Sunday, February 10, 2008

Livres de jour. . .

Just back from a trip to Ottawa where we sold the summer lists and displayed our wares at a teacher's show. The trains were delayed both ways (allowing me to finish almost 200 pages of War and Peace), and I arrived home to find my car inextricably encased in a snowbank, but it was a busy show and the Ottawa librarians are always fun to visit. I'd like to give a little plug for Chez Lucien, a lovely, cozy French bistro at the eastern corner of the Market (at Murray and Dalhousie), which was first recommended to me by an Ottawa librarian (quite a few of them hang out there) and which has the added bonus of being open (along with its kitchen) after the normal lunch period. Two hungry and tired reps desperately in need of substinence after packing up the booth and preparing for a five hour train ride on which the food offerings are minimal at best, were very grateful. I highly recommend their burgers which come with salads and great frites.
Ottawa always works on my French language deficiency guilt. In Montreal, I just tend to feel like a dumb tourist; in Ottawa, I feel as if I'm somehow not living up to my civic duty. But there's so little opportunity to practice French in Toronto. So I make up for it by always trying to buy some French literature as my reading skills far outweigh my speaking ones. Last time I was in Ottawa, a French rep recommended some delightful children's books by Bénédicte Guettier featuring L'inspecteur Lapou, a rabbit who solves mysteries in the vegetable garden. I bought a collection of the tales in an anthology called Les Enquêtes du Potager.

I love the world weariness of Inspecteur Lapou. He looks as if he were the estranged French uncle of Peter Rabbit, his longer blue coat heavy on his shoulders, as if he carried not only all the worries of the silly vegetables on his back, but also the responsibility of upholding the dignity of all fictional rabbits since time immortal. These tales are great fun. I bought my copy at Librairie du Soleil in the Market, but I'm sure they are also available at French bookstores in Montreal and Toronto.
Always a sucker for beautifully packaged books, I couldn't help but be drawn to a series of Folio books, published by Gallimard, that were displayed right by the cash register. They were advertised as limited editions of classic books and they consist of the paperback along with a small brochure of autobiographical information about the author. But look at the slipcases that they come with! (As you can see below, I couldn't resist buying several).

So beautiful, so tactile. You can feel the flocked velvet and the cracks between the subway tiles. They look so decadent and mysterious lined up without their titles facing. I can't help gazing at them with the unabashedly greedy pleasure of a bookcollector. (And yes, I do plan to read them!) There were also books in the series by writers in translation such as Hemingway and Karen Blixen, but I only wanted to collect the French writers.
From left to right, the books are:
L’étranger by Albert Camus ( I love how the shiny foil slipcase, held in the right light, mimics the glare of the sun in Meursault's eyes - this was the first full novel I ever read in French and it still retains its narrative and philosophical power).
Terre des hommes by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (because who didn't love Le Petit Prince and want more?)
La vie devant soi by Romain Gary (I've never read this prolific writer, but this novel won the Prix Goncourt and I find it interesting that he was married to the troubled actress Jean Seberg who was so terrific in Goddard's Breathless and Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse. Plus the flocked velvet slipcase is so luxurious to caress.)
Zazie dans le métro by Raymond Queneau (how perfect are those subway tiles? I've read his wonderfully quirky Exercises in Style in English and have always wanted to read more by this founder of the experimental writing group, Oulipo.
Un barrage contre le Pacifique by Marguerite Duras. (It's hard to tell from the photo, but the slipcase actually feels like palm fronds. This novel continues more of the territory she explored in The Lover, about growing up in colonial Indochina).

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