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.
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.
“Some said it was karma, the industry had grown at an extraordinary upturn in the era of C.D.s – selling their clients their whole discography on a medium that cost half the price to make and was sold for twice the price in shops . . . with no real benefit to music fans, since no one had ever complained about vinyl records . . .” Age twenty, Vernon Subutex started work as an assistant at the record shop Revolver, and took over when the owner moved to Australia. File sharing on the internet thanks to the likes of Napster and Limewire heralded the beginning of the end of the party. In 2006 he shut up shop.
Live for today, who cares about tomorrow?
Easy-going Vernon had drifted through Parisian night life, lost in music and high on sex and drugs, oblivious to time passing and how people change. “He didn’t do monogamy . . . Vernon understands women, he has made an extensive study of them. The city is full of lost souls ready to do his cleaning and get down on all fours to lavish him with lingering blow jobs designed to cheer him up.”Continue reading Review | Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex 1 | Maclehose Press
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I was born in Sligo, Ireland and while I was a good student, and a precociously gifted musician, I did very little to maximize my talents. I went to Trinity College Dublin to study English and Philosophy, but as a young gay man just coming out (in a conservative, deeply Catholic country), I feel in love, slipped off the radar and left university without finishing my degree. It was the end of my first real relationship that prompted me to move to Paris (to a country and a city I have never visited, with rudimentary secondary-school French that I had never been called on to speak aloud). From there, a series of curious but fortunate accidents led to me translating bandes dessinées, working as a publishers’ reader and finally, in 1998, embarking on my first literary translation. So, while I am passionate about languages, and cannot imagine anything more fulfilling than literary translation, I can hardly claim that I had a career path, or worked towards it. In fact, it never occurred to me that I would be “allowed” to translate novels, assuming vaguely that such herculean feats were reserved for some rarefied species.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you? From a very early age, I was a voracious reader – not that our house was filled with books or my parents were particularly bookish, but I haunted the local library and read anything and everything I could lay hands on. My early reading tastes were probably no different to any boy of my generation: C.S. Lewis, Emil and the Detectives, Richmal Crompton and later Tolkien, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein and A.E. Van Vogt. By my teens, I was reading Joyce and Woolf and Dostoevsky (I was idiotically precocious, and my reading of them was through a glass darkly) and marvelling at what words could do, how they could create worlds, affect moods, inspire thoughts, mould dreams. I was determined to be a writer. I wrote my first (truly awful) novel at about fourteen, my second (modernist, sub-Salinger) novel at about sixteen. Thankfully, neither has survived to embarrass me. Books, for me were both a world, and an escape from the world.
As subdivisions or departments of bigger publishers, imprints break up monolithic companies, give space to individual editors to stamp their list with a defining character and originality, and reassure authors that they are not disappearing into the corporate ether. The MacLehose Press is an independently-minded imprint of Quercus Books, founded by Christopher MacLehose and publishing the very best, often prize-winning, literature from around the world; mainly in translation but with a few outstanding exceptions as English language originals.
“Morality is not offended by human truth. It needs to know the real world and to make vice itself a source of wisdom. A novel by Sir Walter Scott may well push a highly strung young girl into the arms of a lover; a sincere study of the passions will no doubt horrify a young girl, but at the same time it will teach her about life and give her moral strength.” So wrote Emile Zola in La Tribune on 9 August, 1868.
Zola the Publisher
When Zola was a young employee at the Parisian publisher Hachette, he came across La Cause du Beau Guillaume (1862) by the novelist and art critic Louis Edmond Duranty, an advocate of the Realist, subsequently renamed Naturalist, cause. In the preface to the 1900 edition, Jean Vaudal writes: “In the gallery of ancestors which Zola gave to Naturalism, he placed the bust of Duranty on the second shelf, just beneath those of Balzac, Stendhal and Flaubert. If but one of them were to be granted the Naturalist label, it would be the author of La Cause du Beau Guillaume.”
“Why this promotion leading up to the London Book Fair in April?” asked one indie publisher as she merrily jumped on to BookBlast’s celebratory bandwagon. Why indeed? Even the smallest publisher now has a website and a vital presence on social media, however visibility remains an issue. Added to which self-published authors riding high on the digital wave often call themselves independent publishers: confusion reigns!
SO MUCH is published! How can avid book readers, students on publishing courses, Media researchers and stumble-upon book browsers find the good stuff amidst the avalanche of words available online and piled high on bookshop tables? To separate the wheat from the chaff is becoming ever more essential. The need for well-informed curated recommendations is growing and growing . . .
When I first came into publishing in the late 1980s, commissioning editors held sway (as they still do at houses such as Gallimard across the Channel). They were respected for their knowledge and idiosyncratic flair in spotting potential new talent, much as a wine expert can identify a promising wine. Now it is the sales and marketing teams that hold sway in the ivory towers of corporate publishing. They follow trends, play with pie charts and algorithms, and pray daily at the hallowed altar of The Market. Of course there are still superb editors at the corporates − they are remarkably adept at surviving with steely determination in an environment which commodifies and monetises creativity remorselessly. It is a different mindset.Continue reading BookBlast® celebrates independent publishing | Why Independence Matters, Georgia de Chamberet
As a lobbyist for translation, I occasionally write reader’s reports giving an opinion on French books that have been submitted to a publishing company for consideration. Translations of good non fiction are rare compared to fiction, and fewer grants are available. As its the indies who tend to take risks on new writers-new translations, they have less funds and back up than the majors. So good books often get nowhere — very much the case for Bilal sur la route des clandestins by Fabrizio Gatti which I was commissioned to report on back in 2011. A university press with an endowment could be a possibility? Hence this post . . . The book would need updating of course, easily done. For now it is available in Italian and French so if you can read those languages — buy it!
BILAL SUR LA ROUTE DES CLANDESTINS by Fabrizio Gatti (478pp Liana Levi 2008) Winner of the premio Terzani in 2008
Fabrizio Gatti is a reporter for the Italian weekly, L’Espresso. Human rights defender and campaigner against organised crime, he has undertaken numerous undercover investigations. Ryszard Kapuscinski believed that news is all about political struggle and the search for truth, not profits and ratings as is invariably the case today. Gatti is a kindred spirit. He follows in Kapuscinski’s footsteps with this humane and heartbreaking book. Bilal, on the road with illegal immigrants is literary reportage at its best; an odyssey into the heart of darkness. Gatti is not only an excellent and courageous investigative journalist, but a real writer.
Georgia de Chamberet talks to Florent Massot, French publisher of Virginie Despentes, Kurt Cobain, Mike Tyson and Valérie Trierweiler. Baise-moi (Fuck Me), his first hit, published in 1994, sold 50,000 copies for éditions Florent Massot before being released by Grasset and J’ai Lu, nudging up to 200,000 copies.
Why publishing and not music or film?
I started work on my first book age 17 in 1982 about a group called Urban Sax. Why publishing? Because my generation went into music and film, but I’m not competitive, it’s not my way. For 15 years I was the youngest publisher in France and the only one of my generation. Publishers who are 50 now all began their careers 20, not 30, years ago. So for 12-13 years I was alone. My friends were all in music which was great, but I was the only young indie publisher which is why I carried on, since I don’t like having to be combative. I wanted to be the best publisher of my generation and was . . . the worst! . . . there was only me!
I had a go at journalism and published a magazine called Amazone in 1984, then Intox in 1990, but that world moves too fast. I like a slow burn, and am not speedy. In publishing you meet up, the project develops over 1-2 years, it takes time, isn’t fast and furious, all on the surface. A book can really make a difference, go deep, whereas an article is ephemeral.
Publishers are in the game for different reasons: for some it’s a love of words, for others because they want power. What interested me was to meet the movers and shakers. A friend said, “If you go into publishing you’ll meet the people making it happen, who are the zeitgeist.” He often spoke to Cartier Bresson on the phone because of a book he was working on about the great photographers behind photojournalism. I wanted to meet these people. Since then, over the last 32 years, I have met so many people from different walks of life, that publishing has been good to me on that level.
As an object, a book can be a bit fetishistic. For me it is neither the object, nor the words, but the encounters. A book is a meeting place for people and ideas.
In a piece for The Swedish Book Review published in 1997, I stated that, “Roughly 3% of the titles published in the UK every year are translations (as opposed to 30-40% in France and Germany).” It is a puzzling paradox that Britain is such a multi-cultural society yet so insular when it comes to ‘foreign’ writers in translation. Especially since book-buyers just want a good story and are not particularly concerned about its provenance.
Dr Jasmine Donahaye’s 2012 survey Three percent? Publishing data and statistics on translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland is unequivocal: “Literary translation in the UK and Ireland – whether assessed according to its broader definition or restricted to the genre categories of poetry, fiction and drama – is a little higher than the often-cited 3% figure. Indeed it is consistently greater than 4%, and, over the sample years, consistently increases.”
She gives the following statistics: “The percentage of all publications that are translations: 2.21% in 2000 ; 2.65% in 2005 ; 2.43% in 2008. “The percentage of poetry, fiction and drama that is translation: 4.37% in 2000 ; 4.51% in 2005 ; 4.59% in 2008. “The percentage of all literary genres (the entire 800 Dewey range) that is translation: 4.17% in 2000 ; 4.20% in 2005 ; 4.37% in 2008.”