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Week in Review: October 29, 2020

by Erin Bronner

The Art of Teaching People What to Fear

An article in the newest issue of The New York Review highlights the nuances French historian Patrick Boucheron brings to his biography, Machiavelli: The Art of Teaching People What to Fear (Other Press). Departing from the dichotomy of ‘good versus evil’ typically used to evaluate Niccolò Machiavelli, Boucheron examines several under-considered intricacies of this polarizing historical figure’s teachings and their implications in modern discourse institutional instability. The book goes beyond the historical analysis: it is “based on a series of radio talks and retains a spoken voice.” A February review of Machiavelli by The New York Times also notes Boucheron’s “energetic” tone and appreciates Willard Wood’s translation as “playfully conspiratorial”. It also laments the cruel irony that the term “Machiavellian” refers to the ideology that the philosopher openly condemned, and closes with Boucheron’s assertion that although “we should be worried” if “we’re reading him today,” we can also hope there is something to learn.

At the Frankfurt Book Fair, Onto the Paris Book Fair

Last week, the 2020 Frankfurt International Book Fair took place, with some modifications. While the fair normally hosts 300,000 people, most in attendance this year viewed the fair online, with the few allowed to attend in-person wearing masks and observing behind plexiglass. This year’s Fair marked successes for French publishers, who amassed the rights to several “hot books.” Grasset bought the rights for Assembly by Natasha Brown, Robert Laffont for Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, and Les Escales for A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe. Additionally, the much talked about essay Moi les hommes, je les déteste by Pauline Harmange (Seuil) garnered attention among international publishers, and it has now been sold in fourteen languages. Meanwhile, the 2020 Paris Book Fair has been postponed to May 28 to 31, 2021. Organizers of other book fairs across France expressed their frustration with this sudden change to the press. These fairs typically occur on the same weekend to which the Paris Book Fair is now postponed, creating a scheduling conflict among the events. The organizers, however, also expressed resolution in keeping their own festival dates. With multiple book fairs occurring simultaneously, it seems that May 28 to 31 will be a lively weekend for French literature.

Delcourt Expands with a New Literature Division

Delcourt, a publishing group primarily known for specializing in comics and manga, has recently released its strategy to diversify its operations with three divisions devoted to literature. In 2018, a branch for foreign literature was created under the leadership of Emmanuelle Heurtebiz. Then, the group acquired Marchialy, a publisher specializing in nonfiction, in 2019. Finally, Delcourt’s label Les Avrils, which will specialize in French literature, is due to open in January 2021. The group originally planned to launch Les Avrils this past spring but postponed it due to the pandemic. Delcourt’s original comics and manga division has been doing well this past year. Despite a prediction that sales for these genres would plummet due to closed bookstores and few releases of superhero movies during the pandemic, sales of comics and manga have remained stable in France, according to Livres Hebdo’s annual study.

On Reading Books Written by Men… or Not

An article from The Economist reports on French activist Alice Coffin’s latest literary essay Le Génie lesbien (Lesbian Genius) and its reception. In the book published by Grasset, Coffin calls to “eliminate men from our minds” and personally refrains from reading books, watching films, or listening to music made by men. While some have denounced the piece and these statements as “obscurantism,” The Economist article acknowledges that Coffin is “spearheading a new French feminism.” In an article titled "#Choisirlesfemmes : pourquoi privilégier les femmes artistes est un choix politique" Marie Claire reveals that Coffin's movement to read only women authors has gained support on social media. Radio journalist Clémence Allezard created the hashtag #choisirlesfemmes in support of Coffin's stance, and she explains that her intention "was to give the opportunity to circulate the works of many writers and thinkers completely ignored, and with them, unique points of view on the world." The magazine further stresses that only one third of published authors in France are women. Grasset’s promotional statement refers to Le Génie lesbien as an “uncompromising book, which is sure to spark debate,” and it has delivered on its promise.