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Week in Review: August 27, 2021

Adieu to Jean-Luc Nancy 

French philosopher and author Jean-Luc Nancy, one of the most impactful French philosophers of the late 20th century, passed away on Monday August 23, aged 81. Nancy was the Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Strasbourg and a member of the International College of Philosophy, as well as the author of numerous essays on topics ranging from religion to eroticism and worldly existence. Some of his well-known works include Being Singular Plural, The Title of the Letter: A Reading of Lacan, and The Inoperative Community, and his upcoming book The Deconstruction of Sex, cowritten with Irving Goh, will be published by Duke University Press in October 2021. Nancy studied with and was influenced by his contemporaries Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jacques Derrida, the latter of whom used Nancy’s philosophy as the foundation for his book On Touching— Jean-Luc Nancy. The international community mourned his loss, with Australian cultural theorist and Gilles Deleuze scholar Dr. Claire Colebrook, who wrote the afterword for The Deconstruction of Sex, memorializing him thusly: “Unlike many of the European great names of his generation, Jean-Luc was genuinely self-effacing, less interested in his own ideas than he was in the next generation of thinkers. He was less concerned with maintaining legacies (and certainly not his own) than he was with forms of collaboration that would open a future.” Dr. John McKeane, lecturer in modern French literature at the University of Reading, said of the legacy Nancy leaves behind: "Nancy should be remembered for seeing humans not as isolated minds, but as embodied beings who create meaning though our senses." 

Women in Translation to the Fore 

August is Women in Translation month, which celebrates women, transgender, and genderqueer writers in other languages, and which gives a great opportunity for readers to discover new works and authors. Women in Translation Month, or #WITmonth, was created by Biblibio blogger Meytal Radzinski in 2014 to raise awareness of translated literature by women, queer, and nonbinary authors, and promote gender and cultural diversity in literary publishing. It has since gained the support and recognition of many prominent authors, critics, and organizations—including small and large publishing presses alike—such as PEN America, which hosts a bilingual reading series to commemorate the occasion. The French Cultural Services has marked the month with book recommendations, events, and articles including suggestions for moving towards parity in French literature in translation which can be read here

What to Expect When You’re Expanding 

On August 16 it was announced that Hachette Book Group (HBG) will acquire Workman Publishing for 240 million USD, further cementing HBG’s status as the third-largest trade publisher in the United States after Penguin Random House (which recently acquired Simon & Schuster) and HarperCollins. Workman makes a large percentage of its profits from its backlist, and is known for its classic bestselling brands such as What to Expect When You’re Expecting. HBG CEO Michael Pietsch offered assurances that Workman would not face any interference from its new parent company, noting that Hachette would be “crazy” to interfere with Workman’s steady success and “unique culture”. The deal marks HBG’s sixth acquisition in eight years, after Black Dog & Leventhal, Perseus Book Group, and others. Hachette Book Group is owned by Hachette Livre, France’s largest publishing company, which itself is a subsidiary of the Lagardère Group. 

Steamy Summer Reads for Bookstore Romance Day 

Saturday August 21 marked Bookstore Romance Day 2021, a day designed to give independent bookstores an opportunity to celebrate the romance genre and the community of readers and writers that sustain it. French literature has no shortage of romance, and some of our recent favorite romantic fictions include works by established writers as well as up-and-coming authors. Firmly in the former category, Anne Serre’s The Beginners, translated by Mark Hutchinson, recounts an irresistible affair, exploring love as a form of greed and resulting in a novel that The New York Times called “Seriously weird and seriously excellent…the anglerfish of literature”. Ketty Rouf’s No Touching, winner of the Prix du Premier Roman 2020 and translated by Tina Kover for Europa Editions, is a striking debut that “shatters tired prejudices about sex, women, and society” which Booklist described as “brimming with eroticism.” Fans of Call Me By Your Name will love Lie With Me by Philippe Besson—translated by none other than Molly Ringwald, the star of more than a few iconic Hollywood romance flicks—which received critical acclaim in France and abroad, with The New Yorker heralding it as “Besson’s book of a lifetime...an elegiac tale of first, hidden love”. Pauline Delabroy-Allard’s debut novel They Say Sarah, translated by Adriana Hunter, recounts a more intense adult relationship, marked by violent desire that will “upend the lives” of both women involved. All titles are captivating, heart-rending, and of course, utterly romantic. 

Strong Female Voices Series Hosts Cleary and Garcia 

The French Books & Ideas Department is excited to host the next event in our speaker series, Ideas and Ideals: Strong Female Voices, on September 22 at 6PM ET. “Submission or the Perpetuation of Patriarchy: A Philosophical Discussion on De Beauvoir’s Legacy” will feature French philosopher and professor Manon Garcia and American philosopher and professor Skye Cleary in conversation. Garcia’s latest bookWe Are Not Born Submissive: How Patriarchy Shapes Women's Lives, is “a philosophical exploration of female submission, using insights from feminist thinkers...to reveal the complexities of women’s reality and lived experience”, published in the US by Princeton Press in March. Cleary has written extensively about love and existentialism and is currently working on a book about the philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir, which will be published next year. This event comes on the heels of the release of de Beauvoir’s previously unpublished book The Inseparables, a memoir of lost love about the writer-philosopher’s relationship with Élisabeth "Zaza" Lacoin. Interested readers can register for the free event here, and find recordings of past events in the series on the French Cultural Services Facebook page