French Books USA: Week in Review

November 19, 2015 | By Arian Murati
"In an old house in Paris that is covered with vines, live twelve little girls whose country still shines." Cartoon by Benjamin Schwartz, The New Yorker

“He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo.
Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic.
Nothing is more sublime.”
― Victor Hugo

A Moveable Return

In defiance of tragedy, Parisians are returning to the restaurants, boulevards, and cafes that define the cultural image of the city of lights. Tucked underneath arms and nestled into backpacks are copies of Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, the American writer's account of his expatriate years in Paris, which is selling out of bookstores in the wake of the attacks. "Paris est une fête (Paris is a Feast) as it is titled in French, is enjoying a literary renaissance akin to Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance, which “broke the bookstore” after the Charlie Hebdo and kosher market killings in January. Mourners have placed copies of Hemingway’s tome between flowers and candles in front of the cafes, bars and restaurants where scores were murdered last Friday. It can also be seen in front of the Bataclan concert hall, scene of the massacre of 89 people." In current Parisian-American exchanges, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who just won the National Book Award for nonfiction, writes of his experiences in Paris for The Atlantic.

Still Going Strange

November 20 will mark the beginning of our month-long exhibition celebrating 50 years of L’École des Loisirs. Looking back on a half century of irreverent children's books with an eye toward the future, festivities will include a free, first-ever U.S. exhibition of original drawings by L’École des Loisirs illustrators and a series of free kids’ workshops at Albertine Books, MoMA Design Store in SoHo, and The Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn.

Place and Time

Don Delillo, who this week received a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Award committee once said, "The novel's not dead, it's not even seriously injured." This was in 1993. Consider his statement when discovering that the million dollar advance for literary fiction is a rather common occurrence in a world driven by 140 character clips and celebrity memoirs. The tangled relationship between writers, market forces, and the social climate that produces such writing (there is always a polemic element to these big name titles) is growing increasingly nebulous; perhaps no one understands how to manipulate this space better (or rather, more willingly) than our ragged friend Michel, who is, unsurprisingly, in the news this week for his comments regarding President Hollande.

Graphic Content

With most of the traditional literary prizes done and accounted for, the thirty titles nominated for the Prix de la BD Fnac are vying for pole position in the world of graphic novels. Among them are the illustrated adaptation of Pierre Lemaitre's The Great Swindle (French: Au revoir là-haut) and the second installment of Riad Sattouf's Arab of the Future, as well as Le piano oriental by Zeina Abirached and Les équinoxes by Cédric Pedrosa.

Locals Only

Publishers Weekly examines how a French book about three sisters marauding as mediums found an unexpected home at Rochester-based press Open Letter. Publisher Chad Post "(...) first heard about Hubert Haddad’s novel at last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, when someone from Haddad’s French house, Zulma, told him they were “publishing a book about [your] hometown.” (...) It’s about the three Fox Sisters, who lived in Rochester and became well-known mediums in the 19th century. The women, who launched a lucrative career on the premise that they could communicate with the dead, are also credited with launching the Spiritualist movement. Today their place in history has given them something of a cult following; Post noted that they are particularly well-known among palm readers."

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