This weekend, it’s the Salon du Livre in Paris. I’m not going and I have mixed up feelings about it. On the one hand, I’m dying to go because, wow, lots of books and writers and all. Isn’t that a book blogger’s paradise? On the other hand, the idea of this salon at the Parc des Expositions, a huge venue where they also organize the Salon de l’Automobile and the Salon de l’Agriculture doesn’t suit me. Too much noise, not cozy enough, lots of people. It doesn’t go well with my idea of books and reading. Literature is not suited for a trade fair atmosphere. Yet, it’s a great opportunity to hear about books, literature and reading at the same time, so it’s worth it. Mixed feelings, as I said.
Since there’s this huge book fest, the CNL (Centre National du Livre) ordered and published a survey about books and French people. The aim is to know how many books the French read, which books they favor, where they buy their books, where they read them and what’s their attitude towards books and reading in general. You can find the whole survey here.
I just want to share some results with you because I’m always curious about how books are doing. The survey considers that anything that has pages is a book, except if it’s a magazine. So, this survey includes comics, all genres of non-fiction books (travel guides, books about hobbies, self-help books…), children books and dictionaries. The questions were asked to 1000 people, representative of the French population. Knowing that, 84% of the French consider themselves as readers and 24% as heavy readers. But 91% have read or browsed through (for dictionaries) at least one book in the last 12 months.
In average, the genres the most read are novels (and especially crime fiction), non-fiction books and comics or mangas.
96% of these readers read during their free time and not for work. 49% read every day, at home (95%) or outside, especially while traveling (61%), while commuting (26%) or in other public places. (28%) 42% read before going to bed, 36% have no preferred time. I was surprised that only 10% read during the holidays. I often hear people around me say that they only read during the holidays because they have the time to do it.
The number of books read yearly is interesting. 9% read nothing, 22% read from 1 to 4 books, 41% read from 5 to 19 books and 28% read more than 20 books per year. This survey was also done in 2015. Contrary to what I would have assumed, the number of books read goes from an average of 16 books per reader in 2015 to 20 in 2017. People read more! Paper books still have a big place in the readers’ hands. Their average number per reader increased, going from 14 books in 2015 to 17 books in 2017. And heavy readers increased their number of paper books read from 42 to 52. +10 books in two years, well done! Ebooks only progress by 1 unit in average. They’re not likely to replace paper books anytime soon.
People get their books from different sources: 80% have purchased new books, 77% have received at least one as a gift, 34% bought used books and 32% went to a library. Honestly, I expected the library score to be higher than that. Books are mostly purchased in “cultural stores” (79%), general book stores (65%), on the internet (45%), supermarkets (42%), books stores (27%), second hand book shops & charity shops (55%), fairs and salons (20%). Clearly, people buy books through different distribution channels.
30% of readers never buy their books in bookstores. For 52% of them, it’s because they don’t have an independent book store near their home, 32% think books are more expensive in these little shops and 29% because their local bookstore doesn’t have the book they want in stock. Since the law implementing a unique price for books was voted in 1981, I’m surprised there are still so many people who don’t know that a book will not be cheaper at the supermarket. Apparently, independent bookstores have an ad campaign to organize or signs to put in their shop window.
I find it curious that 82% of readers have chosen the book they were going to buy before going to their store. Books are chosen according to the writer (86%), to the recommendation of a friend or relative (86%) or a literary critic (61%).
77% of them sometimes choose the book in the shop. 97% choose a book because of its topic, 89% after reading the blurb and 79% because they know the writer. I’m surprised that book covers don’t play a more significant role in the book buying decision. After all, the cover is what catches the eye on a display table.
45% of French readers borrow books in libraries. 70% of readers never borrow books from libraries because they’d rather own the books they read (70%) or because the library doesn’t have the book they want (34%) or because they can’t borrow it long enough. Personally, I never borrow books in the library mostly because I can’t manage the deadlines and the need to visit the library in my heavy work schedule.
The survey also asked the interviewees why reading matters. It matters because it brings pleasure (91%), it helps learn new things (95%), it contributes to one’s happiness and life fulfilment (68%) and 65% agree that it boosts their professional life. There’s a strong consensus on the benefits of reading to improve one’s mind (99%), be more openminded (97%), have a good time (97%), escape every day’s life (95%), unwind (96%), pass the time (86%), forget your worries (80%), have a better understanding of the world (85%), share ideas with other readers (75%) and understand oneself better (68%). Wow.
This seems very positive for books but it’s not as positive for literature. This survey is about all kind of books and the genre the most read are “how-to” books. (cooking, gardening, travel guides…) General literature is not among the top reads of the readers. Crime fiction comes first and novels only make the Top 5 of reads for people older than 35. Only the 15/24-year-old have classics in their Top Five, most likely because these books were imposed in school.
Books remain a frequent gift, 85% of the French declare that they buy books for gifts. They choose to give books for the pleasure of it (68%), to share a book they loved (37%), to pass on knowledge (30%) or to make a writer or a topic known (24%) and 19% pick a book because it’s a gift at a reasonable price.
People read less than before or less than they’d like to because they lack time (71%). The Top 5 of activities that the French do on their free time are listening to music (87%), watch TV (83%), go out with friends (81%), read magazines or newspapers (79%) and be on social networks (79%)
63% of the interviewees would like to read more but don’t have enough time. So, guys, here’s my secret: just turn off the TV or the computer once or twice per week and you’ll see how much reading time you’ll gain. For 23%, reading reviews on websites and for 18%, discussing books on social media push them to read more. Fellow book bloggers, we seem to have a role to play here even if for 55% of them, the trigger to read more is discussing books with friends or relatives.
Another very interesting question was: “If you had one more day off per week, what would you do?” 31% would go out with friends, 14% would read and 13% would do a cultural outing. This sounds like New Year good resolutions but I’m pretty sure that if everyone had an additional day-off, it would mean more TV, more social media and not so much more reading or visits to the museum.
That’s all, folks. I hope I didn’t bore you with all these numbers but I found this survey fascinating, surprising and I wanted to share it with fellow book lovers.
Next weekend I’ll go to Quais du Polar, our crime fiction fest in Lyon. Even if you can’t be with us at this incredible celebration of crime fiction books, you can visit their website and replay the conferences.
Literary escapade: The Père Lachaise Cemetery.
After visiting the Oscar Wilde exhibition, I wanted to see his grave at the Père Lachaise cemetery and thought it would be a great opportunity to do a little literary tour of the place. I had the chance to do it now even if the weather is grey and freezing. Bundled in a warm parka, equipped with a wool hat and gloves, toasty warm feet in my winter boots, I braved the cold to have a long literary walk in the Père Lachaise. Armed with a map of the cemetery, I started hunting down graves of famous writers. I have to confess that I failed at locating Beaumarchais’s and Gertrude Stein’s graves. I walked around and around but never saw them.
This cemetery was founded in 1804, per Napoleon’s order. He was convinced that everybody was entitled to a decent burial, whatever your religion or lack of. Napoleon’s decision meant that people from different religions would be buried in the same cemetery but also that actors and atheists had the same rights as others. But the Parisians didn’t want to be buried at the Père Lachaise as it was too far from Paris. Now it’s in the 18th arrondissement of Paris but at the time, it was the countryside.
Marketing came to the rescue of political decisions. To entice people to get buried in this cemetery, they built fake graves for Molière, Lafontaine and Heloïse and Abélard, the legendary lovers from the Middle Ages. Molière’s remains are not at the Père Lachaise cemetery, despite what’s written on his tombstone. How could they be? He died in 1673 and as an actor, he was considered as an infidel and banned from a Catholic burial in a Catholic cemetery. His corpse was thrown into the catacombs. See why Napoléon’s decision was relevant to actors?
As I was wandering in the alleys, I noticed big bombastic graves and they often belonged to military heroes. There’s just one step from thinking big ego, big tombstone but who knows if the defunct was aware of the look of his grave. They might have not approved of it. Anyway. These people were worshipped enough in their lifetime to deserve a showy tombstone. All these names are now forgotten, unless they have become street names. I mulled over the unpredictability of immortality and fame. While these men were successful and respected in the society they belonged to, their greatness evaporated through the decades and centuries. And ironically, among the most visited graves are Jim Morrison’s and Oscar Wilde’s. Both died abroad, away from their families who didn’t want them anymore. Both had fame during their life before getting in trouble with the law. Both died alone and in dire conditions.
And yet. Wilde’s a literary genius. His Importance of Being Earnest is a real gem. He was a gifted and eclectic writer.
Morrison is mostly famous for lighting his fans’ fire but considered himself as a poet. Some of his song lyrics are indeed poems and since songwriters can win the Nobel prize for literature, I decided that Jim Morrison belonged to this literary tour. Both yanked society’s chains and their talent was understated.
|Mes chers amis quand je mourrai
Plantez un saule au cimetière
J’aime son feuillage éploré
La pâleur m’en est douce et chère
Et son ombre sera légère
A la terre où je dormirai.
|My dear friends, when I die
Plant a weeping willow at the cemetery
I love its mournful foliage
Its paleness is sweet and dear to me
And its shadow will be light
To the earth where I’ll rest.
Always a poet, the dear Alfred and his tomb is neat. Musset is buried alone but not Balzac, who rests with his great love, the countess Hanska.
His grave includes a sculpture of a book and a quill but his famous coffee pot is missing. Gérard de Nerval rests opposite to Balzac. His grave is less well kept than Balzac’s and its shape is quite different.
Proust’s grave is also a hotspot of the cemetery. It’s a bit strange for such a difficult writer. He shares a grave with his parents, his brother Robert and his sister-in-law. His relatives’ names are written on the sides of the grave.
I continue with the proustian atmosphere and visited Alphonse Daudet’s grave. He was a writer (one I studied in middle school, I think) but he was also Léon Daudet’s father. Léon was one of Proust’s closest friends. Somewhere in the cemetery is the Greffühle mausoleum.
The comtesse Greffülhe (1860-1952) was a French aristocrat and she inspired the Duchesse de Guermantes, one of the most emblematic characters of In Seach of Lost Time.
Different style, Colette. I thought that her tombstone seems a bit tame for such a flamboyant artist and woman.
Of course it’s not a fancy grave since he was dirt poor. I’m glad Jeanne Hébuterne is buried with him. She threw herself through the window when he died in 1920. Her father never liked her relationship with Modigliani and only accepted in 1930 that her remains be with Modigliani’s.
Other times, other country, Richard Wright’s ashes are at the columbarium. At a corner, I saw this grave, for the Bouquin family.
In French, a bouquin is an affectionate and colloquial way to call a book. I don’t think there’s an English equivalent to this word or I’d be glad to know it. Isn’t that fantastic to have bouquin as a surname?
I also walked by Tignous’s grave. He was one of the cartoonists who died during the Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015.
He died because he believed that freedom of speech was worth sacrifices, that it is an inalienable right. In these desolate times where a powerful president would rather tweet opinions instead of sticking to facts, journalists and cartoonists are more than ever necessary. Let’s not forget Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists and discover their work ethics here, explained in the LA Review of Books by an American journalist. It is truly an excellent article. And as you can see, Charlie Hebdo has not lost their edge.
To end this billet on a lighter note, here’s the grave of Victor Noir. (1848-1870)
He was a journalist and he was shot by a relative of Napoléon III. His death became a symbol of the opposition to the Second Empire and the fight for a republic. The recumbent effigy on his grave is supposed to represent him the way he died…erection included. A legend was born and touching his family jewels is supposed to help infertile women to conceive. See how shiny the said parts of his anatomy are compared to the rest of the effigy?
Et voilà! I hope you enjoyed my literary tour of the famous Père Lachaise. Have you been there? If yes, who did you visit?
Kim at Reading Matters has a weekly rendezvous with another book blogger and guess what? This week, it’s me!
In this billet Kim asks a fellow blogger about three books that are special to them. If you want to discover mine, click here!
Thanks Kim, I’m honoured to be part of the Triple Choice Tuesday bloggers.
Let’s have a quick look at my 2016 reading year. I’m not much into reading statistics because numbers are for my office life, not my literary life. I’ll just say that I read 62 books in 2016, which is not much compared to other book bloggers but not so bad if you consider that I have a full time corporate executive job and a family. All this reading wouldn’t be possible without a wonderful husband, that’s for sure.
I have ended 2016 the way I started it: concerned about my growing TBR. Sure, I read 19 books out of it without including my Book Club reads that also qualified for it. But I got crime books at Quais du Polar, French Canadian books when I was in Québec in August, people lent me books and I got tempted here and there. Consequence: the TBR is higher in January 2017 than it was is January 2016. *Sigh* I’ll try to do better in 2017.
What where the highlights of my reading year?
Book I’d buy to all my friends if it were available in French.
The Hands. An Australian pastoral by Stephen Orr. It’s the story of farmers in a remote part of Australia. The painting of the land, the harshness of their lives and the family dynamics are extremely well-drawn. It stayed with me for the descriptions of the landscape, the curiosity about everyday life in such an isolated place and the characters.
The book that will make you understand what alcoholism does to your flesh and to your mind.
Leaving Las Vegas by John O’Brien. It’s the book that was made into the eponymous film. It’s the meeting of two lost souls, a prostitute and an alcoholic. As a woman, I should have felt closer to Sera but in the end, I was drawn to Ben. It’s a book that stayed with me for its violence and its honesty and I’m looking forward to reading another one by him, Stripper Lessons.
Old book that best resonates with today’s society
Business Is Business by Octave Mirbeau. See how much Isidore Lechat sounds like some modern politicians in this incredible play that dates back to 1903. Isidore and Trump have definitely something in common.
Best of Guy’s recommendations.
In 2016, I read six books recommended by Guy and all of them were very good. I loved the Charlie Hardie series by Duane Swierczynski and I urge you to try them. I loved Calling Mr King by Ronald De Fao, the story of a hitman who’s tired of his job and starts obsessing with architecture and I laughed out loud when I read Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan. These aren’t famous books and that’s where Guy’s a genius: he’s able to find little gems like this in the forest of books put on the market. Guy, a publisher should hire you.
A classic that is even better than its reputation.
Best Sugar Without Cellulite Book
I didn’t have time to write a billet about it but I had a delightful reading journey with Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. I couldn’t put it down.
Best book blind date.
Le garçon by Marcus Malte is a book I read after a libraire set me up with it. What a ride! It won the prestigious Prix Femina, so I guess it will be translated in English.
Best book from my Québec reads.
The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay. Discover the life of a neighborhood in French speaking Montreal.
Worst reading experience of the year.
A Season in the Life of Emmanuel by Marie-Claire Blais. It’s bleak, violent and lacks nuance and compares to The Passport by Herta Müller, a book I didn’t like either. At least I’m consistent
The billet you liked the most.
Here’s the billet that got the most likes and comments: Literature in relation to American paintings in the 1930s. I always hesitate to publish billets about the exhibitions I visit or book festivals I attend. Who cares about my life, really? But each time, these billets get lots of comments and likes. So I’ll keep writing about events as long as they are book related.
The billet you missed.
I’d like to draw your attention to The Great Depression. America 1927-1932 by Paul Claudel. It is an excerpt of Claudel’s correspondence as the ambassador of France in Washington from 1927 to 1932. I know, it’s in French but there might be similar books in your language. It’s focused on economics and it was really enlightening. Lots of current issues and proposed solutions existed already and it was fascinating to put things in perspective.
That’s all folks! You can find another overview of my reading year in my Reading Bingo 2016 billet. 2016 was another great reading year and I expect 2017 to be at least as good. I don’t have plans but I will continue to work on the TBR.
I really want to thank all the visitors, commenters and “likers” of Book Around The Corner. It’s a pleasure to share my thoughts with you and interact with other readers. I’m always amazed that you’re willing to spend some of your free time reading me. I’ll try to be better at reading your blogs; I owe several of my best reading experience to other bloggers and that’s a great side of book blogging. And last, if any of you comes to Lyon, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Cheers to a wonderful 2017 reading year!
I wish you and all your beloved ones a Happy New Year and as we traditionally say in France, I wish you a good health. A French won’t wish you a Happy New Year before the time has come. It’s a sort of superstition, I suppose. What if something happens? (I would never throw a baby shower either, to afraid to jinx something and attract back luck. I’ve never heard of receiving presents before the baby is born.)
But now we’re officially in 2017, so it’s safe to wish you the best and hope that the world will be a better place because let’s face it, 2016 wasn’t a great year on that front.
Thank you to all readers and commenters for spending my 2016 reading year with me. I’ll post a best of 2016 list later, I can’t publish it before the year is over. What if I read a masterpiece right the last week of December and my best-of list is already published. 🙂
I have no plans for 2017, except to limit my TBR. I wonder of it’s just wishful thinking or one of those January good resolutions. Time will tell.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas. For readers who celebrate this holiday, I hope you’re somewhere safe and surrounded by friends and family. For readers who don’t have Christmas as a tradition, I send you my best wishes for this day anyway. In the media and in shopping malls, Christmas has turned into a giant consuming fest. On a more private level, I think it’s still a moment of year to be with family and friends. It remains linked to childhood and, I hope, it relates to happy and innocent times.
I’m not religious but Christmas is also a time to be generous and open to others. In France, we have a charity named Les Restos du Coeur. It was founded in 1985 by an artist, Coluche. He wanted to do something to feed the poor and decided on opening restaurants. Today it distributes 132.5 million meals and started a lot of different actions to help people in need. From the start, this charity has been supported by artists, especially by singers and actors who organize a huge concert every winter. For a few years now, writers have donated short stories to put together an annual collection whose profit goes to Les Restos du Coeur. I have the 2016 edition and in the foreword, it says that in 2014, 1.4 million of meals were distributed thanks to this book. And since each book brings in four free meals, I let you do the math and imagine how many books were sold.
The collections are named 13 à table, which means 13 people around the table. Actually, twelve writers participate. I guess the thirteenth shadow participant is the reader or the beneficiay of the meals. In the 2016 collection, the common theme was siblings. The writers are Françoise Bourdin, Michel Bussi, Maxime Chattam, Stéphane De Groodt, François d’Epenoux, Karine Giebel, Douglas Kennedy, Alexandra Lapierre, Agnès Ledig, Nadine Monfils, Romain Puértolas and Bernard Werber. Most of them I’d never read. All are francophone writers except for Douglas Kennedy. He’s American and he’s more successful here than in his own country, it makes sense to find him here.
These stories explore relationships between siblings or the feelings about only children. Love, jealousy, longing for brothers or sisters and complicity. They show the power of this unique link between people who share the same parents.
The best short stories in the collection were the ones by Michel Bussi and Maxime Chattam. Both of them are dark and I can’t tell much about them without spoiling them. These are two crime fiction writers and both stories reach a certain level of perversity.
Françoise Bourdin tells a story about two very different brothers, one wealthy and bourgeois, the other more rebel and bohemian. Both are middle-aged. They see each other regularly and the bourgeois one tends to think his brother is a bit of a mooch…until he sees he helps him out too, just not on a financial level.
In Aleyna, Karine Giebel chose to explore the implacable law imposed to sisters by older brothers into some cultures. Here it is the Turkish community and the need for a girl to be pure and ready for imposed marriages. According to the UN, 5000 women die each year in the name of honor.
Douglas Kennedy wrote a story about a man who confide in his aunt only to get slapped in the face when he realizes he played right into the unknown and unhealthy relationship his aunt has with her brother, this man’s father.
I don’t know how I missed Nadine Monfils as a writer. She’s Belgian and has already 60 novels under her belt, most of them crime fiction. Her story La robe bleue is a bit Noir but not on the crime side.
It was a very enjoyable collection to read. On this day of grande bouffe et petits cadeaux (big meals and small gifts) as Renaud sings sarcastically in his song Hexagone, I thought it was the right time to pause for a moment and remember that not everyone spends a cozy Christmas day with a full belly.
At the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, there’s currently an exhibition called La peinture américaine des années 1930. (American painting in the 1930s) It displays the trends in painting in America during the Great Depression according to several themes: rural landscapes and way of life, cities and their work environment, social issues and entertainment. It is an exhibition organized with the collaboration of the Chicago Art Institute. It was already presented in Chicago and it will next go to the Royal Academy in London. It is very educational about the times, explaining the economic situation and the different art programs implemented by the federal goverment. While I was watching paintings, some reminded me of books and I couldn’t help thinking that some of them would make fantastic book covers. I’ll start with the iconic American Gothic by Grant Wood that has been borrowed by advertising and other artists. I’ve heard it called the American Joconde.
It’s probably one of the most famous American paintings of the time, along with the ones by Edward Hopper. It made me think of Willa Cather because these farmers seem to come right out of the 19th century and to represent the hard working pioneers.
Totally different setting: a harbour, maybe in Saint Louis. This one reminded me of American Transfer by John Dos Passos (1925) because there were parts in the harbour in New York.
Exploring the social impact of the crisis, some artists protested against the ravages of capitalism and showed the life of the working class. This portrait of Pat Whalen, a Communist activist brought memories of I Married a Communist by Philip Roth (1998) Alice Neel was a Communist herself and she portrayed several activists.
Back in New York, I immediately thought about The Outing, a short story included in Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin (1965) or A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes, even if both were published after the 1930s.
It’s hard to talk about literature during the Great Depression without mentioning The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939) In the section about rural life, there was this striking painting to express the destruction of land due to severe droughts.
In the room about the entertainments of the time, Philip Evergood’s Dance Marathon (1934) would really make a great cover for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy (1935), a book where a couple enters a dance marathon.
Philip Evergood pictures the extreme fatigue of the couples who shuffle on the dance floor, the circus around this inhumane entertainment and the acute need of money of the participants if they were willing to enter that kind of contest.
There were about 50 paintings but I only picked up the ones that reminded me of a book. For readers who have the opportunity to go to Paris, I recommend going to the Musée de l’Orangerie, for this exhibition but also for the permanent collection of the museum. It will also be possible to see this exhibition in London at the Royal Academy, it’s entitled America after the fall: Paintings in the 1930s and it will last from February to June 2017.
Last but not least, I bought a book at the museum’s library: La Crise. Amérique 1927-1932 by Paul Claudel and it is an excerpt of the diplomatic correspondence between Paul Claudel and his Minister Aristide Briand when Claudel was ambassador of France in Washington (1927-1933) I’ll write another billet about it as it is a fascinating read after the 2008 crisis and the current presidential election in the USA.