“Reading is an act of resistance”

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Egan, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad. She was in Paris to celebrate the launching of her latest book The Candy House in French, as well as participating in Festival America. I belong to a writing group through AAWE (Association of American Women in Europe). Through a unique partnership of AAWE, Editions Robert Laffont, and AAWE, Jennifer spoke at the beautiful American Center for Art and Culture in the 16ème. My writing group had the honor of being volunteers at the event on Friday.

Lorie Lichtlen, interviewer. Jennifer Egan, author, Margueritee Cappelle, translator

I’m embarrassed to admit that before this summer I had not read any of her books. When I learned she was making a special appearance at ACAC, I read three of her books backwards! First the Candy House (2022), then Manhattan Beach (2016), and finally A Visit from the Goon Squad (2011). My overall impression was that this was one brilliant woman who had an ultra creative mind and was also very complex. I wasn’t sure I understood The Candy House very well and resorted to reading reviews in the NYTimes and New Yorker. I was a bit afraid that I wouldn’t be able to follow her thinking.

Signing both French and English language books

I had absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Jennifer walked into the venue with a backpack slung over her shoulder, a simple black top, a short skirt, and knee high boots. She greeted everyone with a huge smile. The room filled up with a large Franco-American crowd of at least one hundred people. Answering questions posed by the interviewer, she gave generous, thoughtful answers and captured everyones’ hearts. When someone asked her “Do you think young people are still reading?” her response got a rocking spontaneous applause. “Reading is the only way that someone can step into someone else’s head. The world now is full of devices. My sons have told me that apps are built to be addictive, but looking at the phone keeps you on the outside. I say put your device in another room and read for pleasure. Nobody is selling you anything when you read a book. Reading is an act of resistance!”

When asked about her favorite books, she responded, House of Mirth by Edith Warton and The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. “To me, they describe America.” When she signed the book I bought, she was as generous with her dedication as she was with her responses. It was clear to me that Jennifer was having fun. She used that word multiple times in describing her writing, how she wrote, what inspired her, how her thought processes went.

Opening Night Ceremony of Festival America

I mentioned that she was here as a part of Festival America. FA was founded twenty years ago by a Frenchman who wanted to shine a light on American writers who were under-represented by the media. African American authors, indigenous authors, Asian-American authors. It has evolved into an every other year celebration of American authors. “An unparalleled event, the AMERICA festival (invites), every two years in Vincennes (Val-de-Marne, France), around 70 authors from North America (United States, Canada, Quebec, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti). Since 2002, it has set itself the goal of celebrating diversity on the other side of the Atlantic – a cultural mosaic that is Indian, Hispanic, African, Anglo-Saxon, French and Francophone – and giving the public the opportunity to better understand their cultural realities.”-actes-sud.fr

Leila Mottley

I had read recently that a nineteen year old young woman from Oakland, Leila Mottley, was long-listed for the Man Booker prize. Her book, Nightcrawling, has been applauded everywhere, translated into French, and won the Festival America prize at the end of the festival. I was so surprised to see her on the stage with the other authors. Afterwards, I saw her and told her that I was probably the only other person in the building from Oakland. She didn’t seem particularly impressed!

“A news item inspired Leila Mottley to write her novel, the first manuscript that she dared to intend for publication” writes Le Point, a french magazine, “In 2016, the media talked a lot about the rape of a young girl by the police and I was struck to see that we knew nothing about it. (Yet) they kept showing how the police lived the case. Women of color are particularly the target of violence because the law does not protect them in the same way. By imagining Kiara, I wanted to give the visibility she didn’t have at the time to this young black woman, to her world. And, to follow her into the night of prostitution, she had herself reread by a sex worker.”

I haven’t read the book yet but am so proud of her, a follow Oakland resident. A friend told me that the Bay Area Book Festival, in conjunction with the Oakland Museum, is planning an event for her in April, on the launch date of the paperback. Leila was asked to say something at the Opening Ceremony and she giggled like the teenager she is and spoke eloquently about what matters to her. She is something.

To finish this blog, I’m including a video of the Native Americans who performed a drumming concert for us.

A bientôt,

Sara

The Silent Generation

My sister is a prolific reader. She recommends wonderful books I might not have stumbled on had she not alerted me. A couple of weeks ago, she suggested I read Deborah Cohen’s Last Call at The Hotel Imperial: The Reporters who took on a World at War (Random House, 2022). It is so new that I had to recommend it to the American Library in Paris. I have found it to be one of those non-fiction books that is so well-written, it is easy to forget that it is not a novel. Cohen tells the story of the foreign correspondents who went to Europe, Asia, Russia (I know Russian is considered Asia but….) and chased down any emerging story. Some went to great lengths to get an interview before their friends, who were also competitors, got there first. This is definitely not Fox News where those guys sit in comfy chairs telling the world how it should think, what their truths are, and haven’t moved an inch to talk to anyone except those who 100% agree with them.

On page 110, Ms. Cohen was describing “the so-called Lost Generation“. “Eventually the term “Lost Generation” came specifically to denote the American writers and expatriates who, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, had ‘grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.’ Disillusioned by the Great War, alienated by American materialism, they’d moved to Europe in the 1920s, embracing what the critic Malcolm Cowley called ‘salvation by exile.’ ” “In using the term “lost,” psychologists were referring to the “disoriented, wandering, directionless” feelings that haunted many survivors of what had been one of the most horrific wars in modern history.”–Robert Longley at ThoughtCo

Actress Betty Field Dances in Party Scene From “The Great Gatsby”. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images 

This doesn’t sound so different from today. So many Americans, disillusioned by the state of affairs in the US that have followed one war after another that the US can’t win, are moving over here (Europe). Some say it’s worse now than it was then. But how does one gauge how bad something is. Many of those correspondents saw and wrote about Germany and the threat of Hitler. Maybe it’s only worse now because we are in the middle of it, day by excruciating day, waiting for the next body blow. I’ve read the above paragraph by Cohen many times. I have found some solace in it. I didn’t move here because of the politics but I have stayed here because it seems like a nicer, kinder place to live. I’m sure many French people would disagree with me. Their politics hit them the way American politics hits me. Cohen goes on to say that by 1930, “the dividends had evaporated, adult life beckoned, the half-finished novel would be put away. The “exiles” were returning, sobered-up and broke, newly conscious (perhaps) of the ties that bound them to other Americans.” p. 111.

I’m writing this because I often feel torn. There is a very good chance that democracy won’t survive what’s happening in the US. From over here, it seems the Democrats are whimpering along not doing much about the everyday decisions coming out of a very biased Supreme Court. My own opinion about the war in Ukraine is that the more Europe and US gets involved, the more likely a war on a much larger scale will break out. How can it not? And will it take violence, death, and hostile killings to find out if Democracy can still survive? It is only through a few flukes that the “good guys” won WWII.

I can’t imagine what I can do if I were living in the US that I can’t do here. Democrats Abroad is a vibrant organisation and very active. I feel much closer to the ‘action’ by going to DA meetings and meeting interesting people and politicians who travel and stop in Paris to talk to us. The amount of e-mails I get on a daily basis from so many organisations who want to crush Republicans but are loud, hostile, nasty, and sound just like the Republicans they say they want to get rid of is extraordinary. I unsubscribe to at least three a day but, just like Medusa, six more come the next day. They consider themselves completely entitled to access my e-mail then scream at me in order to shame me into giving my life savings to something that is probably not working. I even wrote one person running for Congress in California. I asked that he tell me what he stands FOR; that I was tired of hearing how awful his opponents are. I never heard back.

I wrote last week that many bloggers like me, non-professional opinionators, feel numb, unable to write. Thoughts like the ones that have been swirling around my brain, I believe, occur to try and break us out of sleep-walking, out of an overwhelm that is crushing. People get involved in world activities for many reasons. One of the main ones is an attempt to feel some power in a powerless world. “I’m doing something, I have a voice. Where can my voice best be heard?”

All of this has been going on in my head and reading Last Call at the Hotel Imperial has gotten me writing. If only to put down on paper the hard questions. Where can I be useful? How can I be useful? Am I doing enough already? Can writing words be a tool that I can use to make a difference? If 300 people read what I write, does that make a difference?

There aren’t any answers. But it is good to ask the questions. If I, and others like me, keep asking the questions, individual answers may get clearer.

Taking a selfie

Why did I title this blog The Silent Generation? I wanted to know if any research showed similarities to the Lost Generation and today. The Silent Generation is about to outnumber the Baby Boomers of which I’m a part of. The Silent Generation is the most materialistic and tech savvy generation. The Silent Generation feels let down by adults and politicians (who don’t always act like adults). The Lost Generation was undereducated and the Silent Generation is overeducated but both ended up feeling ill-prepared for the world they have been let loose in. In France, they don’t vote. In the US, their passion lies mostly with Climate Change. This generation has “…the highest level of stress than any other generation, suggesting a need for more conversation surrounding mental health and the pressures facing recent graduates.”–Evan Brown, The Warped Similarities Between Millennials and the Lost Generation (2020). This only underscores the questions I ask myself. What do I owe this generation? I often look at the future as I see it in my head and I’m grateful I may not be alive to see the worst of it.

And the questions just keep coming?

A bientôt,

Sara

When Writers Come to Paris

Because I live in Paris and because I love the American Library in Paris, I get to meet some great writers. I’m fairly sure this wouldn’t happen to me anywhere else. Paris is small for a world class city. Everyone comes to Paris. When Audrey Chapuis, Director of the American Library, introduced Ann Patchett at the Yearly ALP Gala last Thursday evening, she told us that Ann had sworn off traveling after the pandemic. Wasn’t going to do much anymore. But when offered the opportunity to speak at the largest fund raiser the Library has every year, she was easily persuaded. And I got to meet her. When I told her I was a budding author at 74 years old, she looked at me and said “Good for you!” Then she wrote ‘Write often, read everything, love in Paris’ on the title page of her latest book of essays These Precious Days.

Anne Patchett

Maybe it doesn’t mean much to the average person but it certainly does to me. I got to meet Ann Patchett! She wrote to me personally in my book. I’ve read the inscription every day. It makes me smile. Then comes the problem: when one’s favorite writers are people like Ann Patchett and George Saunders, it is hard not to compare my written words to their written words. They are great writers (in my humble opinion). Not only that, they are great speakers. It is not every author who is also someone who can captivate an audience. You can hear Ann’s talk on YouTube on the Library Channel. And if you haven’t already done so, listen to Saunders’ commencement speech on Kindness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruJWd_m-LgY

I’ve been writing creative non-fiction for over six years and a journal forever. I write this blog. I wrote a memoir of my eating disorder Saving Sara My Memoir of Food Addiction. I wrote another book with five women on the practicalities of abstaining from addictive binge foods. I’ve definitely honed my skills and learned the craft of writing non-fiction. Now I want to try my hand at fiction. I am a beginner. I love words. It shouldn’t be so hard to put a sentence together. Right? Wrong. With fiction, I first have to choose a Point of View (POV). In non-fiction, that’s a done deal, it’s my POV. Choosing the POV in novel writing is huge. Is it one of the main characters with all their baggage flavoring their thoughts? Is it a distant third person and the story is told from some unnamed observer?

I have an idea for a novel. I’ve had it for awhile now. It’s why I felt able to entertain the possibility of applying to the Stanford Writing Certificate program in novel writing. But to get into the program, as part of the application process, I have to submit 3000-6000 words of fiction. The application letter kindly says that it is ok to send in published work. They just want to know how the applicant writes. I not only don’t have published work, I don’t even have finished works. I have had to hire an editor to help me so that I don’t completely embarrass myself. She is the one who has stressed my need to pick a POV. I am a quick learner and I’m smart enough to know that if I were actually to write this novel, I need a structured environment with teaching and feedback to proceed. I just have to get in to the program.

Steven King started writing when he was nine years old. He started submitting his fiction to many different places when he was fourteen. Ann Patchett wrote as a teenager, published her first book when she was twenty-seven. George Saunders‘ story is more like mine. He wandered around doing many things in many different countries. I think he majored in a science in university. Since he started writing, he has won many awards including the Man Booker prize for his debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. And these are the people I find myself, hopelessly, comparing myself to. I told my editor. She said “That’s good. It means you will keep improving yourself.” I didn’t expect that.

A Class in a book for both writers and lovers of short stories.

So who else have I had the great good fortune to listen to while residing in Paris. Colsen Whitehead before he won the Pulitzer Prize; Richard Russo; Ta-Nehesi Coates was a visiting fellow and wrote most of his award winning book, Between the World and Me, down in a small cubicle reserved for Fellows; Lauren Collins, who writes for the New Yorker, married a frenchman and lives in Paris. She comes to the Library often to interview other writers. I subscribe to her newsletter and wonder if I ever could put together a sentence as she does.

Lauren Collins writes wonderful essays about France

Just a few days, I went to hear Colm Tóibín talk on James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’ve not yet been able to get through more than a few pages of Ulysses at a time. I went because it was Colm Tóibín. He wrote Brooklyn, made into a wonderful movie; The Magician about Thomas Mann another writer I tried to read but couldn’t get more than a few pages. (Colm told me to read Buddenbrooks. He said that was an easy book to read). Maybe it’s because he’s Irish! Mr. Tóibín makes anything sound fascinating. I loved The Magician and am now part way into The Master, his 2004 book on Henry James.

Colm Tóibín speaking at the American Library in Paris

I think you get the idea. I’m in Writing Mecca. If I can restrain the part of me that loves to say “You aren’t good enough,” I can listen and learn. I can say “Pay attention. Maybe one day you will be good enough.”

A bientôt,

Sara

Anatomy of a Scandal

During the winter, Netflix had a plethora of programs to choose from. It was a veritable paradise. Then the Award Shows came and went. Netflix and Amazon Prime slowed down their productions. (Netflix is having other problems but that is another post). One night three weeks ago, I decided to take a chance on a limited series called “Anatomy of a Scandal” starring Lady Mary. Her name is actually Michelle Dockery but who remembers that? It seemed to be just another British courtroom drama. I can’t tell you if it is a good production but it was/is a surprising show. With all the news about #MeToo and #Weinstein and all the women who have come forward, not one thing I’ve read has addressed the theme of ‘consent’ in the way this series does.

The plot involves a charismatic junior member of Parliament, married with two children, who has been accused of rape. He has allegedly raped a woman that he’d been having an affair with but had ended the relationship. The rape happened a week later. The man, James Whitehouse, is on trial but really on trial is the question of what does consent mean? We, the readers, are treated to the thinking of a number of women who aren’t sure how to say ‘no’. Who question their own sanity when a boy/man says “I’m just kidding”. Who don’t know their own mind when it comes to sex. Who aren’t sure whether going along with a boy’s wishes will help the relationship to continue. In other words, about 90% of us women.

I googled “How to talk about sex”. This is part of what I got.

When I was growing up, we had to take Sex Ed courses. It was embarrassing. No one wanted to take the classes and if we did, we didn’t know how to take them seriously. No classes were given to just us girls on how to make decisions about sex. We were only told ‘don’t have sex.’ Peyton Place was popular on TV and that was our sex education. I remember hearing boys talking about how when ‘no really means yes.’ I never knew how to think about any of this stuff.

The movie Peyton Place was soon followed by a three year evening soap opera that introduced the world to Mia Farrow

This show tackles all this. It defines rape within a marriage. I’ve always said that I have never been raped. In fact, I was. By a boyfriend who would not hear No when I kept saying it. We were on a vacation and had had an argument. I’m sure that he never for a moment gave it a second thought, that that time might have been problematic for me. And I’m sure that when we broke up months later, it never occurred to him that what had happened on vacation had had a huge impact on my feelings towards him. I didn’t say anything, I was too confused myself.

Probably not the original book cover

After I finished watching the show, I discovered that I had the original book by Sarah Vaughn on my Kindle. I have no idea how long it has been there. At least two weeks had gone by since I finished the show so I started to read the book. Again, I can’t tell you if it’s good literature. It’s very compelling. It’s a best seller according to the latest cover. The series changed aspects of the story as so many do when going from book to TV but the basic premise is the same. When does ‘No’ mean ‘No’ no matter if one is in a relationship or not. And in both the book and the series, the horror of what the ‘victim’ has to reveal in front of who knows how many people and still she may not be believed. The man is always right unless proved otherwise beyond any reasonable doubt.

Right now in the US, white men, with the aid of one woman, who call themselves Judges are in the process of taking choice away from women. Most of my grown up life has been with Roe vs Wade. But now that may disappear. It is okay for men to rape their girlfriends (and others) but the women have no say in whether to end a pregnancy that may result. From the vantage point of France, the US keeps looking more and more insane. Backward and very, very mean. I don’t want to get into discussing Roe vs Wade and what’s going on because of the Supreme Court leak. There are so many places to read opinions on that. But how it relates to men and rape….well, I think that is huge.

I think more books are going to be published on this subject. I saw a review of one that will be published in the Fall. However, Anatomy of a Scandal is one I really recommend because of the treatment. There are two rapes in the book both by the same person but different in nature. We are flies on the wall to courtroom scenes where a woman is torn to shreds to reveal her experience. We are privy to thoughts of the wife and one of the rape victims. And there is the whole issue of white male entitlement. This probably sounds like yet another angry woman but these things are real. People are fighting and lying and doing dirty deeds to keep these things in place. Women may have the vote (maybe that will be taken away also), women may be able to work outside the house though it will be a rare day when the average woman can earn the same salary as the average man in the same position.

There is a movie. I don’t know how old it is. The title is What Do Women Want? I never saw it and have no right to discuss it. But the title…..I remember thinking back when it came out that I hated the title. Who was this film maker to make a joke of this. But the truth was, I had very little idea what I wanted. Not just sexually but professionally, with friendships. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky. I have good friends though I’ve had to drop a few a long the way as they belonged to another life. I literally fell into work that I loved and had the same career for thirty-four years. I retired while I still could do other things. I worked for the Mayor of Oakland and had a three year course in civics. I couldn’t have bought that in a university. And now I live in Paris, am learning French in my 70s, and applying to Stanford University!

But none of the above is any indication of the chatter of questions that go on in my mind. Wondering, always wondering if I’m good enough, kind enough, thoughtful enough, have I done enough, am I lazy, on and on. Nothing I’m sure that the rest of us aren’t asking ourselves on a daily basis.

I’m curious. Who of my readers has seen the series or read the book? Did it inspire any ruminating within you as it did with me? Please leave a comment so I know how others around the world are thinking presently about this topic.

A bientôt,

Sara

It’s never too late and you’re never too old

About half a mile south walking distance on La Petite Ceinture, is one of those “free libraries” boxes that seem to be popping up all over the world. It’s a box with a two door glass front up on stilts where people leave books and are encouraged to take a book. This wonderful invention is just becoming popular in France. I find them in the most remarkable places. “My” free library has both French and English language books. I’ve found a 1937 beautifully printed book of Baudelaire poems and, in the same trip, a Harry Bosch detective thriller.

My little “free library” with buildings from Blvd de Montmorency reflected off the glass doors.

I walk down there two or three times a week and just peruse through the offerings as if I were at a regular library. I never expect much but am sometimes refreshingly surprised. As I was last week when I found Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr. Ms. Doerr was seventy-four years old when Stones was published in 1984. I know this because someone I knew well back then had been in a writing class with her. When I complained that I was getting too old to write a book (I was thirty-seven at the time), Ms. Doerr was held up as an example to me that you can never be too old. I immediately bought the book and read it. As I said I was thirty-seven years old. Since I don’t remember much of the story except that it took place in a small village in Mexico, I’m hypothesising that I didn’t read books the same way I do now. Of course, I still read so fast that I often worry that I don’t retain anything. I think that back then, and especially with Ms. Doerr’s book, I read it competitively and negatively. ‘What does she have that I don’t have?’ Well, for one thing, she knew how to put a sentence together using a spare amount of words but had a big punch.

I wrote about La Petite Ceinture four and a half years ago when I first moved to the 16ème.

When I saw Stones for Ibarra in that little free library on La Petite Ceinture in the 16ème, it was like being struck in the head with a 2 x 4. A wake up call? Maybe. Of course, I grabbed it as if it were a precious jewel. As soon as I got home, I started to read it. It’s a beautiful little novel. Her language is sparse, engaging, and poetic. I immediately googled her and learned that she’d thought about writing as a young girl (she was born in 1910). She met her husband to be in her teens and eventually left Stanford University to marry him. It was after his death, when she was in her mid-60s, that one of her sons encouraged her to go back to college and get her Bachelors degree. She graduated from Stanford in 1977. She began writing while at Stanford, earned a Stegner Fellowship in 1979, and soon began publishing short stories. One of her writing professors got her into the Post-Graduate Writing program. And at the age of 74, she published her first book.

Three days ago, I got an e-mail from the Stanford Continuing Education Writing Certificate program. I was being invited to an informational Zoom meeting about their two-year writing program. I’m seventy-four.

I wrote a first book. It was published when I was seventy-two. I wasn’t writing the great American novel though I did hope it would sell better than it did. I wrote the book to let people suffering with a debilitating eating disorder know that there was hope and that I’d found a solution that worked long-term for me and many others.

Writing a book is hard work. And they say that writing a second book is even harder than writing a first book. I decided I wouldn’t do it. That I was too old. That I didn’t have the energy. But I couldn’t help writing chapters anyway and telling myself it was just for me because I like to write.

Then I found Stones for Ibarra. Then I get the e-mail from Stanford. Nobody I know believes in coincidences. It’s just what you do with them. I have an idea. That’s always a good start! I also have limited energy. So…. well, between writing the first paragraph of this blog and this last sentence, I accepted the invitation to go to the informational meeting. That’s called one step at a time and also called no commitments. I can always change my mind—about everything! But, it is true that I, and you, are never too old.

In case anyone is wondering how very cold it is here in Paris, here is a photo I took of the snow outside my window on Saturday.

We had no summer last year, it was so cold and everyone is crossing fingers for a warmer summer this year. This is not a good start!

For those of you who are visiting France soon or entertaining a visit, here is a blog by David Lebovitz. He usually writes about food but this has a lot of information about requirements and what’s happening here. https://davidlebovitz.substack.com/p/covid-update-for-visiting-france?s=r

A bientôt,

Sara

Food Junkies

Welcome to all who listened to my interview on the food junkies podcast. You were given the wrong website address. I write another blog and you can find it at: http://www.saving-sara.com.

To all the rest of you, May is my one year anniversary of the publication of my book Saving Sara A Memoir of Food Addiction. I have been writing that other blog as a companion: to help people know that food addiction is a real disease, to learn something about it, and to let them know where to get more information. I was interviewed recently on the Food Junkies podcast: https://foodjunkies.libsyn.com/episode-18

So if you know someone who seems to have a problem with food–either overeating or undereating, and you suspect it’s a bigger problem than just losing a few pounds, send them over to the other blog. They will be able to tell for themselves if they identify or not.

If anyone lives in Europe, would like to buy the book, but does not want to support Amazon, please write to me with your address and I will send you a copy. I’m told that The Red Wheelbarrow in Paris also carries it. In the United States, support independent bookstores by buying it at: http://www.bookshop.org.

More about Paris and vaccines and déconfinement soon!

A bientot,

Sara

Reading in Lockdown- Part 2

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

James Baldwin

BOOK POWER
by Gwendolyn Brooks

BOOKS FEED AND CURE AND
CHORTLE AND COLLIDE

In all this willful world
of thud and thump and thunder
man’s relevance to books
continues to declare.

Books are meat and medicine
and flame and flight and flower,
steel, stitch, and cloud and clout,
and drumbeats in the air.

If you have never heard of or read Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, now might be the time to discover her newsletter. In lockdown, we have the opportunity to read much more than we usually do. Why is reading important?

“Someone reading a book is a sign of order in the world,”wrote the poet Mary Ruefle. “A book is a heart that beats in the chest of another,” Rebecca Solnit asserted in her lyrical meditation on why we read and write. But whatever our poetic images and metaphors for the varied ways in which books transform us — “the axe for the frozen sea within us,” per Franz Kafka, or “proof that humans are capable of working magic,”per Carl Sagan — the one indisputable constant is that they do transform us, in ways which we may not always be able to measure but can always feel in the core of our being.

Maria Popova

I love to read. I probably read a book a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. It is a great distraction when the noise of the world is coming at me too fast and too furious. Most days, I prefer a good book to TV or Netflix. When I read a wonderful piece of literature like Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow, my breath is taken away. Being a writer myself, I find myself admiring how each sentence is made up of everyday words placed in perfect order to bring a vision to mind and to feel like one is there. That is genius.

When I read a good mystery writer, Peter Robinson, Val McDermid (some might say she is more thriller), and now Tana French, I am transported to a world I hope I never visit but get a glimpse of. The best mystery writers write literature not just a fast paced, stay awake all night, who done it. And when the books are a series as with Peter Robinson or the great Donna Leon, whose Ispetattore Brunetti is beloved the world over, we become part of a family one only knows from reading. It is such a treat and we await the next chapter of the “family’s fortunes” as one waits for Christmas as a child.

This lockdown will end. The pandemic will pass eventually. Maybe some of us will have slowed down enough that we love it, don’t want to speed up again as before Covid-19 made it’s deathly visit on earth. Many of us will look to re-invent ourselves into what we’ve learned about the best of ourselves. If there is one constant in life it’s that things change–always. But reading, and learning from reading, and being inspired by reading is always available to us. So I encourage you to start now. Read an inspiring book during the day and an escapist book at night. The worlds you will travel will almost make up for the traveling we cannot do at the moment.

A bientôt,

Sara

Reading in Lockdown

My friend, Janet Hulstrand, a wonderful writer, sent out a blog today that championed buying books and supporting authors. I am reblogging her blog as no one could say it better. I would only add that the wonderful website: http://www.bookshop.org supports independent bookstores and even gives a percentage of its profits to the support of these wonderful bookstores trying to stay alive during the Pandemic. I wish we had it over here.

How You (Yes, You!) Can Help Writers by Janet Hulstrand

Buy books if you can afford to. If you have “too many books”… (But is there really such a thing? Most writers, and even many readers, don’t really think so…Too few bookshelves, certainly. But too many books? Ridiculous!). But anyway, if you think you have too many books, well then, buy them, read them, then give them to friends, or better yet to the library or other places that accept used books–hospitals? prisons? schools?

Buy new books if you can afford to. The reason for this is that if you buy used books, the only entity to make any money is whomever is selling the book. The publisher gets nothing: the author gets nothing. This makes it hard for authors and publishers to stay alive! So do what you can. If you really need to buy used books (and believe me, I understand if you do) you can still write reviews, and that will help authors and publishers.

Review books on Amazon or GoodReads. I think it is absolutely wonderful that we no longer have to rely only on professional book reviewers to tell us about books. Having said that, I think it’s only right that if we’re going to be influencing people’s decisions about whether or not to buy (or read) a book we should be fair about it. Here is a post I wrote about how to be fair when writing a review. (Most people don’t know HOW MUCH these reviews help writers: they help A LOT! And they are so easy to do. I explain how easy it is also, in that same post.)

Buy from indie bookstores, in person or online. My own personal favorite indies are the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore in Paris, and BonjourBooksDC and Politics and Prose in the Washington DC area. But there are wonderful indie bookstores pretty much everywhere, and they need our support! If you’re not near a store, you can buy books online from many indies: and even if your local indie doesn’t sell online, you can support indie bookstores by purchasing books online from IndieBound or Bookshop.org.And now just two please-don’ts:

Please don’t ask your writer friends if you can have free copies of their books (!) They need their friends and family members to BUY their books, and then tell all their friends about the book, and write reviews of their books, and give their friends gifts of the book, and…like that. (You can trust me on this. They really do!! Writing books is not such an easy way to make a living: indeed, this is a huge understatement.) 

Please don’t go to indie bookstores to browse and then buy the books online from you-know-who. How do you think the indie booksellers are going to pay the rent on that lovely space they are providing for you, where you can hang out and spend time with other booklovers, and go to cool book events, if you don’t buy books from them? Hmm? I mean, really. Think it through! This post spells out some of the many reasons why it’s good to support indie bookstores. Well, anyway, I hope as you consider your holiday shopping this year, you will consider doing some of the above. It’s been a hard year, especially for small businesses, including indie bookstores. So I trust you will do what you can to help them out. They deserve it! 

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

A bientôt,

Sara

Day 14 of “le confinement”

Two weeks ago today, President Macron urged people to voluntarily self-isolate, do the obvious: don’t ‘bises’, stay 2 meters away from each other, cough into your elbow, etc. Since then, he has had to resort to draconian measures to get us to pay attention. At last count, France has 29,155 cases of Covid-19 and 1,696 deaths. We have been given a new ‘passport’ to carry with us, replacing the one from two weeks ago. This one asks us to put the time and date when we leave our apartment and adds two more reasons to leave. However, the old is still good, until further notice, as long as you write in the date and time and the reason if it is not on the original.

The weather has mostly been lovely although it has turned cold again. I think that will change this coming week. The papers show us eerily beautiful photos of Paris completely empty of people and cars. The police that have been stopping people and checking their ‘passports’ are backing off as a couple of them have died from the virus. Five doctors have died from the virus. Macron has brought in the military to help out the overworked protectors of the people.

I, and I assume most of you, have been getting e-mails from every service and store that has your e-mail address telling you that they have your best interest at heart, where to get more information on-line and how much they care about you. It has caused me to actually think that this is the perfect time to reflect on all our relationships. Are we keeping connected to the most important ones? Are we reaching out to someone over 70 that you care about just to see how they are? What would we change, if anything, in our relationships to these stores and services? Have your priorities changed in any way due to staying in your home? Like the Count in A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles), do you think that “the endeavors that most modern men saw as urgent (such as appointments with bankers and the catching of trains), probably could have waited, while those they deemed frivilous (such as cups of tea and friendly chats)..deserved their immediate attention.” p. 391. These are life-changing times and reflection is a pursuit worth having a cup of tea with.

In other areas of life, yesterday was Opening Day of Baseball in the USA. The fields of green were empty and baseball fans around the world mourned. Rogers Hornsby, when asked how he spends the winter said,“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball, I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” Dan Barry wrote a lovely imaginative piece about yesterday’s Opening Day game: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/sports/baseball/baseball-opening-day-coronavirus.html My friend, Georgia, told me that her father once said “There are two seasons in the year. Baseball season and the void.” When I lived in California, I felt that way. Starting from the day after the end of the World Series, I would start counting down the days to Spring Training. Most teams had a Fanfest sometime in January and thousands of fans would pour into stadiums around America. When I moved to Paris, friends asked me ‘how can you leave your beloved Oakland Athletics behind?” I don’t have an answer for that. I subscribe to MLB.com audio and listen to all the games I can. The A’s, being on the West Coast, are the hardest. Only matinee games on the East Coast came on at a time I could actually listen. Now there will be nothing, but I still have my subscription. Just in case……

In another part of the sports section, I read that hospital masks are being sewn out of baseball uniforms. Soon health care professional will be sporting the the stripes of the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies.

I wish you all the best of weekends in our new, organically evolving times. This too shall pass.

A bientôt,

Sara

What to do during a Pandemic or how I spent my Lockdown being happy!

The sun is out in Paris. It’s quite cold. It’s very quiet-except at 8 (20:00)H in the evening. Then we are all out on our balconies clapping and cheering. Day 7 of lockdown. People have been sending me wonderful videos that make me laugh out loud. Others are sending ideas of what to do with my time. I keeping a list of everything because I think that once I do all the cleaning and organizing that I haven’t down since…forever, I will want these pieces of advice.

Here are 450 Ivy League courses you can take online right now for free. https://www.freecodecamp.org/news/ivy-league-free-online-courses-a0d7ae675869/ I grew up in Princeton. When I went to university, Princeton was still boys only. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have gotten in anyway. But now I have a chance to get that Ivy League Diploma I’ve always wished I had!!!

My friend, Nancy, back in Oakland (and who faithfully reads this blog! Thank you, Nancy) sent an e-mail with many idea to while away the time. The one that jumped out at me was: “Take this time to declutter and reorganize your home or apartment!” I’m already doing that but if I can get advice that will help me get it down faster and make it less complicated, I will use it. Some of these require shopping and I do hate to make Jeff Bezos richer but Amazon is delivering: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/tips/g2610/best-organizing-tips/?slide=3&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=5e727c0952ce250001ce37cc&utm_source=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941&agent_id=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941

Then, whether we are inside or out, the weather is going to get warmer so here’s how to prepare your clothes for winter storage: https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/storing-winter-clothes-36717824?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=5e727c0952ce250001ce37cc&utm_source=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941&agent_id=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941

My friend, Marjorie, who also is a devoted fan of this blog sent along a couple of real winners. First resources for free virtual museum tours: http://mcn.edu/a-guide-to-virtual-museum-resources/ She says the Vatican virtual tours are spectacular: http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/tour-virtuali-elenco.1.html Do you want to see Giselle at the Paris Opera: https://www.operadeparis.fr/en/magazine/giselle-in-replay The Guardian has links to the best theatre and dance to watch on-line: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/mar/17/hottest-front-room-seats-the-best-theatre-and-dance-to-watch-online as well as opera and music: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/mar/16/classical-music-opera-livestream-at-home-coronavirus

Movies….don’t have or want Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu, here are hundreds of free movies on-line: Classics, Noir, Westerns and Indies: http://www.openculture.com/freemoviesonline And while you are there, look at the thousands of other interesting and challenging things you can do.

But Sara, I do have Netflix and Amazon Prime. The New York Times updates its list of Best Of every day: https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-quarantine-what-to-watch.html I took one suggestion and binge watched “The Stranger” by Harlan Coben while I cleaned out a closet, re-organized my filing system, did filing and then re-organized the closet. The Guardian loves lists. The Best Books of 2020. The top 50 movies of the past decade.

I have to stop here. Everyone in the world must be on their computer. Mine is slower than a turltle in hot weather. So here’s your final tip. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming free every until it runs out of operas. And Neil Young will soon be streaming from his fireside. How cool is that: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/mar/22/standup-sistine-chapel-best-online-culture-self-isolation-coronavirus-live-streaming

Now turn the news off and enjoy this time!

A bientôt,

Sara

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