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Best of Book Around the Corner for 2020

January 2, 2021 23 comments

After wishing us the best for 2021, let’s have a look at my 2020 reading year. I’ve read more books than the previous years (78) and that’s all the statistics I’ll give. Numbers and statistics are for my day job. Here, I’m happy to live without numbers and only go with totally subjective opinions about books I read.

So, here we go, with categories of my own.

Best Least Commented Billet

I looked into my billets in search of the least commented ones. Some of my favorite books of the year are in this category, sadly. This is a friendly reminder, I think that Death and the Good Life by Richard Hugo is really worth reading. Richard Hugo was a poet and a fan for Noir fiction. This is his only novel and his first attempt at writing crime fiction. His being a poet brings a melodic feeling to his prose and he proves that crime fiction can be excellent literature. It doesn’t help that my favorite one is out-of-print in English, but for French readers, it’s a 10/18 book.

Best Gallmeister Book

Frequent flyers of this blog know that I’m fan of books published by Gallmeister. Among the eight books that I read this year from their catalogue, my favorite is A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do by Pete Fromm. It is the sad but hopeful story of Taz who loses his wife in childbirth and the slow rebuilding of his life after this trauma. It’s written with simplicity and truthfulness and it’s a masterpiece. Simple things are never easy to achieve and when a style seems “simple”, it usually means that the writer is a great author.

Best Fishing Book

Readings lots of books published by Gallmeister and Nature Writing books implies that a lot of them involve fishing at some point and often in Montana or Wyoming. It’s become a joke in the family and with readers. (Right, Bill?) This year, my favorite fishing book is…French! Ha! It’s Fisherman of Iceland by Pierre Loti, about the fishermen from Brittany who went fishing near the coasts of Iceland. I also did a Literary Escapade in the village where Loti stayed and made friends with local fishermen.

Best Non-Book Post

Last year I started a best-of category for my billets that are not a book review. This year, the most read and commented was my Blog Anniversary: 10 years of book blogging post. Thank you again for reading my clumsy endeavors at commenting literature. In 2020, blogging has more and ever been a window to the world.

You also seem to enjoy my Literary Escapade series and your favorite one was about Turin, right before the first lockdowns in Europe. Let’s hope I’ll do some more in the coming months!

Best Read-West-With-Sister-in-Law

I’m now in my second row of “Read West With Sister-In-Law”, readalong. Thanks, S! It’s a lot of fun to pick books together and talk about them whenever we see each other.

We’ve read a lot of great books in our readalong. I could mention The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage, Bless the Beasts and the Children by Glendon Swarthout or Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan. Since I have to make a choice, I pick The Lost Get-Back Boogie by James Lee Burke. It is the redemption story of an ex-convict who wants to be a better man, a story laced with violence, booze and blues, set in the landscapes of Louisiana and Montana. It dives into the psyche of America and its history. All this wrapped in a flawless style, courtesy of James Lee Burke. Stunning.

Best Translation Tragedy

A Translation Tragedy is a book available in English but sadly not in French or vice versa. This year I’ve read eight books that are not translated into English and seven that are not translated into French. I wish that more books by Dominique Sylvain were translated into English, and especially Les Infidèles. Knock, knock, Corylus Books! I heard that the rights of her books have not been sold for English translation. Just saying.

Most of the untranslated English books I read were Australian books by CH Spence, Ada Cambridge and Elizabeth Harrower. There is a niche in publishing for Australian Women Writers. Any candidate?

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

No hesitation, it’s Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. Each time I read something by James Baldwin, I’m bowled over. He was so intelligent. His ability to lay matters in an articulate way, to be militant without being pushy or disrespectful of others is outstanding. He never shies away from sensitive topics. He’s the master of grey areas, of nuanced thinking without falling into the pitfall of angelism or extremism. We need more writers like him in our world.

Best Book Club Read

Our Book Club year has been full of good books but IMO, no great one stands out. My favorite one is Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian, his memoir about his family and the Armenian genocide. The beginning is about his childhood and his growing up in his Armenian-American family, how it was different from others around him, and how he stumbled upon the story of the Armenian genocide by the Turks and how it’s been swept under an oriental carpet. Very moving and informative at the same time. Highly recommended.

I loved that our Book Club tour took us to France, Algeria, Nigeria, England, America, Armenia, Jordan, Greece and Turkey.

Best Non-Fiction

I’ve read eight Non-Fiction book this year, more than in previous years. While the Winock about Militant Writers in the 19thC and their fight for the freedom of speech was absolutely fascinating, I’d rather recommend to everyone The Book of Yaak by Rick Bass.

It’s a poetic, soothing and militant memoir about living in the Yaak Valley in Montana. Rush for it, Bass’s luminous prose will take your mind off mutant viruses, stifling lockdowns and lonely evenings. You’ll vicariously breathe fresh air with him.

Best Sugar-Without-Cellulite Book

In these COVID-branded times, I was in dire need of comfort reads, the ones I call Sugar Without Cellulite. Thanks to Jacqui, I had a lot of fun with Patricia Brent, Spinster by HG Jenkins. In case you need another fix of sugary read, I also recommend the Austanian A Humble Enterprise by Ada Cambridge and Mr Hogarth’s Will by CH Spence and the crazy funny Mrs Fletcher by Tom Perrotta.

2020 was an excellent reading year, a varied diet of fiction and non-fiction, of different countries and different styles. I did a series of Literary Escapades and will do more of those in the coming year.

I took part in several blogging events such as Australian Women Writers Challenge, Indigenous Literature Week, Japanese Literature Challenge, the #1920 Club, the #1956 Club, 20 Books of Summer and Novella in November.

And what about 2021?

I’ve got Book Club reads, Read-The-West-With-Sister-In-Law Season 2 and my monthly Kube subscription to a book blind date. I’ve reorganized my TBR and like every new year, my resolution is to read more from the TBR and decrease the pile. It seems as likely as riding a unicorn, but one never stops dreaming, right?

What’s your favorite 2020 read and what are your plans for 2021?

Happy New Year 2021

January 1, 2021 19 comments

Bye bye, 2020!

Lots of things happened in 2020 and on top of everything, Quino, the creator of Mafalda died. It’s only fair that I express my thoughts for 2021 through his cartoons and look, I found one that is particularly spot on!

I hope all is well with you and again, I wish you a Happy New Year! 

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Australian Women Writers 2020: Challenge completed!

December 27, 2020 16 comments

In 2020 I signed up for the Australian Women Writers (AWW) challenge. The rules are simple: read as many books as possible by Australian Women Writers and link your review to the AWW page.

There are four levels in this challenge:

  • Stella: read four, review at least three
  • Miles: read six, review at least four
  • Franklin: read ten, review at least six.
  • Create your own challenge: nominate your goal

I reached the Miles level this year. I read six books by Australian Women Writers and wrote a billet for each. Here are the books I read, sorted according to their year of publishing:

1865: Mr Hogarth’s Will by Catherine Helen Spence. I loved this book with its Austenian plot, its feminist and progressist vibe. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jane and Alice Melville are looking for respectable work and a living wage. Although well qualified – they have been given a ‘boy’s education’ by their uncle Mr Hogarth – neither can find a suitable position. They are disinherited by their uncle who believes that this will make them into independent women. But a knowledge of accountancy, minerology and agricultural chemistry counts for nothing in a woman (even a woman like Jane Melville) in nineteenth century Scotland.
Driven to desperation in their struggle to support themselves, eventually they look to Australia for new opportunities. But life in the new world has its own problems.

1896: A Humble Enterprise by Ada Cambridge. I imagine that Ada Cambridge had read Mr Hogarth’s Will as it also has a feminist side. A Humble Enterprise is the tale of daughters who open a teashop in Melbourne after their father dies abruptly, leaving them without an income. It’s like The Romance of a Shop by Amy Levy. (1888)

1904: Sisters by Ada Cambridge. Sisters is a very bleak and cynical vision of marriage and it’s hard to imagine that it was written by the same author as A Humble Enterprise.

1910: An Autobiography by Catherine Helen Spence. After reading Mr Hogarth’s Will, I wanted to know more about its author and started CH Spence’s Autobiography. Also some passages are a bit long and obscure for non-Australians or for the modern reader, it was a fascinating read about an exceptional woman. Recommended to remember that not all the pioneers were men.

1960: The Catherine Wheel by Elizabeth Harrower. Only the excellence of Harrower’s writing pushed me to finish The Catherine Wheel. It’s the story of a toxic relationship that slowly tortures and destroy a young woman, Clemency James.

2016: Our Tiny, Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan. I needed an entertaining read and Toni Jordan wrote an excellent Australian vaudeville. I had a lot of fun reading Our Tiny, Useless Hearts and I found the fun I was looking for.

When I look at my selection of books, if we put aside CH Spencer’s Autobiography, all books are about marriage, relationships and the fact that women often draw the short straw in the marriage game. Even the 19th century novels are quite feminist, showing women in positions where they have their lives in their hands and try to be independant. All these books are worth reading, for different reasons but if I have to pick one, it’ll be Mr Hogarth’s Will. 

Many thanks to the team in charge of AWW. I don’t know yet if I’ll participate in 2021 but I might. If you want to hop on the AWW train, check out the 2021 subscription page.

Merry Christmas – Joyeux Noël 2020

December 25, 2020 26 comments

This year, Christmas is a weird affair. A COVID Affair. In Europe, each country has their set of rules, allowing more or less dinner guests, counting children or not and permitting visits within a certain range of kilometers or not.

Here in France, we’re allowed to travel to visit family but we shouldn’t be more than six adults at the table. There’s a curfew after 8 pm but we’re free to travel anywhere during the day. We swim into an ocean of advice about airing rooms, wearing masks, splitting guests between several tables, not hugging and kissing.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that important. But it comes after nine months of controls, epidemic ups-and-downs, almost total homeworking and whatnots. Things aren’t under control here and this new stain spotted in Great-Britain tempers all the good hopes we had in these brand-new vaccines.

We’re in stressful times and this disease attacks our health but also our socialization, it weighs on our morale. Some rules seem unfair and illogical. Why should churches and shopping malls be open and not cinemas and theatres?

But I can’t complain. I’ll get to be with my family. I’m sending virtual hugs to all of you who have family living in another country or children stuck in their student room or who are under such a strict lockdown that Christmas is going to be a lonely affair. Let me know how things are going for you in the comments, so that we can share our experience.

I send you all my best wishes for this special Christmas, one we’ll all remember, but not fondly. I wish you a good day and don’t forget that readers are never quite alone since books are steady companion.

Merry Christmas to you all!

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Saturday News: My Black Friday is Book Friday with Un Petit Noir bookstore

November 28, 2020 10 comments

This week I decided to do a Book Friday and prepare Christmas. I contacted the Jean-Pierre Barrel, the libraire of Un Petit Noir, a bookstore specialized in crime fiction in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood in Lyon. (See my Literary Escapade here.)

I sent him an email, gave a list of crime books I’d enjoyed in the past and asked him to pick ten paperback crime fiction books. He came back with an original selection of books I’d never heard of.

Title in English Title in French Author Country
Dark Town Dark Town Thomas Mullen USA
Not available in English Le Cherokee Richard Morgiève France
Not available in English L’aigle des tourbières Gérard Coquet France
Days of Rage Quatre jours de rage Kris Nelscott USA
Not available in English La traque de la musaraigne Florent Couao Zotti Benin
The Wild Inside Sauvage Jamey Bradbury USA
Not available in English Adieu Oran Ahmed Tiab Algeria
Tail of the Blue Bird Notre quelque part Nii Ayikwei Parkes UK
Not available in English Par les rafales Valentine Imhof France
Vigilance Vigilance Robert Jackson Bennett

USA

Algeria, Benin, France, Ireland, Albania, Alabama, Illinois, Utah and Alaska, he chose books to travel. Set between the 1940s to 2030 with dystopian Vigilance, it’s also a travel in time. All books seem to explore the underbelly of the countries and towns they use as a setting. They are published by independent publishing houses, Zulma, Le Bélial, Rivages, Edition Joëlle Losfeld, Editions Jigal, Editions de l’Aube, Gallmeister and Editions du Rouergue.

All these books are not mainstream crime fiction and I’m very curious. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, since you’re all book lovers who support independant bookstores but really, I’d never have found these books by myself, especially not on an online bookstore. Browsing online has nothing to do with browsing through physical shelves and with the help of a libraire.

Today’s the day bookstores reopen in France, I’m looking forward to visiting Un Petit Noir and get my new book pile. Some will become Christmas presents and others will stay with me.

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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?

Literary Escapade: Combourg and Chateaubriand

August 6, 2020 26 comments

Chateaubriand (1768-1848) is a writer that my highschool BFF and I had nicknamed Chateaubrichiant. (Chateauboring) That’s how much we enjoyed the excerpts of Memoirs of Beyond the Grave that we studied in school.

Since then I’ve read Atala and René and mused in my billet that I didn’t know that Chateaubriand was in favor of kibbutz (Atala) and missed the opportunity to invent Kleenex (René) The whole billet is here.

Chateaubriand is taught as the precursor of Romanticism and I have to confess this is not my favorite literary movement. Too much gloom and doom for my tastes. And indeed, see what Chateaubriand writes about his own birth:

Il n’y a pas de jour où, rêvant à ce que j’ai été, je ne revoie en pensée le rocher sur lequel je suis né, la chambre où ma mère m’infligea la vie, la tempête dont le bruit berça mon premier sommeil, le frère infortuné qui me donna un nom que j’ai presque toujours traîné dans le malheur. Le Ciel sembla réunir ces diverses circonstances pour placer dans mon berceau une image de mes destinées. A day seldom passes on which, reflecting on what I have been, I do not see again in thought the rock upon which I was born, the room in which my mother inflicted life upon me, the tempest whose sound first lulled me to sleep, the unfortunate brother who gave me a name which I have nearly always dragged through misfortune. Heaven seemed to unite these several circumstances in order to lay within my cradle a symbol of my destiny. 

Translation Alexander Teixeira de Mattos

Kill me now…Anyway, this house is still there, in St Malo, in what is now Chateaubriand Street. (of course)

Chateaubriand was brought up in Combourg, a castle bought by his father who made a fortune as a fisherman in Newfoundland, tunred corsair and then invested in slave trade. A man of his time. Combourg is still owned by the descendants of the family and it’s open to visit, with a guided tour. The castle was empty during 80 years after the Revolution and was renovated by Viollet-Leduc. Here’s a general view of the castle.

And here are the grounds, taken from the stairs of the castle. There’s a lot of space to run around.

The visit takes us through parts of the castle and it’s a Chateaubriand tour, with quotes from Memoirs Beyond the Grave and all.

Here’s the room where he slept as a child, in a remote tower of the castle. The poor boy had to accompany his mother and sisters to their rooms, lock doors and check that there were no monsters and then had to go back to his isolated room in the dark and on his own. I can’t imagine what scars this you-will-be-a-man kind of education leaves on a young boy. Don’t you think that his room looked like a cell?

Chateaubriand died in Paris, rue du Bac. (Like Romain Gary, btw) His furniture was moved to Combourg and they have redone his Parisian room in the castle.

It was a nice tour, telling about Chateaubriand’s early life in Brittany.

The most moving part for me was this tree. It comes from the north of Canada and it’s called a faux cyprès de Lawson in French and according to the dictionary, a Port Orford tree in English. I couldn’t help thinking about The Overstory by Richard Powers, who keeps reminding us that trees, if we don’t destroy them, often survive us.

It’s two-hundred-and-fifty-years old, it has known Chateaubriand as a child. The little stone structure is the Lucile cross, a place where Chateaubriand and his sister Lucile used to chat. She was the one who encouraged him to write.

I left Combourg with an anthology of Memoirs Beyond the Grave. I’m not up for the whole memoirs, so I’ll rely on the work of Jean-Claude Berchet who selected the parts he thought worth reading.

I’ve started to read it and I find it a lot easier than expected.

I’m very curious about the historical aspects of Chateaubriand’s life. He has lived through several political systems in France: born under Louis XV, formative years under Louis XVI (1774-1792), he lived through the Revolution and the Ist Republic (1792-1804), Napoléon and the Ist Empire (1804-1815), the Restauration (1815-1830), the July Monarchy (1830-1848). When he died, the Second Republic had just started. All this in a lifetime.

He traveled a lot, had piolitical responsabilites. I’d like to read his biography some day. (And Lamartine’s, for the same reasons)

I always wonder how common people navigated and survived all these changes.

Literary escapade: Book haul in Bécherel, the book village

July 29, 2020 12 comments

In my last billet about Bécherel, the book village in Brittany, I promised another billet about the books I got there. Of course, I had to refrain myself or I would have brought back LOTS of books. Lucky me, we drove to Brittany and there’s plenty of space in the car to bring books back home.

In the bookstore Le Donjon, I discovered a whole shelf of crime fiction by Breton writers and set in Brittany. See for yourself:

Bécherel_brittany

Apart from a lost book by Tony Hillerman, all of these are published by Breton publishers. I’ve never heard of these writers, I don’t think I’ve seen their name on the Quais du Polar List. I had to get some, right?

I browsed throught the pages, eliminated those whose style didn’t suit me and picked up Dernier concert à Vannes by Hervé Huguen (Last concert in Vannes) and Colin-maillard à Ouessant by Françoise Le Mer (Hide and Seek in Ouessant)

Bécherel_Polar_Breton

Both are the first installment of a series, one with Commissaire Baron and the other with Le Fur and Le Gwen, two inspectors from Brest. I asked the libraire about Breton school of crime fiction and he told me that he’d only found out about it. He’s read a few and he told me that they allow you to travel to places you’ve never been before. We’ll see how I’ll like them.

Then I stumbled upon a big shelf of old Série Noire books by Gallimard. This is the collection that introduced Noir and hardboiled to French readers. They also have classic crime, with Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh, for example. Simenon was published in Série Noire too. It’s very famous and still going on, still with yellow covers.

I found a copy of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (Le grand sommeil) and of Hell Hath No Fury by Charles Williams (Je t’attends au tournant)

Bécherel_Série_Noire

This copy of The Big Sleep was published in 1948 and it’s a translation by Boris Vian. This French version of Hell Hath No Fury is translated by Bruno Martin and dates back to 1955.

I can’t wait to compare the translations to the originals. Early Série Noire books are notorious for formated translations and faith to the original was not a cardinal value. Gallmeister and Rivages have started to re-translate some Noir and hardboiled classics to make up for these botched up translations.

I got more crime fiction with All She Was Worth by Miyabe Miyuki and The Garden of Hell by Nick Wilgus. Both are published by Picquier, a publisher specialized in Asian fiction. Now I know what I’ll read for Japanese lit month and I’m intrigued by the character Father Ananda in the Nick Wilgus.

Bécherel_Picquier

Then I got two books by writers I’m fond of, Philippe Besson (Lie With Me) and Dominique Sylvain, a crime fiction writers whose books should be more translated into English.

Bécherel_Comfort

Then I found an old paperback edition of The Confusion of Young Törless by Robert Musil (All set for German Lit Month!) and Faillir être flingué by Céline Minard, a Western written by a French woman writer that won the Prix du livre Inter in 2014. I’m curious. This one is not available in English but has been translated into German and Italian.

Bécherel_Musil_Minard

I also browsed through shelves looking for the bear paw that signals a Gallmeister book. I didn’t find any except Dancing Bear by James Crumley, translated by Jacques Mailhos and The Signal by Ron Carlson, translated by Sophie Aslanides. I’m sure I’ll love these books, translated by two excellent translators.

Bécherel_Gallmeister

I don’t know why I couldn’t find more Gallmeister books. Perhaps the publishing house is too young to have many books landing in second hand bookstores. Perhaps the books are too gorgeous to be given away. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Well, this is it! I’m happy with my book haul and its diversity. Have you read any of these books?

Our next Literary Escapade will be about Chateaubriand, born and bred in Brittany. Meanwhile, I need to catch up with book review billets as I have a backlog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Club 2020-2021 : The List

June 23, 2020 31 comments

It’s that time of year again! Our Book Club runs from August to July, and we have chosen our list for 2020-2021.

*Drum roll* Here’s our pick for our next reading year.

August

La Horde du Contrevent by Alain Damasio (2004) This one is not available in English. It’s a science-fiction book about a group of people who live in a strange world with violent winds. I can’t fathom what it talks about from the blurb. Let’s hope I’ll like it, it’s 736 pages long. Definitely something to read during the holidays.

September

West of Rome by John Fante. (1985) It includes the two novellas, My Dog Stupid and The Orgy. I love John Fante, I’ve read several of his books and enjoy his mad sense of humor.

October

Kabukicho by Dominique Sylvain (2016) On top of writing crime fiction novels, Dominique Sylvain is a translator from the Japanese into French. I’m looking forward to reading one of her polars with a Japanese setting.

November

Women of Algiers in Their Apartment by Assia Djebar (1980) The Algerian writer Assia Djebar wrote this collection of short stories to show women’s lives in Algiers, 20 years after the War of Independence.

December

War With the Newts by Karel Čapek (1936) Its French title is La guerre des salamandres. This is another science-fiction title and the French blurbs says it’s as good as 1984, but with the added bonus of a great sense of humor. I’m sold.

January

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd (1995) The blurb says it’s about a young primate researcher who makes a shocking discovery about men and apes, set in Africa during a civil war. I think I’ve read his books The New Confessions but I’m not sure. Have you read it?

February

Berthe Morisot. Le secret de la femme en noir by Dominique Bona. (2002) It’s a biography of the impressionist painter Berthe Morisot. It’s not available in English but it has been translated into German. I think it’s going to be interesting to read about her life among the other impressionist painters. Bona has also written a biography of Romain Gary and I remember I liked her style.

March

Ravage by René Barjavel (1943. English title: Ashes, Ashes) Barjavel is the first writer of science-fiction I’ve ever read. All the readers I know have read La nuit des temps when they were teenagers. Most of us have cried rivers when we read it and this is a book I won’t reread because I want to keep my memories of it intact. Ravage is another type of story: we’re in 2052 in Paris and a huge electricity shortage brings chaos in the city.

April

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (2004) Its French title is La tristesse des éléphants. I’ve never read Jodi Picoult and don’t know what to expect. Has anyone read it?

May

The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart (2010) Its French title is Le sillage de l’oubli. Set in Texas in 1895, a man loses his wife in childbirth. He raises his children in an austere way and concentrates on horses and bets he makes with neighbors.

June

Noah’s Ark (L’arche de Noé) by Khaled Khamissi. (2009) It’s is an Egyptian book and it’s not available in English. It’s the story of a young Egyptian who emigrates to New York.

July

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (2012) It’s published by Gallmeister under the French title Les douze tribus d’Hattie.

And that’s all, Folks! Three SF books, one biography, one collection of short stories and books from France, the USA, Egypt, Algeria, Czech Republic and UK.

What do you think about our selection?

Literary Escapade: Sète, France

June 18, 2020 33 comments

Sète is a city on the Mediterranean Sea, in France.

It is where Paul Valéry (1871-1945) was born and where he is buried. I’ve never read anything by him. I know him by name, he was very famous in his time, a contemporary of Proust. I browsed through his books in a bookstore in Sète but nothing seemed to be my cup of tea, except a book of maxims. We visited the marine cemetery where he is buried and here’s his tombstone:

Nice view, eh?

For me, poetry and Sète don’t mean Paul Valéry but Georges Brassens, who was born and buried there too. If Bob Dylan can be a Nobel of Literature laureate, Georges Brassens (1921-1981) could have been a contender too.

Brassens was a French poet and songwriter. An anarchist, his texts are cheeky and extremely well written. According to his Wikipedia page, his songs have been translated into twenty languages, Japanese and Esperanto included. For Australian readers, there is tribute album entitled Mountain Men chante Georges Brassens.

He’s a master of the French language, mixing old words and argot, playing on words and making our language sing. I was raised listening to his unorthodox songs, like The Gorilla, Bad Reputation or The Trumpet of Fame. He was a bit of an anarchist and certainly a free spirit. The song Mourir pour des idées (To Die for the Sake of Ideas) is a song against fanatism of any kind. The chorus says, “To die for the sake of ideas, ok, but let’s die slowly”, in other words, let’s not put ourselves at risk and be blind followers of extremists who exhort us to fight until death but stay safely behind the scenes.

I love his beautiful song about friendship, Les Copains d’abord (Friends First), and our Book Club, Les Copines d’abord, is named after it. Brassens was a faithful friend, he kept in touch with his childhood friends his whole life.

His repertoire also includes more tender songs like, Lovers Sitting on Public Benches. In the Non-Proposal (La non-demande en mariage), he explains to his long-term partner Joha Heiman (“Püppchen”) that he doesn’t want to tie her to him through marriage. He doesn’t want the quotidian to spoil their love and he says he doesn’t need a housewife or a servant but just a lover. They’ll stay fiancés forever.

Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète is a plea to be buried on the beach in Sète, to spend his death on holiday. It makes you want to visit the city and see its beach with your own eyes.

Brassens also sang poems by Victor Hugo, Paul Verlaine, François Villon or Paul Fort. To me, Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage was a song by Brassens before it was verses by Joachim du Bellay.

We visited the Georges Brassens museum, with masks and all. It’s a lovely museum that tells Brassens’s life and puts it in perspective with what was going on in France at the time.

Brassens is buried in Sète, in the other cemetery, along with his life partner Joha Heiman. His fans have put reminders of his songs on his grave.

Non-French readers, did you know about him?

I’ll leave you with a last picture of Sète, the fishermen quarter. (Sorry guys, no trout fishing, guys, as trout live in rivers, not in the sea)

Literary escapade in Lyon – Le petit noir, a crime fiction independant bookstore and café.

June 7, 2020 36 comments

Now that we’re free to go as we please again, it’s time to resume Literary Escapades, even if it’s just a trip to a new bookstore.

During the lockdown, I bought vouchers to support local stores and I screened down all the bookshops listed there. That’s how I came across Un petit noir, a bookstore/café dedicated to crime fiction. It’s set in the Croix-Rousse quarter, Montée de la Grande-Côte, a zone classified World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The name of the bookstore is a play-on-word. In French, un petit noir is an espresso. And you all know what Noir means when it comes to crime fiction. Jean-Pierre Barrel, the owner, is undoubtedly a crime fiction afficionado and he really loves the good stuff. No mainstream crime fiction there. Librairie. Café. Polar. That’s his motto. According to his website, he enjoys his crime fiction laced with black humor and underlying analysis of our societies. That sounds a lot like me.

The librairie is split in three parts. One part with bookshelves, one part for the coffee counter and one room in the back to sit, sip and read and to hold literary events, around crime fiction, of course. With Jean-Pierre Barrel’s permission, I took a few photos of the librairie.

Hardbacks and BDs,

Paperbacks, sorted by region.

The shelves with used books by a coffee nook:

The coffee counter and the cash register:

I came out with four books, three from writers I’d never heard of.

I purchased a second Benjamin Whitmer, Cry Father. I had enjoyed Pike and wanted to read something else by him.

Vintage by Grégoire Hervier. It’s a debut novel, a crime fiction road a trip around the world with rock’n’roll as a background. It’s not available in English but it’s been translated into German and published by Diogenes.

Petits crimes contre les humanités by Pierre Christin, a polar set in a university where professors in literature and arts receive anonymous hateful emails. Who is behind it? The author writes scenarios for BDs and collaborated with Tardi or Bilal; it’s published by Métailié, it should be good.

L’envol du faucon vert by Amid Lartane, a crime fiction set in Algeria in the black 1990s. Crime mixed with politics, sounds interesting. It’s published by Métailié too and it’s rare to find Algerian crime fiction.

After Un petit noir, I went to another bookstore to find the mainstream crime fiction I needed for a gift and got myself Money Shot by Christa Faust. I enjoyed her Choke Hold, the follow-up of Money Shot and I wanted to read it.

Final book haul for the day:

I had a lovely afternoon, walking around the city again, browsing through books and discovering a new bookstore. Since there are around 50 bookstores in Lyon, I still have room for other Literary Escapades.

Have you been visiting your favorite bookstores recently?

20 Books of Summer – 20 Books Around the Corner

May 17, 2020 35 comments

Cathy at 746 Books launches her yearly challenge of 20 Books of Summer. The title is self-explanatory: Read 20 books in June, July and August.

Twenty books in three months is a lot for me. I usually manage to read a book per week but I’m willing to try this year since I’m working remotely until the end of August and will save the time and fatigue of commuting to work. I might make it. Now to the fun part: book picking!

I’m already committed to reading with my Book Club and to a Read The West readalong with my sister-in-law. That’s five books. How to choose the fifteen others?

Thanks to a pesky virus, my trip to Montana and Wyoming is cancelled and I’m still grieving this missed opportunity. (Rich white girl problem, I know) So I decided that 20 Books of Summer would be a celebration of the ghosts of trips past, the ghost of the missed trip and the ghost of the upcoming trip to France. I’ll read books related to these summers. If I know where I bought the book, I’ll mention it, as a friendly hello to independent bookstores who have to survive the tempest of this worldwide lockdown.

*Drum roll*

Here are my twenty choices

Book Club choices.

  1. Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski
  2. Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Read-the-West-With-Sister-In-Law choices

  1. Montana: The Lost Get-Back Boogie by James Lee Burke
  2. Cathedral by Raymond Carver
  3. Montana: Death and the Good Life by Richard Hugo

Ghost of Trips Past

  1. Québec: Therese, Pierrette and the Little Hanging Angel by Michel Tremblay (Québec City)
  2. Sicily: Equal Danger by Leonardo Sciascia
  3. Spain: Nada by Carmen Laforêt
  4. Australia: Blood by Tony Birch (Readings, Melbourne)
  5. Portugal: Lisbon’s Poets (Bertrand, Lisbon)
  6. UK: Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood (London)
  7. Denmark: The Elephant Keepers’ Children by Peter Høeg (Copenhagen)
  8. Hungary: The Charmed Life of Kázmér Rezeda by Gyula Krúdy (Budapest)
  9. USA: Wait Until Spring, Bandini (City Light Bookstore, San Francisco)

Ghost of the Missed Trip

  1. Wyoming: An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg
  2. The Overstory by Richard Powers
  3. Wyoming: The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson
  4. Montana: A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How To Do by Pete Fromm

Ghost of Upcoming Trip to France

  1. Who You Think I Am by Camille Laurens

And, last but not least, a bridge between the three Ghost Trips, between France and the USA

  1. Letter to Jimmy by Alain Mabanckou, a letter to James Baldwin.

I’m happy with my list: a mix of lit fiction, short-stories, poetry, non-fiction and crime. Some in English, some in French.

I’m not sure I’ll have time to read all these books but I had a lot of fun making up the list. It’s also a good way to push myself to read more from my TBR. I know I’ll buy new books anyway, we need to support our independent bookstores, and I’ve decided to reallocate to book buying all the toll money saved up with homeworking. A perfectly good excuse to indulge in a book buying spree.

Will you participate to Cathy’s challenge too?

Categories: Challenges Tags: ,

Blog anniversary: 10 years of book blogging

April 30, 2020 74 comments

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

Photo by Romain B. ©

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

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

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

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

Ten years of new authors

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

Ten years among the cozy Book Blogging Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten years of sharing my love for literature. 

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

Thanks again for reading and for your time.

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

Bakers: Marion & Héloïse

Cheers and warm hugs to everyone!

Emma

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

Categories: Personal Posts Tags:

Next reading club year is 1956: It’s heaven sent, I’m rooting for this edition

April 27, 2020 20 comments

Kaggsy and Simon have announced the year they chose for the next reading club. The idea is to read books published in a specific year and write reviews about them.

It will be 1956 and it will take place from October 5 to October 11.

Can you imagine that The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary was published on October 5th, 1956?

Now, is there any other book to read for #1956Club? It’s serendipity! 😊

The Roots of Heaven won Gary his first Prix Goncourt. Set in Africa, we follow Morel, an early environmentalist who fights against the killing of elephants. Morel is assisted in his task by two misfits, Minna and Forsythe. In Morel’s mind, the destruction of nature leads to the destruction of humanity and while saving elephants from extinction sounds futile, it’s actually symbolic. If we lose that fight, what will become of humanity?

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

Can you imagine that Gary wrote this in 1956? What would he think about the environmental crisis we’re facing now? The Roots of Heaven also mentions the burgeoning fight for independence of African colonies and Gary proves to have a lot of insight when you know what will happen next.

If you want to know more about this outstanding novel, I recommend James Henderson’s review.

But there were other noteworthy books published in 1956. I’ve done a bit of research and came up with:

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. This one I want to read as I’m a Baldwin fan.*

Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming. Espionage isn’t my cup of tea, I’ll skip this one.

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon. I really recommend this one and my billet about it is here.

There’s Always a Price Tag by James Hadley Chase. I don’t know what this one’s worth.

French Leave by PG Wodehouse. I’d like to read this one, just because of the title, especially since in French, to take the French leave is filer à l’anglaise, literally, to take the English leave. It’s all a question of perspective, right?

Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Mishima. I guess everyone has heard of classic of Japanese literature.

The Fall by Albert Camus. I read this one a long time ago and a re-read could be welcome.

The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by João Guimarães Rosa. (Diadorim, in French translation) I’ve had this daunting masterpiece on the shelf for ages. Maybe it’s time to read it.

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz. I really recommend Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy. It’s wonderful and full of life.

The Fingerprint by Patricia Wentworth (La Trace dans l’ombre, in French) I’ve read it pre-blog. I used to read a lot of easy crime fiction like Wentworth when my children were little and when juggling with toddlers, a full-time job and other obligations didn’t leave a lot of brain power to read. I have fond memories of these books.

Nedjma by Yacine Kateb. I’ve never heard of this one but I’m tempted to read a novel by an Algerian writer published during the time of French colonization. I’d like to read more about it from the Algerian perspective.

The Barbarous Coast by Ross Mcdonald (La côte barbare, in French) Gallmeister has started to publish new translations of Mcdonald’s books, it could be an opportunity to read one.

– In 1956, Ed McBain published three books of the 87th Precinct series, Cop Hater, The Mugger and The Pusher. Has anyone read them?

The Diamond Bikini by Charles Williams. Does anyone know if it’s good?

– For French readers, there’s L’histoire d’une solitude by Milán Füst, a Hungarian book not translated into English.

I already know that I won’t be able to read all these books but I had a lot of fun researching them and you should have seen me internally squeal when I discovered that 1956 was the next chosen year. 1956, the year The Roots of Heaven was published!

Quais du Polar : Let’s celebrate anyway

March 22, 2020 52 comments

Quais du Polar is this fantastic crime fiction festival that takes over the city of Lyon by storm every year.

Sadly, this year, like many cultural event, the 2020 edition is cancelled. No crime fest in Lyon from April 3rd to April 5th. Marina Sofia and I met at this festival, attended panels with writers who discussed around a crime theme, queued to have books signed and had a lot of fun browsing through the wonderful bookstore set up in the vast hall of the Lyon Chamber of Commerce.

We still want to celebrate crime fiction this year and have decided to publish a crime fiction billet for each day of the festival. We will choose books from writers who would have attended the 2020 session or books we got signed in previous editions. We would love for you to join us and do a virtual festival with us. You can find the list of writers here and if you want to listen to previous years’ panels, it’s available in replay here.

Choose whatever book you want as long as the writer has attended the festival and post a review on your blog on April 3, 4 or 5th. If you don’t have a blog, leave a review in the comments on this post and use #QDP2020. The festival’s team is also here @QuaisPolar.

There’s another initiative: Quais du Polar is also a crime fiction prize and Pat, at South of Paris Books has decided to read the six books preselected for this year’s prize.

Let’s get together and take advantage of our lockdowns. May this post go viral.

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