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I’ve been on a theatre binge

January 19, 2020 10 comments

It’s time to have a little chat about theatre as I’ve been on a theatre binge lately. I’ve seen four plays in a month.

The first one was Vie de Joseph Roulin by Pierre Michon, directed and played by Thierry Jolivet.

I’ve never read Pierre Michon but I know he’s a praised French writer. When I picked this play, I thought it would be the opportunity to discover a new author. The theme of the book is interesting: Joseph Roulin is the postman in Arles who befriended Van Gogh. (His portray is now at the Boston Art Museum) Michon explores the friendship between the two men, who were drinking companions at the local café. Roulin was not an educated man and knew nothing about art. Van Gogh was his friend and a painter, a poor one. He didn’t know he was living next to a genius and the text questions who gets to decide that an artist is good or not and when. That’s the idea and it’s a fascinating topic to explore.

Unfortunately, Michon’s text is too bombastic for my taste. It could have been a vivid succession of scenes from the postman’s life and its interaction with the artist and his art. Jolivet chose to tell the text on a monotonous tone, like  rap music without the rhythm. Behind him, pictures of Van Gogh’s painting were projected on the wall.

Photo by Geoffrey Chantelot

It was supposed to be hypnotic, I guess it worked since I kept dozing off and so did my neighbor in the theatre. Such a waste of a good idea. The text and the direction were a lethal combo for me, I disliked both.

Fortunately, the second one was Zaï, Zaï, Zaï, Zaï by Fabcaro, directed by Paul Moulin and it was a blast.

How do you make a BD* into a theatre play? Paul Moulin did it marvelously. Zaï, Zaï, Zaï, Zaï is a man hunt in a dystopian world. A BD author, Fabcaro’s doppleganger, forgot his loyalty card at the supermarket. Before security takes him away, he runs away and becomes the most wanted man in France. Everything about this man hunt is absurd and huge fun. (For more details, see my previous billet here.)

Paul Moulin used a very efficient trick to transpose the BD into a play: it becomes the recording of a radio show. The actors are behind lecterns, with headsets and play the different roles as if they were recording it for the radio. On the side of the stage, actors do the sounds effects, again, as if they were recording.

It is an excellent way to transpose the atmosphere of the BD and it is hilarious. It lasts 50 minutes and the public had huge grins when they came out of the theatre. It was a wonderful moment and highly recommended to anyone and especially to teenagers, as it is a way to show them that theatre plays are not always stuffy Corneille affairs.

The next play I went to was Le Porteur d’Histoire written and directed by Alexis Michalik.

The title means The History Carrier and it was tagged as literary treasury hunt. How could I resist? It’s a contemporary play that won two Molière awards in 2014. The play opens on Martin Martin getting lost on his way to his father’s funeral. They were estranged and he never visited his father’s new house in the French Ardennes. When he takes care of his father’s belongings, he finds a mysterious notebook and an extraordinary quest will take him across continents and History.

It’s a wonderful text inspired by Alexandre Dumas and his compelling stories. I can’t tell much about the plot because it would spoil the story and the biggest charm of the play is to let yourself be taken away by the storytelling. It’s like a fairytale where some djinn takes you on a magic carpet to travel the world and live fascinating adventures. The text is an homage to the 19th century novels that were published in newspapers as feuilletons, with cliffhangers at the end of each chapter to push the reader to by the next newspaper. And it works.

The direction is a tour de force. The spectator is thrown in different places, in different times and follows the story with eagerness, wondering where it will take them to. It lasts more than one hour and a half and I was captivated from the beginning to the end. This is another the kind of play to take teenagers to, to give them the theatre bug.

The next play scheduled in my theatre subscription was Lewis versus Alice, adapted from Lewis Carroll by Macha Makeïeff. The play is a succession of scenes that alternate between key passages from Lewis Carroll’s works and moments of the writer’s life. Macha Makeïeff showed us how Carroll transposed some of his life’s traumatic experiences into literature. The show went back and forth between his literary world and his life, including his sad years at Rubgy, his questionable attachment to Alice Liddell and his work as a teacher. The play showed Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the man hidden behind his penname Lewis Carroll.

Lewis versus Alice is tagged as musical show but it’s not a musical. The cast of actors were French and English speaking natives, all speaking in both languages. Some passages were in English, repeated into French. There were songs and acrobatics. Among the cast was Rosemary Standley, the singer of Moriarty who sang two of their songs. The text used some excerpts from Alice in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark. The staging was clever, taking us from Alice’s wonderland to England in the 19th century.

Photo by Pascal Victor

It was delightful and brightly played and well-served by excellent actors/dancers/singers/acrobats. It’s a joyful show, a wonderful homage to Carroll’s imaginary world and an attempt to better understand how this man ended up telling these stories.

What’s next? Retour à Reims by Didier Eribon, directed by Thomas Ostermeier. I expect it to be good as I’ve heard about the book and Eribon’s take on it. (It’s available in English under Returning to Reims.) I’m looking forward to it.

And guess what! There’s a new theatre version of Promise at Dawn by Romain Gary and directed by Stéphane Freiss! I’d love to see it but it’s in Paris…

PS: Glossary for new Book Around the Corner’s readers: BD is a French acronym for Bande Dessinée. It is a generic word which covers comics and graphic novels.

About reading, a quote by Margaret Atwood

January 3, 2020 12 comments

In A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing published in the magazine America, Margaret Atwood writes:

A book is a voice in your ear; the message is –while you are reading it –for you alone. Reading a book is surely the most intimate experience we can have of the inside of another human being’s mind. Writer, book, and reader –in this triangle, the book is the messenger. And all three are part of one act of creation, as the composer, the player of the symphony, and the listener are all participants in it. The reader is the musician of the book.

As for the writer, his or her part is done when the book goes out into the world; it is the book that will then live or die, and what happens to the writer is at that point immaterial, from the point of view of the book.

I agree with her about the intimacy of reading. Besides going to places I’ll never see in real life, being in someone else’s mind is the most fascinating experience of reading. Sometimes it’s a terrifying place to be, sometimes it’s comforting in a ah-you-too? kind of way and sometimes it’s eye-opening.

Her last paragraph about the writer’s role after the book is published? It probably explains why I rarely read interviews of writers about their books, especially when they are on tour to promote their new one.

Bonne année 2020 and reading plans

January 1, 2020 28 comments

Happy 2020! As we say in French, Bonne Année et Bonne Santé!

I wish you, your family and friends a Happy New Year 2020. I hope it’ll bring joy and that you’ll be healthy. With joy and health covered, what more can we ask?

We’re starting a new decade and isn’t that great, we get to be in our twenties again!

Thanks again for reading my billets in 2019 and I hope we’ll have a great 2020 reading year together. I’m always grateful for your time, for the engaging discussions and literary finds.

So, what are my 2020 Bookish and Reading Plans?

First of all, 2020 will be Book around the Corner’s 10th anniversary. It’s been an amazing decade of connecting with new people, meeting them in real life sometimes and discovering a lot of new writers. I’m thinking about doing a London Literary Escapade to celebrate, I’ll see if I can organize something.

Then I’ll be reading my Book Club selection for the year. Since I’m going to Montana and Wyoming in the summer, expect a lot of books set in this area or by writers who live there. I’m also doing a readalong with my sister-in-law (Hi, S.!). We have chosen:

  • Keep the Change by Thomas McGuane
  • The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage
  • The Wrong Case by James Crumley
  • The Book of Yaak by Rick Bass
  • Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan
  • The Lost Get-Back Boogie by James Lee Burke
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver
  • Death and the Good Life by Richard Hugo

I hope there won’t be too much trout stuff in these books after my fly-fishing 2019.

And, last but not least, there’s the pesky TBR. This is a never ending story, tattooed in my Excel spreadsheet and on my ankle. I have already bought all the books I need for my book club and the aforementioned readalong. I’m all set. I will read mostly from my TBR this year and will avoid buying books.

But! I already declare two moratoria, one during the Bron book festival and the other during Quais du Polar. (3-5 April 2020, time to buy your plane tickets if you plan to come!) Without this, I’ll break my promise in March. 🙂

I’m sure I’ll have a great reading year and I’m looking forward to it.

This year, I should have more free time to read your posts and follow your reading journeys. Book bloggers are a wonderful community and I always wish for more time to explore what others are up to. In 2019, I participated to several bookish events, like Indigenous Week at Lisa’s, Japanese Literature Challenge at Belleza’s, Spanish & Portuguese Lit Month at Stu’s, German Lit Month at Caroline’s and Lizzy’s, Australia Reading Month at Brona’s. I’ll do my best to do it again.

I wish you again a Happy New Year, full of exciting reading plans and bookish events. Let’s enjoy our literary ride together and forget about this:

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Best of 2019 in my reading corner

December 30, 2019 43 comments

It’s time to look back on 2019 and my reading year. I’ve been running after time all year long and I tried to catch up with billets before year end but I failed. I still have four books to write about: Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel, American Pastoral by Philip Roth, The Royal Wulff Murders by Keith McCafferty and Mrs Fletcher by Tom Perrotta. And I didn’t write about the wonderful evening I spent at the bookstore L’Astragale in Lyon. Craig Johnson was invited to talk about his Longmire series and his new French release. His French translator Sophie Aslanides was present to translate his answers to the libraire’s questions and chat with the readers.

I’m not going to do statistics and pies (Btw, where you, Anglo-Saxons, see pies, we, French, see camemberts) I leave the math, the stats and the KPIs to my professional life. I will only tell you that I read 66 books and half of them came from the TBR. Since I bought more than 33 books in 2019, the TBR is not decreasing…I still need to work on that in 2020.

As you might know, I tend to invent new award categories every year, according to the mood I’m in. So, which book are the best summary of my reading year?

Best Least Commented Billet

More and more of my billets end up with one or two commenters, which rarely occurred in the previous years. I truly understand why nobody had anything to say about Figurec by Fabrice Caro, it’s a French book, rather confidential and not translated into English. I was more disappointed that almost nobody cared about A World For Julius by Alfredo Bryce-Echenique or The Good Lord Bird by James McBride because they are truly excellent books.

 

Best Gallmeister Book

Regular readers of my blog know that I have a fondness for the publisher Gallmeister. They are specialized in American literature with two favorite branches, crime fiction and Nature writing. They will show you America in small towns and with characters that are outsiders to mainstream America. My favorite Gallmeister book was My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent.

It’s a controversial book, one that stirs opposite feelings and start endless discussions but I loved it. The main character, Turtle, is hard to love but I truly rooted for her. I wanted her to be out of her father’s abusive spell.

Best Fly-fishing Book

Binging on Gallmeister books has a side effect: you end up reading a lot of books talking about fishing. I’ve read three books by William G Tapply featuring a fishing guide/sleuth character, Sex, Death and Fly-fishing by John Gierach, Lightning Strikes by Ned Crabb and The Royal Wulff Murders by Keith McCafferty. I know a lot more than I should about fly-fishing.

The best one was the series by William G Tapply: Bitch Creek, Gray Ghost and Dark Tiger. I have fond memories of the main character, Stoney Calhoun, his dog Ralph, his lover Kate and his mysterious past. The series will remain unfinished because Tapply died before he could finish it.

Best Non-Book post

This year I decided to mention my Non-Book billet that you enjoyed the most. I’m always surprised by the response you give to Literary Escapades post or Theatre billets. Your favorite Literary Escapade was Hôtel Littéraire Le Swann – dedicated to Marcel Proust and your favorite Theatre Post was The Book of My Mother by Albert Cohen, a theatre version of Cohen’s novella. You might want to read the book, it’s a funny and poignant homage from a son to his late mother.

 

Best Weirdest Book Ever

Our Book Club read Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I don’t know what to make of that book. I couldn’t read it in English because the setting was so weird that I didn’t know if my misunderstanding came from the book or from gaping holes in my knowledge of the English language. I read it in translation and it grossed me out. All the characters were freaks and none of them was loveable. The whole story was crazy and I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

 

Best Blind Date Book.

I bought The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St John because I had enjoyed Women in Black. When I started it, I didn’t expect to love it so much. Nicola comes home and her companion tells her point blank that she needs to move out. I read it in one sitting, I couldn’t put it down, I wanted to see how Nicola would survive her breakup.

It turns out it was much more than Nicola’s struggles.

 

Best State of the Nation

I’ve read several books with a political or social context. It would be easy to say that American Pastoral by Philip Roth was the best one but everyone knows it. So, I’ll choose If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin. Brilliant, easier to read that Roth and an implacable statement about the American society. Baldwin’s prose is impecable and he took me to Harlem with him. The film version is excellent too, even if they changed the ending. How do they dare change the ending of a book when they make it into a film?

Best Francophone Book

I’ve read books written in French but from different countries: Québec, Belgium, Switzerland and Togo. A lot of them were very good but more than half of them have not been translated into English.  I decided to stick to one that will make it into English soon.

Be ready to read the 2018 Goncourt Prize Leurs enfants après eux by Nicolas Mathieu. Its literary prize guarantees a quick translation and I imagine it will be published in English withing a year or so.

Best Translation Tragedy

A Translation Tragedy Book is a wonderful book written in French but not available in English. This year it was The Weight of Secrets by Aki Shimazaki. It’s composed of five slim volumes that give you a picture of a family’s story seen from different angles. Each book brings a brick to the story and unveils new details.

Aki Shimazaki a Japanese writer who emigrated to Québec and writes in French.

 

Best #TBR20 book

As I said before, I managed to read 33 books from my TBR, one out of two and that was my goal. I had purchased Burning Bright by Ron Rash at Quais du Polar and finally got to it this year.

It’s a collection of short stories, all set in the Appalachians at different periods of time. They are all different and beautifully written.

 

 

Best Book Club Read

My Best Book Club Read of the year is Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. I loved everything about it: the setting in post-war London, the characters and their eccentricities and its veiled feminism. What fun I had with Mildred the spinster!

 

 

Best Try-Again Book.

This year I tried to read again two books I had previously abandoned.

I still can’t read Berlin Alexanderplatz but I loved The Last Report On The Miracles At Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich this time. I was absorbed in this story set in the Ojibwe reservation of Little No Horse. Father Damian was a striking character.

Sometimes, you need to try again.

If I’m not mistaken, that makes twelve books. 2019 was a good reading year, probably because I get better at picking books I’ll like. I had fun sharing my thoughts about the books I read. Thanks for following my literary journey and all the comments and likes are truly appreciated as they are a sign that you’re willing to spend some of your precious free time reading my billets.

The show will go on in 2020! Or as we say in French: La fête continue.

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Joyeux Noël from France and 13 à table!

December 25, 2019 15 comments

I know that Christmas is not celebrated everywhere and by everyone. If this is an important holiday for you, I hope you’re having a good time with your beloved ones. If it’s a day like any other, I still send you greetings for this special day.

I’m not religious but this is a day Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus and it’s a day for sharing. Religious or not, if you live in a Western country, you have Christmas traditions. Besides the Advent calendar, the obvious Christmas tree and decorations, we bake cookies.  A lot of cookies. My daughter’s best friend asked, seeing all the boxes “But why did you make so many cookies?” We answered simultaneously “Because we’re going to give them away!” That’s the tradition and that’s the Christmas spirit.

The Christmas ghost also visited the publisher Pocket in 2014, the year they started their collection 13 à table!, a collection of short stories donated by various French writers. Riad Satouf drew the cover and it’s published by Pocket. Everyone in the book chain contributes, from the writing to the distribution. The profit of the sales goes to a charity, Les Restaurants du Coeur. They provide food for families in need and they desperately need more money each year. Each book means four meals. In five years, these books have provided for over four million meals. The show must go on, so if you’re in France, please spend 5 euros on this book.

I’ll end this short billet by wishing you again a Merry Christmas with friends, family and books. Wait, aren’t books imaginary friends too? Isn’t it what this book lover Christmas card seems to say?

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The Christmas Song Book Tag

December 15, 2019 15 comments

I’ve heard about the Christmas Song Book Tag on Carl’s blog, The Pine-Scented ChroniclesThis book tag was launched by Stephanie, who blogs at Adventures of a Bibliophile. I thought it was a fun book tag and I started to think about my own answers as I was reading Carl’s post. So here they are!

You’re a mean one Mr. Grinch – Name a villainous character you couldn’t help but love.

Mr King, in Calling Mr King by Ronald De Fao. Mr King is a hitman, I can’t say I’m fond of people who kill other people for a living but I really liked Mr King and his quirks.

All I Want for Christmas is You – Which book do you most hope to see under your Christmas tree.

I’d love to get the Pléiade edition of Romain Gary’s works but it’s really expensive. It’ll remain a Christmas wish.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – Name a character that overcomes major obstacles and learns to believe in themselves.

Nicola, in The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St John. Her companion tells her it’s over and she needs to move out. Heart bruised and battered, she moves on, step by step and learns to be herself again.

As far as non-fiction is concerned, I’d like to point out Of Ashes and Rivers that Runs to the Sea by Marie Munkara. She belongs to the Stolen Generation of Aboriginal children taken away from their families and she tells her journey back to her people.

Santa Clause is coming to town –

a) Which character do you think would be on top of the naughty list?

Fred and George, from the Harry Potter series.

b) Which character do you think would be at the top of the nice list?

Miss Pettigrew in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. She’s really nice and the reader is really happy about her coming out of her shell. It’s a great holiday read.

Frosty the Snowman – Which book just melts your heart.

Life Before Us by Romain Gary. It’s the story of an Arab child who’s taken care of by a Jewish old lady. It’s set in Paris, in a popular neighborhood. It’s full of humor and tolerance.

Feliz Navidad – Choose a book that takes place in a country other than your own.

How can I pick only one book that takes place in another country? I read a lot of them. I’ll recommend Skylark by Dezso Kosztolányi. It’ll take you to Hungary before WWI.

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Which holiday themed book do you use to spread the Christmas joy.

Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford. I’m not sure it spreads the Christmas joy in a literal sense but it’s fun and seasonal.

Sleigh Ride – Which fictional character would you choose to spend the holidays with (doesn’t have to be a love interest).

I would love to spend the holidays with Walt Longmire, the sheriff of the Absaroka county in Craig Johnson’s crime fiction series. If he’s not available, then I want to spend time with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, the character in Louise Penny’s crime fiction series.

Baby it’s Cold Outside – Which book that you didn’t like would you sacrifice to a fire to warm yourself up in the cold.

I’m strongly against burning books but placed in a situation where I’d have to choose between die of hypothermia and burn books, I hope there would still be a phone book lying around or a dictionary. Then I’d hope to have Fifty Shades of Grey and stuff like that on a nearby shelf.

That’s all, folk! I hope you had fun reading my Christmas Song Book Tag. Since I’d love to read yours, I hope it’ll inspire you to post about it too. 😊

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End-of-the-year billets rush and November Literary Prizes in France

December 5, 2019 15 comments

We’re already the 5th of December and the end of the year is looming over us. Christmas lights are installed in cities, Lyon gets dolled up for the Fête des Lumières (The Festival of Lights)

and I still have a few books without a billet. I need to be honest with myself, I won’t be able to write proper billets about these six books on top of the ones I’ll be reading in December. So, I’ll write a series of quick posts to give you the gist of them and my thoughts. Don’t expect polished English or deep analyses, quick-and-dirty will have to do. The series of short billets should be about:

  • Betty by Simenon,
  • Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville
  • Lightning Strikes by Ned Crabb
  • Cry, Mother Spain by Lydie Salvayre
  • Figurec by Fabrice Caro
  • Fatima ou les Algériennes au square by Leïla Sebbar

November is also the month of the most prestigious literary prizes in France. So, here are the winners for 2019. I haven’t read any of them because I can’t read books within libraries’ deadlines and I only buy paperbacks. So, here’s a sample of the prizes:

  • Prix Goncourt: Tous les hommes n’habitent pas le monde de la même façon by Jean-Paul Dubois. He’s a readable writer, I’ll probably get it next year.
  • Prix Goncourt des Lycéens : This is the Goncourt elected by high school students. I have a soft spot for prizes given by young readers. They have a fresh eye. They awarded the prize to Les Choses humaines by Karine Tuil, where the son of a well-known couple is accused of rape. The book shows how this shatters their lives.
  • Prix Femina: Par les routes by Sylvain Prudhomme.
  • Prix Interallié : Les Choses humaines by Karine Tuil. Yes, she won TWO prizes.
  • Prix Médicis : La Tentation by Luc Lang.
  • Prix Renaudot : La panthèse des neiges by Sylvain Tesson.

All seem accessible to mainstream readers and I like this idea. So, keep your eyes open they’ll probably make it into English translation.

Meanwhile, I’ll be writing vignettes about the books I read but never had time to write a billet about.

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