writers happy to be in Lyon, smiling and glad to meet their readers and to be part of this giant celebration of crime fiction. Several of them were serial attendees, like Ron Rash (fourth time), Caryl Férey or David Vann. They all seem to enjoy it as much as the public does.

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