Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Bookish events’

Saturday news: gloom and doom but saved by books

October 31, 2020 22 comments

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

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

Photo by Daniel Garcia. AFP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s read Romain Gary

January 8, 2014 56 comments

Gary_LecturesIn my New Year billet, I mentioned that 2014 is the centenary of Romain Gary’s birth. Indeed he was born on May 8th, 1914 in Vilnius, Russian Empire. It was the year WWI started and the year WWII ended in Europe. Talk about a man to be destined to be influenced by war.

I decided to celebrate this anniversary with you. I thus declare that May 2014 is Romain Gary Literature Month. On the 8th of May, I will post a billet about one of Gary’s books, I don’t know which one yet. I hope I won’t be celebrating it only with myself but that some of you will want to join me. All you have to do is to read a book about him or by him and post a billet on your blog. Participants who don’t have a blog are welcome as well and can either leave a comment here or contact me to arrange the publication of a guest post. (bookarounthecorner@gmail.com or Twitter @BookAround) Ready to participate? Here are some reading recommendations:

For completists, Gary has two books included in 1001 books you must read before you die:

  • La promesse de l’aube, (Promise at Dawn)
  • Les raciness du ciel,  (The Roots of Heaven)

For aficionados of literary prize winners:

  • Les racines du ciel, Prix Goncourt 1956
  • La vie devant soi, Prix Goncourt 1975 under the pen name of Emile Ajar. (Life Before Us)
  • Education européenne, Prix des critiques 1945

For people who repeatedly land on my blog after googling “How French men treat their women”, try Clair de femme or Au-delà de cette limite votre ticket n’est plus valable.

Otherwise, here are what are considered his best books:

  • La promesse de l’aubre
  • La vie devant soi
  • Les racines du ciel
  • Chien blanc
  • Clair de femme
  • Lady L
  • Education européenne
  • Les enchanteurs
  • Les cerfs-volants.

Personally, I have a soft spot for Au-delà de cette limite votre ticket n’est plus valable (Your ticket is no longer valid) and Adieu Gary Cooper.

Bellos_GaryGary’s life is literary material. Poor, rich, aviator, war hero, diplomat, writer, son the jewishest Jewish mother, immigrant, married to the glamorous Jean Seberg, guilty of the most incredible literary mystification with the creation of Emile Ajar. Intrigued? A biography might tempt you. In English, you can find Romain Gary, a Tall Story by David Bellos and in French, Romain Gary by Dominique Bona or Romain Gary le caméléon by Myriam Anissimov.

If you want to read what others have written about him, check out Tombeau de Romain Gary by the Canadian writer Nancy Huston. She’s a huge Gary fan. Pierre Assouline from Le Monde wrote a wonderful article on his blog –Sorry, it’s in French. His first wife Lesley Blanch wrote Romain, un regard particulier. Several writers arranged a collective book, Lectures de Romain Gary in which each of them tells about one of Gary’s books. Nancy Huston and Pierre Assouline are among them.

I hope you are now excited to try one of his books and join me in May. Meanwhile, I will publish a quote by him from different novels every Wednesday, starting today.

Il faut toujours connaître les limites du possible. Pas pour s’arrêter, mais pour tenter l’impossible dans les meilleures conditions.  in Charge d’âme.

You need to know the limits of what’s possible. Not to stop yourself but to aim at the impossible in the best conditions. (my translation)

Quais du polar: Lyon celebrates crime fiction

April 1, 2013 17 comments

Quais_PolarThis weekend Lyon hosted a festival dedicated to crime fiction named Quais du polar. Let me explain the name. In French, polar is a crime fiction category that covers Noir, thriller, hardboiled and pulp. Cozy crimes and whodunnits aren’t called polars. I have a category Polar on the blog since I never know exactly how to tag the crime fiction book I’m reading. So more precisely, a Raymond Chandler is a polar and an Agatha Christie isn’t. That was for polar. Now, what about Quais? In Lyon, we have two rivers, the Saône and the Rhône. This means lots of banks and piers (Quais) in the city. In addition to this geographical consideration about Lyon, 36 Quai des Orfèvres is the address of the police department in Paris. So a festival named Quais du polar makes sense when it deals with crime fiction.

This event is a firework of crime fiction feasts. There are conferences with writers and publishers, a literary fair (more about that later), an investigation organized in the city, theatre plays, touristic tours, operas and films in the Institut Lumière, the place where the cinema was born.

We did the investigation with the children and I went to the literary fair. It was held in the Palais du Commerce, the beautiful buildings owned by the Chamber of Commerce, located Place de la Bourse. (Stock-exchange plaza). I mused about the irony to have a book fair in the premises of the corporate world. There, independent book stores had stands and each stand had writers present to meet readers and sign copies of their books. I’m not usually looking for signed copies of books, except for particular writers. I was really happy to discuss with Nancy Huston once, more to talk about our common love of Romain Gary than about her own books. This time I was on a mission; my mother is a huge crime fiction reader and with Mother’s Day coming soon, I had the perfect idea for a gift! So I got the signed books I wanted.

Quai_Polar_SalonTo me, the most interesting part was to meet with enthusiastic booksellers. (Sorry, sorry, writers… I never know what to say to you). The nicest one was the crime fiction aficionado from Au Bonheur des Ogres. The name of the book shop itself is attractive since it’s the first title of the Malaussene series by Daniel Pennac. (You can read a review of Fairy Gunmother another volume of this series here) This bookseller uses “tu” at first sight because we’re members of the great brotherhood of compulsive readers. He recommended a Spanish writer, Carlos Salem, and you’ll read about him soon. This bookseller helped Salem’s career in France, along with two other independent bookstores in Toulouse and Paris. I know because they are all mentioned in the acknowledgments of Matar y guardar la ropa, the book I purchased. Yes, as far as I know, the only murder that occurred during the festival is that of my book buying ban. I came home with:

  • Matar y guardar la ropa by Carlos Salem (Nager sans se mouiller). I’m loving it so far.
  • Le petit bleu de la côte Ouest by Jean-Patrick Manchette (Three to kill, review here) I’ve never read Manchette and I’ve been willing to try him for a while.
  • The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski. Also recommended by the friendly bookseller. I knew the name though, thanks to Guy. (See his review of Severance Package)

Salem_Nagermanchette_Bleu

Swierczynski_BlondeI love crime fiction, I’ve always read this genre and I wondered why I hardly read any lately. I came to the conclusion that it stemmed from a language Chinese puzzle. I don’t know much about French crime fiction writers and I’d rather read English-speaking ones in English. And here come the difficulties: I enjoy reading crime fiction to unwind and reading crime fiction in English requires more concentration than in French. Plus, I came to question old translations of crime fiction classics, so reading them in French isn’t an option anymore. With hindsight, it seems quite stupid not to pick crime fiction on the shelf because of a bad concentration-fun equation. So I’ve decided to read recent polars in French; you’ll have to make do with billets without quotes (terribly frustrating at times) and probably poor ones too because I’m not very skilled at reviewing crime fiction.

I think the festival was a success, the place was full of people engrossed in conversations with booksellers, avidly reading their recent purchase on one of the side benches and writers seemed happy to be there. There were lines in front of the conference rooms, we crossed a lot of families and couples also doing the fake Chinese investigation in town. The Palais du Commerce is gorgeous, it gives a classy touch to the event and I hope these independent book stores gained new readers. I can tell you Au Bonheur des Ogres has me now, especially since they also deliver books.

PS: The book buying ban is a phoenix, it can be born again from its cinders.

%d bloggers like this: