La rentrée littéraire is a curious phenomenon: hundreds of new books of all genres flood French bookshops and the review pages of the literary press between the end of August and the beginning of November. It is a way for publishers to capitalize on the awards season, and at Frankfurt Book Fair in October – at which France is the guest of honour this year – as well building up a buzz leading into the Christmas period when the most books are sold.
Anglophile French friends in Paris send recommendations. And then there are wonderful talk shows about books like La grande librairie (France 5) or Jérôme Garcin’s Le Masque et la Plume (France Inter) and of course, radio France Culture – all are streamed on the web.
Certain ideas expressed in speeches made half a century ago by my grandfather, the psychologist and organizational theorist, George Elton Mayo (1880-1949), are disturbingly relevant to the world today.
He is an inveterate optimist who is not sobered by a comparison of our own time with the high expectations of a century ago. Bernard Cracroft, writing in 1867, expressed the general attitude of the early years of the nineteenth century. “The mercantile fever, the ardent faith in progress” was based upon belief in “the boundless development of human energy striving like fire ever upwards.” “Unforeseen but probable discoveries” were expected at any moment to “throw additional millions into the lap of human comfort.” By such means it was expected that man would raise himself above the possibilities of privation and strife.
This belief expressed certainty of immense future advance in scientific discovery, mechanical invention, the development of economic knowledge and industrial organization. And this belief has nowhere proved vain: the actual advance in the last century of scientific discovery, mechanical invention, economic knowledge and organization has surpassed by far anything that Cracroft and his contemporaries could possibly have anticipated. To cross the continent from coast to coast in a few hours of the night by air has become a commonplace. Men talk to each other across three thousand miles of sea without wires or any tangible connection. In no area of activity have nineteenth-century expectations been disappointed: the fulfilment has by far outdone the hope.Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Elton Mayo, The Descent into Chaos | Speech, New England Conference on National Defense, April 1941
Arriving in Madrid by Car the other night there seemed to be no transition; the earth, a road cut into its open face, and then a notice: Madrid. After that some lights and suddenly we were in the capital of Spain, only a few minutes from the open land to the civilized Castellana with its trees and gardens. In this city that is both provincial and international, new and old, no middle way seems necessary: it is a place of extremes, geometrical lines, radical emotions. Why bother with such inessentials as bourgeois villas and suburbs — this is simpler, strong as coarse Logrono wine and more aesthetic.
Since the American agreement there is a new atmosphere of potentiality; the American tourist on his way through now stays longer, there are not only just embassy people or the press. (We noticed also yesterday in the Palace bar some rather familiar sharks and a few 5 per cent operators, last seen in Egypt and Tokyo, perching on high stools waiting and watching . . . the sort that show up when something is going to happen.) Suddenly Madrid contains suspense, against its old and well-known atmosphere of no-hurry. The people waiting around in bars are only the ripples on the edge of the pool, the real pawns are for instance American generals in civilian clothes, business men . . . the atmosphere of construction is especially appealing to the American pioneer spirit, for here there is ( in some ways) everything to be done.Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Gael Elton Mayo, Letter from Madrid | Moroccan Courier Dec. 1953
What makes a dandy? In the popular imagination, the dandy is a peacock, eccentrically and eye-catchingly dressed. Nothing, however, could be further from the precepts of that original dandy Beau Brummell, who rejected the pink and blue silks of the eighteenth century in favour of a sober, well-tailored suit. “If John Bull turns round to look at you,” he declared, “you are not well dressed.”
In this erudite, wide-ranging and appropriately elegant book, the German-born writer Philip Mann examines six personalities who embody different aspects of dandyism in the 20th century: the Austrian architect Adolf Loos; Edward, Duke of Windsor; the courtier and couturier Bunny Roger; the writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp; the French film director Jean-Pierre Melville; and, somewhat surprisingly, his leather-jacketed German counterpart Rainer Werner Fassbinder.Continue reading Guest Review | C. J. Schüler | The Dandy at Dusk, Philip Mann
“Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be,” the hypochondriac Mr. Wodehouse says in Jane Austen’s Emma. Proverbially never healthy was Jeffrey Bernard, whose weekly column in the Spectator was frequently substituted with the notice: “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell.” What began as a euphemism for the fact that Bernard was too drunk to write his column or even – which happened a few times – to resubmit an old column in the hope that it had been forgotten, in later years became a bitter truth. His Low-Life column which he had been writing since 1978 and which was generally held to be a suicide note in instalments, ended with Bernard’s death in 1997 after he had willingly stopped the dialysis necessary for his survival. That he had his own ideas about life, he had already made apparent earlier: Asked to write his autobiography he promptly put a small ad in the New Statesman, enquiring whether anybody knew what his movements between 1960 and 1970 had been.Continue reading Guest Feature | Philip Mann, “For thirty years I hid my fame in taverns”
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born in Hanover the capital of Lower-Saxony, but grew up in West Berlin by the wall.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences? My mother has always been an avid reader and my late stepfather was a fairly influential intellectual so there always were enormous amounts of books: the classics from Chekov to Turgenev, from Mann to Musil as well as Benjamin, Jünger, Gramsci etc. The earliest literary memories I have are my mother reading me first Pippi Longstocking, and then Tom Sawyer. In opposition to this I myself only read comic books until I was about eight or nine. Those with an all-consuming passion though. The only book I can remember reading – three times at least – was Edgar Rice Bourroughs’ Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.
Why do you write? Because I inexplicably missed out on being a film star.
Our monthly round up of deliciously eclectic, mind-altering reads to see us into the Autumn now that summer is over.
Uncovering a Parisian Life
The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux, translated by Alison Anderson (New Vessel Press) buy here
A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung 20th century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history. This is a graphic novel for the Twitter age, a true story that encapsulates one woman’s attempt to live a life of love and meaning together with a contemporary quest to prevent that existence from slipping into oblivion. Through it all, The Madeleine Project movingly chronicles, and allows us to reconstruct, intimate memories of a bygone era.
The BookBlast® Diary will be running a review and an exclusive interview with the Author at the end of the month.
“The Duke of Westminster, the richest man in England, walked past, a cigar clamped between his teeth, in an out-at-elbow suit with corkscrewing trousers and his jacket pockets stuffed with tokens he had forgotten to cash in on his way out of the gaming room. A woman walked a step ahead of him, not turning round. She had an imperious expression and a very mobile face and wore a boater with a black ribbon. She was dripping with jewellery. Blanche said to her son, ‘Look. That’s Mademoiselle Chanel. Thanks to her we can cut our hair short without looking like servants’.” [Your Father’s Room, p. 36]
French novelist Michel Déon was born in Paris and died in Galway in 2016 at the age of 97. Admirers of Fournier and Flaubert and the world according to Proust would love his writing which is pared down and, although quintessentially French, has a universal resonance. The author of more than fifty works of fiction and non-fiction, and a member of the Académie Française, Déon was also a member of the 1950s French literary movement, ‘Les Hussards’, founded by Roger Nimier to oppose Existentialism and Jean-Paul Sartre. (The group was named after Roger Nimier’s novel Le Hussard bleu – The Blue Hussar). The distinguished and controversial right-wing novelist, Paul Morand, was an inspirational figure for the group. “They form a fascinating quartet of original, cosmopolitan, witty minds, far superior to their British contemporaries, the Angry Young Men,” poet, novelist and translator, James Kirkup wrote in The Independent in 2001.Continue reading Review | Your Father’s Room, Michel Déon | Book of the Week
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I spent half my childhood in eastern Australia, on the edge of the Coral Sea, where I went to a school whose motto was “Every pupil a good swimmer”. That sub-tropical beginning, living barefoot, catching lizards, going to the beach every week, meant that when my parents brought me back to foggy, suburban south London, to an undreamt-of land of rain, shoes and no lizards, I was instantly on the lookout for another somewhere to run away to. Luckily I was sent to France at the age of thirteen on a school exchange, and that was it. I found languages easy to learn – French and German first – and I followed that relaxed path through school and 3 years at Cambridge, but as Søren Kierkegaard says, life is understood backwards but has to be lived forwards, so while I was successfully getting out of England as often as I could, I began to understand that easy didn’t necessarily mean the same thing as satisfying. So I tried other things: I wrote (in secret), I pestered a publisher for a job, I interested myself in what was being written in France and Germany. When I became a publisher’s editor and bought the rights to a French novel by Michel Déon called Un Déjeuner de soleil, I awarded myself my first translating job. Later, when I started writing more determinedly (i.e. wanting to get published), I realised what a really useful starting-off point translating had been. Looking back much later, I see that I’ve been incredibly lucky: languages seem to have taken me everywhere I’ve wanted to go. Continue reading Interview | Julian Evans | Translator of the Week
“A room without books is like a body without a soul,” Cicero.
Little children do what grown-ups do. So when mother and father read aloud to them at bedtime and enjoy doing it, a positive precedent is set. As books and ideas become a staple of home life, the pleasures of discussion and debate continue into adulthood. Reading also alleviates boredom and loneliness, which I remember from my own childhood: books were my first friends.
Home learning is one thing, school learning another. As the curriculum gets more and more intense, packed with demanding schedules, the fun of learning dissipates. In her exclusive interview with BookBlast®, Siân Williams, the founder of The Children’s Bookshow says that a core aim of the tour is “to bring the children joy”. Writers and illustrators who go to schools to do workshops and work with the children on their own creative writing are bringing with them the gift of storytelling. Once learned it is never forgotten – a bit like riding a bike – even though exams, and then life, take over. After all, as adults, we are surrounded by every imaginable kind of storytelling, in myriad forms.Continue reading Review | Yours Sincerely, Giraffe & The Fire Horse by Megumi Iwasa & Mayakovsky, Mandelstam, Kharms