Immerse Yourself in Bastille Day

By Jen B and Ann G

This Monday, July 14, is the 225th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille – when Parians invaded the fortress and prompted the French Revolution. The Bastille was for them a symbol of everything the uncaring old regime and its bloated monarchy stood for. The violence and passion of the attack made it clear to King Louis XVI that things might not end up going his way. Here below, two librarians share ways to commemorate the anniversary!

For a local hit of French culture (and, more importantly, food), travel to the distant reaches of Madison Valley for Bastille Bash 2014, where you’ll find live music, wine tasting, gourmet comestibles, and other festivities! And then when you’re home again, try some of these great titles…


Ann says: If you’re interested in the bloody origins of what is now a French National holiday, start with a great overview in Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. In it, history geek Simon Schama does for the French Revolution what he did for British history in similarly magisterial style. He relates not only the broad sweep of events, but also the day-to-day stories that affected them. Continue reading “Immerse Yourself in Bastille Day”

Citation chase

If I were to think of all the books I have read because they were mentioned in another book, why I would be thinking for quite a while here.  It is so often the case that I follow an author’s mention of a title and look for and read that title, that I don’t even think of this relationship when people ask me how to find an ‘interesting book’—it seems that everybody should be doing this, yes? And yet, it is actually a technique that students used to use—identifying research possibilities through footnotes, or other references—and seldom using a bibliography or the library’s catalog.

Like now—I am reading about France in the 1920’s and 1930’s, having just finished the excellent Hollow years:  France in the 1930’s by Eugen Weber.  I learned about this book because I read Quiet American: The secret war of Varian Fry by Andy Marino—not only does it mention the Weber book, but it also talks about Peggy Guggenheim, the American heiress who bought up art from refugees at bargain basement prices so they could leave Europe—her memoir, Out of this Century: Confessions of an art addict is on my pile, and so far is very chatty and full of gossip about expat Americans and Europeans before WWII.  The Weber book led me to Americans in Paris: Life and death under Nazi occupation, by Charles Glass—and another great occupation-era title, And the Show went on: Cultural life in Nazi-occupied Paris, by Alan Riding—or was it maybe the other way around? The Riding book talks a great deal about the intellectuals, writers, and others during the occupation, who collaborated and who did not—and what the consequences were for these people after the war ended.  

Where from here? Maybe more memoirs—the Josephine Baker story has been well delineated in  Jazz Cleopatra by Phyllis Rose and it is a great story—she was a spy for the French during the war, risking her life to transmit secret documents.  In the Glass book there are lots of mentions of Sylvia Beach, the American bookseller who stayed in France during the Nazi time and befriended James Joyce and others—all of whom have stories as well.  The trouble about this chain reading, or connected reading, or citation chasing, is that it doesn’t seem to want to end.  The interesting thing about it is that different chains of literary connection keep coming together—related to this sequence is the story of Lee Miller, a beautiful blonde American who knew Man Ray and modeled for him, knew Ernest Hemingway, and so many others—and during the second world war was there for the liberation of Paris, and of Germany, as a photographer imbedded in the U.S. Army—her work appearing in European Vogue.  Her life embraces the bohemian life of pre-war Europe and the war, and for a while there, she was married to a rich Egyptian, and there is an interesting novel sequence by Olivia Manning, part of which takes place in Cairo… so there really is no end, is there?

Parlez-vous French Fiction?

I’m not sure why – I’ve never been much of a Francophile – but I’ve been reading a lot of French authors lately. In English, of course – my high school French is pretty rusty. Fortunately, all the titles below are in translation, so you can enjoy them even if you don’t speak a word of French. Though I bet you’ll be surprised by how many words of French you already speak, n’est-ce pas? To prove my point, here’s a little glossary:

“Joie de vivre”: Voilà!: its Zazie, that petite foul-mouthed embodiment of élan vital, her portmanteau in hand as she arrives in Paris to stay with her flaneur uncle Gabriel. Tired of their piquant persiflage, the parrot Laverdure says “Talk, Talk, that’s all that you can do!” Au contraire! Raymond Queneau’s playful pastiche Zazie in the Metro is a madcap tour the city of light through the eyes of an eleven-year-old agent provocateur. And for another delightful Parisian soufflé, try Daniel Pennac’s mysteries featuring the offbeat Malaussène family (try The Fairy Gunmother). Pennac may be already known to you as the creator of the Readers’ Bill of Rights, first featured in his delightfully irreverent Better Than Life.

“Noir”: Georges Gerfault thinks he’s been in a Continue reading “Parlez-vous French Fiction?”