Tuesday, June 08, 2004

le soif des livres francais/French book lust

I miss my books. Not just books in general, but my books, my Jane Austens and my poetry anthologies (Oh Walt Whitman! Tu me manques beaucoup!) and my Madeliene L'Engle. I hadn't realized how much I relied on their comforting prescence until I left them. Reading in French, I have a very physical sense of being in a foreign place. I've bought three books so far in France: Royaumes: 16 grands recits de Fantasy (Kingdoms: 16 Great Fantasy Short Stories, roughly translated), Futurs Anterieurs: 15 recits de litterature steampunk (Future Past: 15 Stories from Steampunk Literature), and Contes et legendes de Savoie (Stories and Legends of Savoy). Everything about reading and bookshopping is different for me in France. Reading in English is second nature, like breathing, I never have to think about the act of reading itself. In French, I've improved considerably, but it's work, and I don't always succeed. Rather like stumbling around in the dark, or trying to make your way through a dense forest, attacking vocabulary and idioms with my dictionary as my machete (way to extend that metaphor Anne!) At home, I'm in my element in a bookstore, so utterly comfortable in English-language literature; I feel completely unmoored in the realm of French lit. I read Madame Bovary and Guy de Maupassant in high school, but that's about the extent of my knowledge. Even the bookstores are organized strangely; une bibliotheque is a library, une librarie is a bookstore, and un bouquiniste seems to be a second-hand or used bookstore. All the books look more or less the same; they're all the same height with bland white covers. It's more expensive to get a book that resembles one published in America. You've got a number on the spine of the book, and a sign on the wall that lists the number and the corresponding price (i.e. all the books with a number 2 on the spine would cost say 2 euros). The French obviously do not have an appreciation of the codex as a physical object in and of itself. Les livres! They should be neat and tidy! Bien sur! Why would you want a fancy cover? Anyway, there's un bouquiniste--an antique bookstore--in the ancien ville, the mediveal part of town, and with any luck I'll finally be able to get inside. They keep French hours, like everywhere else here, which means they do business from "whenever we feel like opening" to "as soon as we want to go home." To paraphrase Douglas Adams, time is an illusion, French time doubly so. So cross your fingers, because I'm hoping to find a period copy of the contes des fees (fairy tales) of the 18th century--Charles Perrault, Madame d'Aulnoy, etc.


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