It's a lazy Sunday and I'm back in Paris, after a much-needed visit with my family in New York. The jetlag is strong but manageable; I woke up a little after noon and was able to shake off the Tylenol PM coma and start my day: cleaning up, making a grocery list, unpacking, catching up with my RSS feeds, calling Tokyo, finishing Friends and Relations (the one 1930s Bowen novel I hadn't read, out of print now and with good reason–it's horrid–without which, I decided at the last minute, I couldn't in good conscience write my first chapter), bidding on a watch on eBay, and dipping into 24:Redemption. The space heaters are on, the sun has almost gone, the lights are up, and I'm alternating between a book and my computer.
But somewhere, Jeanette Winterson is making pie, and, reading her instructions, I half wish I could go and live with her. I wonder what exactly it is that makes our lifestyles so different– beyond the obvious fact that she has sold hundreds of thousands of books whereas I, I have sold not one. But I earn a living nevertheless, and I have a kitchen and a sound system. Why can't I spend idyllic Sundays making pie? I guess I could. I could bring in the ingredients, and put an audio book on my iPod, and crack open a bottle of Riesling. But the supermarkets are closed on Sunday, and it's cold outside, and I don't feel like trolling the rue Mouffetard to find what I need, and where would I buy mincemeat in Paris anyway?
So for me it's secondrate Bowen and whatever I can pull together for dinner. And Jack Bauer. At least there's Jack Bauer.
Happy Thanksgiving! In case your uncle Ernie's stories get to be too much or you're tired of getting the fish-eye from your aunt Gertrude, steal off with a Thanksgiving book (I myself am 3/4 of the way through Dolce Agonia).
Or, if you're fed up with the erasures of the holiday, read some Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, or Peter Nabokov. Then read some to uncle Ernie.
Has all this talk of the Prix Goncourt, the Prix Goncourt from High School Students (des Lycéens), the Prix Goncourt from Women (the Fémina), the Prix Goncourt from Men (the Interallié), the non-Prix Goncourt (the Renaudot), and the Prix Smarter-than-the-Goncourt-Brothers (the Académie Française) left your head spinning? Feeling a bit adrift trying to grasp the politics and complexities of France's prizegiving culture? John Dugdale has a very smart set of observations and explanations in The Guardian.
And now, we heave a sigh of relief at the end of the rentrée littéraire, and try to decide what to read next. Now that the dust has settled, here's my idiosyncratic "best of the rentrée" list:
François Biot, Nancy Cunard
Quentin Deluermoz (ed.), Chroniques du Paris Apache (1902-1905)
Matthias Enard, Zone
Tristan Garcia, La meilleure part des hommes
Laurent Gaudé, Porte d'enfer
Françoise Hardy, Le désespoir des singes
Charles Lewinsky, Melnitz
Anne Marsella, Patsy Boone
Atiq Rahmini, Syngué Sabour
Olivier Rollin, Un chasseur de lions
Sasa Stanisic, Le Soldat et le gramophone
Confession time: raise your hand if you still haven't read Bolaño. Go ahead, raise it. You're not alone. I haven't read him yet either, though The Savage Detectives has been sitting on my shelf for a year, and reading that excerpt from Nazi Literature in the Americas in Bookforum last winter doesn't count as really reading Bolaño.
I have to admit– a major reason I've held off is because everyone is reading him right now. Nothing against Roberto– it's just my contrary streak; the faddishness of it puts me off. And I know I'm not alone. Recently I made a snarky comment on someone's blog about Bolaño being the new Sebald– the foreign writer you absolutely *have* to read if you are to maintain any credibility at all as a critic. And lo and behold, the nice boys at n+1 were thinking the same thing:
Just as the '90s witnessed the American canonization of one important
foreign writer—W. G. Sebald—the current decade has seen the same happen
to the wandering novelist and poet Roberto Bolaño, who spent his
boyhood in Chile, his youth mostly in Mexico, and who died in Spain in
2003, at the age of 50, after a decade of Stakhanovite productivity.
His massive novel 2666, unrevised at his death, is only now appearing in translation, earlier books like the monologue By Night in Chile, the tragic mockumentary The Savage Detectives, and that vicious counterfactual lark Nazi Literature in the Americas having
already secured the highest praise. Bolaño's canonization has taken
place so rapidly and completely, and with so little demurral, that one
can only reluctantly pile aboard the bandwagon.
American critics and regular readers alike usually don't care for
sweeping literary-historical arguments. And yet in recent years we have
been celebrating Sebald and Bolaño as if we really do believe in some
big metanarrative about the novel—one that proclaims that, even post
postmodernism, the form remains in crisis. Sure, Sebald and Bolaño deal
with fascism, and both died at the height of their powers. More
decisive is that neither fiction writer writes as if he believes in fiction. Our canonization of these writers implies a sense, even a conviction, that you can't be a really important novelist anymore unless you can't really write novels.
That's from the newly published Issue 7, which launches this week. And for once, I am actually in New York for the launch party… 9.30 pm in Brooklyn. See you there?
I'm off to New York today, but before I go, here are your tuesday links…
LitKicks takes a ride with Françoise Sagan.
I love theatre, and I love Virginia Woolf. So why am I not at all interested to see this stage adaptation of The Waves? Beats me. I mean, isn't the disembodied quality of the voices sort of the point of the book? The silent crash of the waves that break over each section? What do you think, am I wrong to write it off? Has anyone seen it?
Last summer my friend Pauline put together a Super 8 film festival on Santorini, and a few other friends went along to help out. Everyone stayed at Atlantis Books, which is being heralded as the Shakespeare & Co of the Greek Isles. N & I are mulling over a trip to Greece this summer, and while we may not make it to this year's film festival, we'll definitely have to stop by the bookshop…
For reasons that escape me, people seem interested in this book, so even though I hate to give Houellebecq and BHL any more attention than they've already received, here's a short excerpt from Ennemis publics translated into English and published by Harper's.
A group of female critics (literary and otherwise) have banded together to produce The Golden Notebook Project, which seems pretty cool in itself, but is also a great example of applying webby technology to old fashioned close reading. I think it works marvellously.
And by popular demand, here's some more of the great Rachel Maddow, "have-er of thoughts." Love the face she makes when Palin talks about the "stinkers" in the media. (via Gay Paris)
As we segue from weekend into workweek, a look at the translation beat.
Daniel Mendelsohn provides a long introduction to the Greek poet Constantin Cavafy in the NYRB, no doubt to prepare the reading public for his forthcoming translation of Cavafy, scheduled for publication by Knopf in March.
David Remnick began his conversation with Tom Stoppard with a question about translation, since the Czech playwright has recently produced a new translation of "The Cherry Orchard" (although, since Stoppard confesses he does not know Russian, credit ought to be shared with his assistant, who does). Stoppard has some interesting observations on the particular challenges of translating for the theatre.
A translation of Roberto Saviano's Gommorah has just appeared in the UK; the LRB has a nice review here. (In an act of wishful thinking–"if I buy it maybe I'll magically have time to read it"– I bought a French translation at the train station last week. But I think it will languish on my shelves for awhile…)
In case you haven't heard, there's a new Proust translation out, by the dynamite Charlotte Mandell: The Lemoine Affair, the first-ever translation of Patisches et mélanges (1919).
In the new issue of Bookforum, Lee Rourke reviews Olivier Pauvert's debut novel, Noir.
I have a confession to make: if I haven't been blogging it's because of a boy. And not just any boy– the boy. The artist usually known as N. He came to France for two blissful weeks and a-traveling we did go, visiting his family in Marseille, Geneva, Dijon, and Brest. Take a look at a map some time. Those places are not close together.
The boy went back to Tokyo this morning, and after a good cry, I remembered my plans for tonight and began to feel a little better. It's a friend's birthday so we're going out to celebrate– and there will be gay karaoke involved. (Is there any other kind?) If you have paid attention to my occasional non-literary remarks, you know that I am a former teenage musical theatre nerd turned hard-core karaoke fiend, and that my need to sing out louise occasionally needs an outlet. N, a budding karaoke fiend himself, was sad to learn he would miss the festivities. But then, he is going back to the karaoke capital of the world, so he'll be alright.
Speaking of singing, I don't limit my engagements to the occasional friend's birthday party. Sometimes I do it in fancy hotels. But this is the first time someone's blogged about it.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go warm up.
Just back from a whirlwind trip around France and Switzerland and off this afternoon to Brittany…everywhere I go, for maybe the first time in my life, I've been able to say "Je suis américaine et fière de l'être!" The glow will fade soon, I'm sure, but at least the country's back on the right track.
It's going to be awhile before I can post anything besides links– so sorry! For now, I refer you elsewhere:
Sarah Palin, gay icon?
A group of kids chanting Obama's victory speech: avant-garde or premier degré? Are they celebrating or making a statement about fascist youth indoctrination (am I reading too much into the black shirts)?
Judith Butler on Obama in Libération [FR].
Oh yeah, and, hooray!
A special focus on my country of origin in honor of election day!
New York Magazine profiles the kickass Rachel Maddow, who can analyze foreign policy and define Dada with equal élan. A girl after my own heart.
After being snubbed by Gallimard's Anne-Solange Noble at the Frankfurt Book Fair, American publishers are contrite about the bad manners they displayed when Le Clézio won the Nobel Prize (they went "who??", acted like no one else had ever heard of him either, and tried to buy his latest book while ignoring his backlist). According to Publisher's Weekly, Simon and Schuster has finalized a deal to bring Le Clézio's first book, The Interrogation (Le Procès-verbal, 1963), back into print.
The New York Review of Books has an American-heavy edition this week: David Bromwich on the evil known as Dick Cheney, Mark Danner on Obama and the strange significance of sweet potato pie, and an excerpt from Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy's son Reuel's book about his parents.
Slate pants over Emily Dickinson's secret lover.
The Independent pays homage to Studs Terkel.
And in the New Yorker, Woody Allen goes to the health food store.
The Prix Fémina for 2008 has been awarded to Jean-Louis Fournier, for his memoir Où on va, Papa? (Stock). The book is about Fournier's two handicapped sons, one of whom, Mathieu, can only pronounce this one sentence, over and over: "Where are we going, Papa?"
You might say the work represents a major incursion of memoir onto the French literary scene. Christine Jordis, president of the jury, compared the book to a "literary UFO" given that it "trancends genre, being at the same time both novel and essay." The French are now officially aware of narrative non-fiction.
The Fémina was created in 1904 by Anna de Noailles with an all-female jury, meant to serve as an alternative to the Prix Goncourt (which was judged by and, at the time, awarded only to men). The Fémina, in case you were confused, is awarded to both sexes.