So, I’m in Paris this week. It’s a special editorial trip that came about last minute thanks to the fact that Laurence Marie and Anne-Sophie Hermil are the most wonderful people. They brought me here yesterday (Monday morning) for 18 appointments with literary folks in four days—a rather intense schedule given the fact that most publishing folk are on holiday time. But that’s cool, because French publishers and books are cool, and walking around Paris is cool, and the people I’ve met have all been cool.
This is the second time I’ve been to Paris—the first time was in 2009, which, to say the least, was an intense period in my life. But that trip . . . Wow. So many good people, so many good conversations, so much Three Percent material.
That was at a time when I still tried to write coherent “this is the state of publishing, yo!” type essays. Which I still love to do, but being back here where the buildings are more complicatedly beautiful than anything in NY, and where the people drip the sexy and the books reek of intellectual charm, I don’t think I can synthesize anything. So instead, I give you a few facts and a ton of opinons and jokes. Enjoy!
FACT: I have slept eight hours of the past 72. My mind is slipping.
FACT: The Irish bar across the street is having an “Apocalypse Party” on Thursday. Which brought home the point that I fly out on 12/21/12, right about practically maybe when the aliens invade the Mayan temples and rape the global warming. Or so I understand.
FACT: The French can’t dance.
QED: This post is probably offensive.
1) I arrived yesterday (Monday) morning at 8 am, and got a chauffeur cab to my hotel, where I arrived just a minute before 10, leaving me plenty (!) of time to shower and get my ass to my first meeting. Which, naturally, was with a woman who spoke next to no English. I have never received so many books at a meeting in my life. It was like compulsive giving. “BLAH BLAH DURR BALSH OPEN LETTER.” “Book, you like?” “SCHMEER TRANSLATION SLEEP HYPER BAD MOVIES BLAH.” “Other book? Is short erotic fiction?”
2) This same publisher publishes three Lutz Bassmann (aka Antoine Volodine) books, including his latest (Danse avec Nathan Golshem) and Haïkus de prison, which I assume are the haikus “Bassmann” “wrote” while in “prison.”
FACT: There is no one at work at a project as ambitious—and strange—as Antoine Volodine.
3) Everyone and their brother has tons of questions about a certain job posting that we all know I know about, and that we all know I can’t know about on Three Percent without knowing that a certain someone (who knows I know!) will get upset and knowingly call people and complain that I’m hurting their ability to succeed and therefore—PUNISHMENT! There’s no joke here, but shit, do I hate having to explain another’s actions at almost every single meeting. Keep the crazy in your own court! I have nothing to do with this!
4) Holy and fuck does Paul Fournel rock. First off, knowing next to little about it, I totally want to publish Chamboula. But for you Oulipian lovers out there—feast your sexy dreams on this: Paul took me into the room adjacent to his majestic apartment that houses a makeshift library of Oulipian works. Cool, no? Well, just wait . . . One of those works was a book by Perec and his mistress’s daughter (?) that’s in an oversized purple case lined with velvet and contains about 30 pages of text and photographs. Again—cool, no? Well it’s one of maybe 10 copies that exist in the world.
FACT: Duke would DESTROY Michigan’s overrated basketball team. This is old ACC >>> B1G 10 love. Nice try, but your coach will always be Elite Eight and out. PROVE ME DIFFERENT, WOLVERINES.
5) Dan Gunn and his partner Kristina Kovacheva treated me to the best meal I’ve ever had at someone’s Parisian apartment.
5a) When I told my daughter I was going to Paris: “Can I go with you?” “I wish! What do you know about France, Chloë?” “They have fancy cheeses! And I want to wear a pink beret!”
5a1) I bought her a pink beret today.
5b) I ate all the fancy cheeses at Dan and Kristina’s place. (Sorry, Chloë!)
6) Dan and Kristina and Daniel Medin should all be invited to the Sozopol Fiction Writers Workshop next May. That should maybe be a “FACT.”
7) When I was in the office of Editions Verdier receiving all the Bassmann books, I saw Damian Tabarovsky’s card—an author that Emily Davis translated while here at the U of Rochester and that Open Letter wants to publish. Apparently he was here recently, meeting with Verdier about rights to another of their authors.
FACT: French people move in a way that is automatically sexy. This woman working in the hotel restaurant got—and drank—a glass of water, standing in front of me in a way that can only be described as “illegal.” Every guy&girl here walks in a way that slithers with a certain something that makes it automatically beautiful. It’s indescribable, yet so there. My belief is that the angle between their hips and shoulders is like the golden fucking mean of sexy. Fact!
8) The ebook situation here in France is about the same as it was in 2009—less than 3% of sales are of the e-variety. One quote today: over a million print copies of a Gray book were sold, and like 30,000 e-versions. In other words, the French are basically like, “Suck a pixel, iPad/Kindle! And e-ink my ass!” Which is going way too far, and not recognizing the potential value of the Amazon/e-phenomenon—not to go all small scale on you, but I wouldn’t be teaching Mo Yan’s POW! in my class if the kids couldn’t get it for cheap—but is also so damn awesome. Bookstores exist here in France, and not because people like DLJ of the House of Moby wish they would, but because of the fixed book price, government intervention and support (suck an Obamacare stick, Ayn Randians!), and a schooling/cultural system that promotes reading not as entertainment, but as something valuable in and of its own right (suck a Survivor Mark Zuckerberg!). I love this country for that. And for the way people walk. And the absinthe.
9) TLHub is like Richard Nash’s Cursor + Kaija Straumanis’s Plüb – booze. (Well, officially.)
FACT: French people CAN NOT DANCE. I was at the Irish pub across the street and it was all 80s movie flailing and a dude wearing Mickey Mouse gloves groping ass. NO ONE WANTS TO SEE THAT, MICKEY. There was also a cougar (which, in France, they refer to as “a woman”) who was not-so subtly rejecting a dude with sunglasses pushed up on the top of his head. Really? Your style points just got rammed, France. That shit doesn’t even happen in Sixteen Candles.
9a) TLHub is a virtual space where translators can post a text they’re working on along with their translation and share it with other translators/members for edits/comments. It’s sort of brilliant in a very understated, yet essential way.
FACT: An American publisher asked the French government for a grant to cover the translation costs of doing a book PLUS $15,000 for marketing. In other words, $20-25,000 for a book. Great. So my FACT: There’s no way you, as a smart, savvy, educated independent publisher can spend $15,000 on marketing in a legitimate way that would actually result in an increased readership for that book, short of giving away 15,000 copies. You have a different idea? Email it to me. I’m curious to know how anyone would spend this sort of money in a non-pissing-it-all-away fashion. Ads? NOPE. Conferences? NO IMPACT. Reading tours? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Review copies? 15,000.
QUESTION: I just got a text about the aforementioned job posting and the fact that this publisher has been “swamped” with job applications. Does anyone believe this? Really? Do you know anyone who has actually applied? Yeah, me neither.
9b) In addition to TLHub, the people at the Sociéte européenne des auteurs also run the news part of IF Verso and Finnegan’s List, containing a ton of books deserving international recognition recommended by a group of stellar authors from around the world. Both of these are also worth checking out.
FACT: I am ONE DAY away from being the FourSquare Mayor of the Eiffel Tower. FACT FACT FACT.
10) Buildings in France are something else. The entrance ways, the courtyards, the understated yet magnificent opulence. I am smitten with the architecture here. And the publishers, books, way people walk, and wine. Their beer blows, as does their dancing, attempt to make pizza, and book design (for the most part), but I totally love it and wish that I could have a semester sabbatical (HA! HA HA! HAHAHAHAHHAHA!) to live here, study the publishing scene, find books to get into English, love the shit out the Oulipo, etc. Instead, Rochester. Summer interns to tend to when all the academics are away. Women’s soccer (yay!).
FACT: The other night I had a dream in which the “greatest” of insults was to call someone a “donkey diddler.” This came from a dirty book everyone read, but no one admitted to reading. And I promised myself—as I woke up—that I would work it into a post. So, yeah. Donkey diddler.
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .