dimanche 30 novembre 2008


RWB is proud to invite everyone to the book launch of Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country by Robert V. Camuto on the 4th of December (Thursday) from 6-8 pm at Juveniles (47 rue Richelieu 75001). And because this will take place in a cosy little bar a vins, there will also be wine tasting for all oenophiles. We at RWB are looking forward to this event and we hope to see everyone there!!

jeudi 27 novembre 2008

Poetry night

Continuing RWB's tradition of hosting great poetry readings, we had a very interesting night of poetry with Beverley Bie Brahic, Elizabeth Haukass and Jonathan Regier last Tuesday. As always our evening began with an introduction by Penelope Le Masson and after a bit of deliberation amongst the three poets, it was decided that youth would come before experience....

So the poetry began with Jonathan, who read from his book Three Years from Upstate. He also took time to explain a little bit about the structure of his poems...

Up next was Elizabeth Haukaas, whose new book Leap will be available next year in the US. She read a series of selections from Leap whose main subject matter is a sobering one--that of a single mother dealing with children's illnesses.

And last (but definitely not the least) we had the wonderful Beverley who read a carefully chosen selection of her works from her book Against Gravity as well as her translations of Francis Ponge's poems. She read in a wonderfully cadenced way that allowed the audience to fully savor the lines of the poems.
Of course our wonderful audience couldn't resist asking the poets questions which they graciously answered..
And here are some pics of those who came and I dare say, enjoyed themselves thoroughly!

Up next for RWB is the book launch of Robert V. Camuto's book Corkscrewed. Write this date down, its going to be on the 4th of December (from 6-8) at the Juveniles wine bar 47 rue de Richelieu 75001. I'm sure that's going to be another fun evening!

jeudi 20 novembre 2008

Upcoming poetry night

Before the weekend comes upon us, I just wanted to send you all a reminder of our upcoming Night of Poetry on the 25th of November 2008 (7PM) with poets Beverley Bie Brahic, Elizabeth Haukass and Jonathan Regier. As with all our other readings at the RWB, this night promises to be a stimulating and exciting one and we are very much looking forward to seeing you all there!

A book to read under these dreary skies

I’ve found the perfect book for curling up in the sofa while snugly wrapped in your warmest throw. I spent many delicious hours reading Sandra Gulland’s newest book Mistress of the Sun. Sandra whose previous books were on the life of Josephine Bonaparte has turned her sights on Madame Louise de la Valière, the first Maitresse en titre of Louis XIV. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Louise de la Valière was born into a humble family. Early in life, she tames a wild horse through bone magic, an act which haunts her throughout her life. She believes that this act of transgression against her faith marks the beginning of her family’s disastrous descent starting with the untimely death of her father. After a series of events, she finds herself in the unlikely position of lady in waiting to the Princess Henriette, King Louis XIV’s sister in law. And such brings her to the attentions of the young Sun King, though their first meeting takes place long before she comes to court in a forest with either of them unknowing of the other’s real identity. When they meet again at Court, the King becomes enamored of the virtuous Petite, as she was known. Slowly she succumbs and they embark on a long affair resulting in four children. Despite the happiness their love affair brings her and the privileges her position affords her and her family, Petite is forever haunted by her conscience. In the end she must learn to find peace in the midst of her royal life.
This is a great piece of historical fiction and a worthy addition to your shelves. Sandra Gulland shows a meticulous eye towards the details of this period. And she paints a vivid picture of Paris under the Sun King. Her lively descriptions of city life and the traffic among the barges as they wait their turn to cross the Seine gives us an extremely rich picture of Paris as it must have been. As the love affair between the King and Petite begins quite early on in his reign, we also see how Versailles is transformed from a humble hunting lodge to the immensely extravagant palace it is now. Rich descriptions aside, what elevates this book from romantic fiction (though I have to admit that there’s nothing wrong with a good romance, now and then) is the portrait Gulland paints of Petite. As portrayed under Gulland’s skillful hands, Petite is a conflicted person who struggles to do her best according to her convictions. While she loves the King greatly, she is unable to reconcile this love with her religious convictions. And it doesn’t help that she is told by court priests that giving in to the King involves a higher moral duty that takes precedence over the simple tenet of respecting marital vows. Unfortunately for Petite, she lived at a time when the King’s word was paramount and there were very little options open to women. It is a triumph of her own personal will when Petite is finally able to make her way towards the peaceful life that long eluded her. “Sin was in her, she knew that, but she would not give way this time.”

dimanche 16 novembre 2008

Our evening with Agnes and Anne at RWB!

I'm happy to report that last Friday's reading with the lovely Anne Marsella and Agnes Desarthe was a rousing success! Despite the rather gloomy weather, people came in droves and our cosy little haven was full. Our evening started off with an introduction by RWB's Penelope of these two books and why we loved them. These were grown up books, she declared set in or about Paris, and it shows people how life can be in our city, far from the glossy pages of the numerous guidebooks.
So we had Anne start the reading, by introducing her Remedy, a unique young girl, whose adventures in the city can give Carrie or Bridget a run for their money. We were also lucky enough to be introduced to Anne's latest heroine, Patsy Boone. As this is her first book in French, be sure to get it in your favorite French bookstore.

After Anne, Agnes took the floor.....she read out one of the funniest passages from her book...

Here's a photo of some of the people who decided to spend the evening with us.... lots of friends but also new faces we will undoubtedly be seeing again..
After all our questions were exhausted, Anne and Agnes signed their books to the delight of the audience.

All in all a great evening! And if you missed last Friday, no need to fret, we have a Night of Poetry coming up. Don't forget to write down this date in your agenda---25th of November (Tuesday) at 7PM with Beverley Bie Brahic, Jonathan Regier and Elizabeth Haukass!

jeudi 13 novembre 2008


If you still haven't written it down on your agenda, here's a last minute reminder---Tomorrow night 14th of November 7PM, RWB is happy to have two wonderful Paris writers ---Agnes Desarthe and Anne Marsella for a reading. Agnes will be reading from her novel Chez Moi (originally titled Mangez-Moi in french) while Anne will read from Remedy. She will also be presenting her newest novel in french Patsy Boone. It's sure to be a great night and we're looking forward to seeing everyone there!

Now, as you know your favorite Anglophone bookstore is always stocked full of new and lovely books. Here's the latest stack to carry you through the second half of November:

New in Fiction Hardcover
1. Lulu in Marrakech by Diane Johnson
2. A Mercy by Toni Morrison
3. Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland
4. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
5. The Unpossessed City by Jon Fassman
6. The Journey by H.G. Adler
7. Stray Dog Winter by David Francis
8. The China Lover by Ian Buruma
9. The Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones
10. Eunoia by Christian Bok

New in Fiction (Trade and Paperback)
1. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
2. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (see review below)
3. The Fire Gospel by Michael Faber
4. Them by Nathan McCall (see Renee's review by clicking on the link below
5. Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes
6. Blank Gaze by Luis Peixoto
7. A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell (see Renee's review by clicking on the link below)

New in Non Fiction
1. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
2. Annie Leibovitz at Work by Annie Leibovitz
3. The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon Reed
4. In High Fashion by Edward Steichen
5. Delta Blues by Ted Gioia
6. Music at the Limits by Edward Said
7. Stories Done by Mikal Gilmore
8. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
9. The Mexican Dream by J.M.G. LeClezio

mardi 11 novembre 2008

On Monday, we had the pleasure of Prof. Richard Wilson's company at the RWB. He is a professor at the Cardiff University and a leading expert on Shakespeare. To wit, he has written
Shakespeare in French Theory: King of Shadows, Secret Shakespeare: Studies in theatre, religion and resistance and Will Power: Essays on Shakespearean authority. His books are a welcome addition to our Shakespeare shelf and he is as charming as he is erudite. One other plus, he can be counted on for a rhyming couplet as he exits!

The Sarajevo Haggadah

I love the dedication of this book. It seems very fitting that it is “For all the librarians.” For this is all about the Sarajevo Haggadah. It is an illustrated manuscript that contains the traditional text of the Passover Haggadah to accompany the Passover sedar. The Sarajevo one is unique in that it is beautifully and sumptuously illustrated in gold and precious minerals. This is a remarkable fact given that at the time of its creation in the 14th century, Jewish theology o the times forbade graven images. It has survived all these long years and was saved at least twice from destruction by Muslim hands. It is one of the most beautiful and valuable books in the world. And yet, the facts surrounding its creation and survival remain a mystery.
From the bare yet known facts about the Sarajevo Haggadah, Geraldine Brooks has fashioned a richly imagined tale of its creation and travel till it comes to rest under the auspices of the Sarajevo National Museum. The story is told through Hanna Heath, a young Australian restorer of ancient manuscripts who is selected to restore the Sarajevo Haggadah. As Hanna works on the manuscript, she discovers several tiny artifacts embedded within ---a wing fragment, a strand of white hair, salt and wine. From here the narrative splits into two directions, with one strand unfolding the tale behind each ancient fragment while the other strand tells Hanna’s story.
While the story is told through Hanna, there is no doubt that the main protagonist of this book is the Sarajevo Haggadah. It is clear from the writing here that Brooks has done an enormous amount of research in order to imagine the tale of this important book. In vividly tracing the trajectory of the book from its creation in 14th Century Seville by a young African woman illustrator, to the time of the Jewish Expulsion, through its sojourn in Venice in the 17th century and 19th century Vienna and the harrowing years of WWII and the Saravejan war, Brooks has crafted a rich tapestry of stories that will beguile any reader. “Saltwater and White Hair” are especially moving. I had to pause after these chapters to recover my breath before I continued on.
Occasionally the device of using Hanna’s story as a jump of point for the more ancient tales is a bit jarring but the Haggadah narrative is so compelling that it more than makes up for it. And perhaps, because the stories behind the Haggadah are so compelling, it makes it difficult for Hanna’s story to be as compelling. Nevertheless she is a greatly likeable character and it is through her that we get a real insight into the work that goes into restoring precious old manuscripts. “Of course, a book is more than the sum of its materials. It is an artifact of the human mind and hand. The gold beaters, the stone grinders, the scribes, the binders, those are the people I feel most comfortable with. Sometimes, in the quiet, these people speak to me. They let me see what their intentions were, and it helps me to do my work.” It would be hard to resist such a heroine and you'll come to root for her as I did.

samedi 8 novembre 2008

When truth and history collide

I never would have heard about Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture, had it not been for the Booker Prize. Being shortlisted for the Booker Prize is by no means Barry’s first time under the limelight. He received much critical praise for his earlier novels The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty as well as A Long Long Way. In fact, the Eneas McNulty in his earlier book plays a small but pivotal role in Secret Scripture.

The story is told in alternating chapters between Roseanne McNulty, née Clear and Dr. Grene. When the book opens, we learn that Roseanne has been confined for the past 60 or so years in the Roscommon Regional Mental hospital. Due to the building’s age, it has been slated for demolition and it falls upon Dr. Grene to determine who among the old patients can be transferred to the new hospital. He tries to elicit from Roseanne the story of how she came to be confined, all the while suffering from his own personal crisis. Unbeknownst to him, she has started to write down her story, secreting the pages of her life under a loose board in her room.

It is a bit slow going in the beginning and you need to be patient in order to reap the fruits of Barry’s writing. But, as the story progresses, the reader is rewarded by the mastery he has over language. Barry is able to turn in the most fetching of phrases even for the most mundane details. To wit, the town of Sligo is described as “a cold dark town, assaulted by rain so brutal, it makes the houses shiver and huddle like people at a football match.” What finally engages the reader however is the character of Roseanne who is very much a modern heroine but has the misfortune of being born during the wrong era. It’s a tale of woe as she suffers deprivation and marginalization at the hands of the cruel and the prejudiced. At this point you might be wondering why bother with such a story, and the answer is that we come to care for this character whose will to survive and to believe in inherent goodness remains intact.

What is interesting as well in this novel is the way Barry captures the vagaries and shifting nature of truth. There is no one objective truth in this novel (as in life), just the different facets of it, as viewed from different points of view and by different individuals. And if truth is a slippery ever shifting thing, memory and history which is supposed to rely on it, can never be fully reconciled. As Roseanne points out, “No one has the monopoly on the truth, and that is vexing and worrying thought.”

So much of the characters personal history must as well be evaluated against the canvass of history. In this novel, this is an Ireland ravaged by war with deep and lasting enmities. Against such a backdrop, the characters can never escape and are condemned to struggle perpetually against the weight of their own history. It makes it all the more remarkable that Roseanne is able to reach for her own happiness, fleeting though it may be.

mardi 4 novembre 2008

See you all on the 14 of November 2008

Just a little reminder of our upcoming RWB reading on the 14th of November (Thursday) with Agnes Desarthe and Anne Marsella. Our reading starts at 7PM.
As I cannot claim credit for this great poster, I want to thank King Domingo for coming up with our poster!

Fashion, Lagerfeld and St. Laurent

If you are an avid student of fashion history or if you are simply a fashionista, the one book you must absolutely read is The Beautiful Fall (Fashion, Genius and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris) by Alicia Drake. Certainly, it is one of the most controversial books ever written on Yves St. Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. In fact, Lagerfeld tried to stop the publication of this book, and failing that, tried to prevent bookstores from carrying this book. Controversial beginning aside, this is one of the most fascinating books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in recent memory.
The book takes as its focal point the parallel lives of Lagerfeld and St. Laurent who are arguably two of the most influential designers in fashion. It paints in vivid and rich details their respective careers, from their auspicious beginnings, to their full blown unrelenting rivalry against the backdrop of 70s Paris and all the way until the emergence of Lagerfeld at the head of Chanel. In Drake’s hands, Paris, as it emerges from the restrained post war years to a more exuberant and reckless mood is the crucial third character to the duo of Lagerfeld and St. Laurent who certainly used the city as the staging ground of their artistic aspirations and their more personal undertakings. There is no shortage of controversial details in the book. But such controversial facts never distract from what is clearly a well researched portrait of two figures that couldn’t be more different from the other. Drake paints in careful brushstrokes the heady parties, the excessive relationships and the simmering jealousies that surrounded Lagerfeld and St. Laurent and you come away with a sense of being immersed in a completely different world, one that is normally off limits to mortals like you and I. More importantly we come away with a much greater understanding of these two gigantic personalities. Whatever else we might think of them, this book allows us to have a much greater appreciation of their enormous talent, their verve and yes, survival skills. Equally intriguing are the stories behind seemingly well known facts about various famous personages. Just one example would be what we learn about Pierre Bergé who emerges as a much more sympathetic figure. This book contains a veritable who’s who in the fashion world.
Lest you think that this book is all glitter and gossip, it must be pointed out that it is also an invaluable resource for appreciating in far greater detail the giant steps taken by fashion at the hand of these two masters. Women now take for granted the ease of the trouser suit but this was a highly daring and innovative move when St. Laurent first debuted the “le smoking” in the late 60s. Nor should we underestimate how much Lagerfeld changed the way people viewed fashion by nimbly adapting trends even before people knew what they wanted. More importantly, he was the first to realize the almost global impact that fashion could have. As a master of endless reinvention, Lagerfeld is the best and Madonna is not fit to holds candle to him.
So the next time you have the urge to read a good biography, a fashion book, or one set in Paris, I suggest you go with The Beautiful Fall. You won’t regret it.