Friday, June 15, 2012

What I'm Reading -- French Edition

I'm NOT reading the offerings in this bookstore across the street from my apartment

Traveling for me can be as much about what I’ll be reading as what I’ll be packing.  For a long trip, like this summer’s five weeks in France, I want to be reading with intention, especially since this is as much as anything a trip to focus on my writing.  The literature for a trip like this goes a bit sideways of the beside-the-pool-summer-bestseller selections.  Without getting too heavy, the books I like take me deeper into a trip by letting me think about where I am and who I am.

No, no, wait.  It’s not as stuffy as all that.  It’s just that I want to read something that gives me more history than the placards alongside the doors of the 16th century grand mansions or something that gives me a bit different perspective about how to travel well (we spend so much more time considering the “where” than the “how”).  And, of course, for this writing trip (it’s not all crème brûlée and crêpes), I’ll need some writing inspiration.

So for your week-end consideration, here is short tour of my France reading list.

Emile Zola Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies’ Paradise) and J’Accuse
Dijon has a square near our apartment called Place Emile Zola.  One of the oldest restaurants there is called “The Germinal” after one of the writer’s most significant epic works that dramatized the fall of the bourgeoisie and the rise of the worker.  The Ladies’ Paradise continues along that vein as part of a series of books about a single Paris family that grows its wealth through the large department store it owns.  In this book Zola takes on the growth of 19th century capitalism and consumer culture, changing sexual attitudes, and class conflict.  J’Accuse is Zola’s protest of how the French government handled the Dreyfus Affair.  These may not seem like light vacation reading, but Zola was interested in how the environment shaped behavior, so his novels give me an understanding of French culture in a way no guidebook or history book can.

Phil Cousineau The Art of Pilgrimage
Cousineau examines how travelers engage with each new place they encounter.  He offers anecdotes and lessons that teach us how to build a personal journey and savor our moments.  He doesn’t propose all trips should be religious expeditions, but shows us how to travel with intention so that we see more than just the sites when we are on the road.  If you are only an armchair traveler, the book can show you how to simply journey through your own place or day with more intention and awareness.

Lavinia Spalding Writing Away This book teaches me both how to travel and how to write.  It’s all about keeping a travel journal, even down to what writing tool to use (never, ever, ever use a pencil for a journal).  With my pile of trusty Moleskine notebooks, I’ve vowed on this trip to journal more consistently than I have in the past.  Spalding will make sure I get it done.

Eric Maisel A Writer’s Paris
I may not make it to Paris this trip, and I won’t take up residence in France for a year as he does in this book, but Maisel does let writers see how necessary stepping outside of daily routine and declaring a writing sabbatical can be to productivity.  His exercises and examples of new routines work even if all you can manage is to squeak out a long weekend only a few miles from home.  The greatest danger of this, however, is that you will be tempted to use the place you visit as an escape rather than as inspiration.  Don’t worry -- he is great at guilting you into put your nose to the task.  Even if you’re not a writer in Paris, all of his cultural and historical anecdotes and sidebars make it a unique travelogue to that endlessly fascinating city.  Or you could apply all of his techniques to any other extended creative endeavor you resist completing.

Sven Birkerts The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again
With memoir’s “careful manipulation of vantage point, it gives artistic form to what is the main business of our ongoing inner life.”  Birkerts examines several literary memoirs (as opposed to the merely sensational ones) to discuss how the writer’s present self can reflect back on his present self, reflecting on patterns encountered in events rather than simply giving in to chronology as a guiding structure.  I haven’t gotten very far in it, but the odds are in this book’s favor right now.

And so begins my summer in France.  If you’ve read any of these books, please jump in with your own review.  If you have any other recommendations for books on how to travel well, by all means do not keep them to yourself.  Please share in the comments box.

And as I was asking before I left town, if you have anything you’d like to suggest as blog post or photo themes, let me know.  Some suggestions or photos may not make it into blogs, but “friend” me on Facebook where I’ll also be posting verbal or digital snapshots of the trip.

Calling all culinary experts!  Be the first person to tell me what this kitchen tool is that I found in the utensil drawer of my apartment.  If a web search shows you are correct you WIN A PRIZE.  For enlightening me so thoroughly you’ll win a postcard from France (everybody likes real mail, right?)  Yes, I know it’s not the same as winning an actual trip to France, but leave your answer in the comments box, along with how I can contact you further for your address if you’re a winner.


Karen said...

Julie, I think it may be a zester.

ginabmg said...

Guessing its a strawberry huller???

Sara Walpert Foster said...

No idea what the tool is although I like the strawberry huller option. Are you reading the Zola in French? One of my goals this summer is to learn French, since my children know so much more than I do and I love the language and country. Any recommendations for online or tape programs or other tips that might help me?

Julie Farrar said...

Oh heavens, no, Sara. Not in French. If you read my latest FB post you'll see I can't even order dinner right in the language. I've tried a few different CD's to help learn it, but I never stuck with them because I had already picked up tons on my own from being over here. I didn't need to know how to ask how much for a hotel. I needed to have conversations with people speaking at gatling gun speed. My vocabulary is big but my grammar is poor. So I have taken classes from Alliance Francaise classes in my town. If you have an AF near you they are good. It's native speakers of French so you get all sorts of idioms, cultural background, different accents, etc. This spring we spent the class translating the lyrics of French popular music. In choosing a class make sure everyone is at your level of dedication.

Nadine Feldman said...

Not a clue, Julie! Kitchen gadgets are a mystery to me.

Your reading list sounds fascinating. Can't wait to hear more!

Anonymous said...

I think my mom would call this a "thingamajig." Not sure what it could be used for. Poking holes in to tops of those crusty French fruit pies to let the steam out?
I like your reading list, and I think will try the Spalding book. I reread a lot of Hemingway stuff and then read The Paris Wife by Paul McLain, a fictional account of Hemingway's wife on living with H. in Paris. I enjoyed it.

Julie Farrar said...

Still haven't figured out the thingamajig. I'll have to do a tour of the kitchen shops around here. But that's depressing because I can't buy everything I see since it's too expensive to ship home. Another reason to buy an apartment here. The McClain book came out right after I read Hemingway's Moveable Feast. I loved considering the other side.

Jeanne Ryan said...

I think the strawberry huller guess sounds reasonable. I was thinking a cherry pitter, even though I have no idea what one looks like.

Five weeks in France sounds devine. I'll be following your blog so I can get a vicarious visit myself.

Julie Farrar said...

I've tried to find pictures of these suggestions on the internet, but it hasn't shown up yet. Still wondering.

brenda said...

I have not read the books you mentioned, but I am keen to read Writing Away. I'll have to look for it. I read Getaway Car after you mentioned it, loved it, and wrote my first every letter to an author, after.. It was cool. I am looking forward to reading of your travels.

Anonymous said...

Hello Martine say
I think the subject on the photo is a "allume-gaz", it serves to light the burners of the stove that works with gas.

Julie Farrar said...

No, I don't think it's an allume gaz because there is no place to make a flame. Thanks for your suggestion, Martine. I think tomorrow I just have to take it with me to a couple of kitchen stores across town.

Astra said...

I am envious and hope the inspiration you seek lies in your readings and in your surroundings! It cannot be an Allume Gaz and be dishwasher safe (as the symbol suggests), right? Not sure... maybe a trusser of some kind?

Julie Farrar said...

Oo, a trusser. It seems like the light blue part should open, but I haven't achieved that yet (afraid I'll break it), but one could possibly put string in there. I definitely have a mission tomorrow.

Claire said...

Hello Julie

I am pretty sure it is a piezo gaz stove lighter - is there something to press on it that produces a click sound ? If so have a look inside the end bit when you press and you should see a little spark, that's what's supposed to light the gas, not a flame.
Interesting blog too !


Claire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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