French Books USA: Week in Review

July 8, 2016 | By Rebecca Pittel

Passing of Yves Bonnefoy

Yves Bonnefoy, the master of French poetry who was considered a leading contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, passed away on July 1st in Paris, at the age of 93. Bonnefoy was also the foremost French translator of Shakespeare, Yeats and others; a respected art critic; a professor emeritus of the College de France and a guest professor at many U.S. colleges and universities. A surrealist writer in his youth, Bonnefoy often described the power of poetry to transcend symbolism and speak directly to the emotional center of the human experience. The writer’s passing is particularly meaningful to us, as Bonnefoy served as an early and instrumental advisor to Albertine Books. The last of the master’s 100-plus books, L’Echarpe rouge, a memoir of childhood, was just released in France to excellent reviews.

Labrouste reading room to reopen

After 18 years, the famous Labrouste reading room of the National Library of France will reopen this December, following a grand restoration and enlargement! The room is considered to be the masterpiece of beaux-arts architect Henri Labrouste (1801-1875), who designed Paris’s magisterial National Library buildings. (His legacy was honored in a 2013 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.) The historic salle will now house the collection of the Library of the National Institute of Art History—1.7 million holdings, including some of the world’s most precious art-historical documents. Conserving its renowned gilt domes and bountiful natural light, the renovated salle Labrouste will also welcome a maximum of over 400 patrons at once, four times its previous capacity. Broader renovations on the Richelieu-Louvois building in which the room stands are expected to finish in 2018.

UNICEF Youth Literature Prize

UNICEF France has just launched its first-ever Youth Literature Prize! Organized around a different important topic each year, the prize will ask the children of France (ages 0-11) to vote for their favorite of ten possible books, in one of three age-sorted categories. This year’s theme, the Rights of Children, introduces readers to such serious subjects as bullying, child abuse and poverty through sensitive, funny and vividly illustrated narratives. France’s youngest readers can vote for their favorites on the prize’s website through September 15th, when their opinions will be joined with the votes of a group of children’s literary professionals before UNICEF announces the winners at an October ceremony.

Origins of the Proust questionnaire

Just in time for the July 10th birthday of our favorite madeleine-eating French master, The New Yorker explores the history of the Proust questionnaire. Now posed to countless celebrities on both sides of the Atlantic, the notorious personality quiz attracted a 14-year-old Marcel Proust in an 1886 parlor game. (Proust’s answers can be read in their original form at the bottom of this page.) “When asked, ‘For what fault have you most toleration?,’ ”reports The New Yorker, the author (of course) responded, “ ‘For the private lives of geniuses.’ ”

Michel Houellebecq exhibit

Michel Houellebecq, the provocative best-selling author whose futuristic satirical novel, Submission, was released in the U.S. last October, has curated an exhibit called “Rester Vivant,” on view at Paris’s Palais de Tokyo through September 11th. Composed of visual, audio and film installations by selected contemporary artists, the exhibit spans a staggering 18 of the museum’s galleries and signifies a “return to sources” of inspiration, as the author put it in a recent interview. Bearing the name of an early Houellebeq essay, the exhibit also represents an attempt “to blur the lines between literature and photography, the real and the fictional,” says the Palais's description, in order to immerse visitors in the unique perspective of this controversial creator.

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