Category Archives: Read French Books!

{Summary} Cultural Buffet Challenge – Week One

First of all, I’d like to say thanks to Synthesist Chronicles and The Lupine Librarian for their recommendations. 🙂

This week has been quite exciting: after months of studying and revising, I can sit in the shade with a big bottle of water and a croissant and read for as long as I want. I can take as much time as I like to read the same paragraph or poem several times and I can get as carried away with making notes as I like without being crippled by guilt for not sticking to my daily schedule.

The only downside is that my mind’s whirling with so many concepts and ideas that every time I sit down to write a review, I only manage up to type a hundred words or so before my eyes stray back to a book or a film or my Polish vocabulary book.

So, I’ll start putting reviews up for the asterisked books in the next few days.

If you’d like me to review a particular book or film on the list, just ask. 🙂

Books Read This Week
1) The Prince – Machiavelli *
2) The Age of Innocence – Wharton *
3) The Spectacular Group Suicide – Paasilinna *
4) Sonietchka – Ulitskaya
5) Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum – Stevens
6) The Character of Rain – Nothomb *
7) The Gourmand – Barbery *
8) Travels Around Kazakhstan: After the fall of the Soviet Union – Deonna *
9) The Spellman Files – Lutz
10) Water for Elephants – Gruen
11) Italian Shoes – Mankell (re-read)

Films/ Series Seen
1) Dark Shadows
2) Things to Do Before You’re 30
3) The Bridge (series)
4) Medieval Lives (series) *

And I’ve completed the first CD of the Michel Thomas Polish course, so all in all, it’s been a rather good week. 🙂


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Dutch Literature Month… and how I’m turning into George Bush Jr

I feel as though I’m about to do a metaphorical GWB Jr.: biting into the massive (still metaphorical) pretzel of my dreams, knowing that I might forget how to chew and pass out on the floor… What is this ‘pretzel’? Another couple of reading challenges. XD

The first and most interesting of the two is Dutch Literature Month as hosted by iris on books. My only exposure to Dutch literature is Within Temptation’s song lyrics and a really cool poem by P.A. Génestet, which goes something like:

Oh land of filth and fog, of vile rain chill and stinging,
A sodden fetid plot of vapours dank and damp,
A vast expanse of mire and blocked roads clogged and clinging,
Brimful of gamps and gout, of toothache and of cramp!

Oh dreary mushy swamp, oh farmyard of galoshes,
With marsh frogs, dredgers, cobblers, mud gods overrun,
With every shape and size of duck that therein sploshes,
Receive this autumn dirge from your besnotted son!

To mud your claggy climate makes my blood set slowly;
Song, hunger, joy and peace are all withheld from me.
Pull your galoshes on, ancestral ground most holy,
You – not at my request – once wrested from the sea.

Anyway, I aim to read 2 or 3 titles for this challenge and am open to suggestions. So if anyone’s read a book by a Dutch author that they particularly enjoyed (or didn’t) then I’m happy to hear about it. 🙂

(As yet un-named) Second Challenge

This challenge is my self-imposed ‘pretzel-swallowing’ one. Between the 23rd May and the 2nd July, I have three aims. Firstly, to read thirty books, secondly, to watch either 30 films or ten television series. Thirdly, I hope to complete the Michel Thomas basic Polish course in preparation for going to Poland and meeting the other half’s family. I’m doing this to make up for all the time I spent reading academic articles and grammar books instead of fiction and non-university related stuff. I’m also going to try to read three of those books in Spanish (I read really slowly in Spanish).

Fortunately, Aix has some really beautiful places to sit and read in and none of them are more than a thirty-minute walk from my doorstep. (So I can listen to the Polish course for short bursts without getting to tense). This also means I’ll get a fair amount of fresh air every day and the chance to read whatever I feel like. Am I crazy? Quite possibly, but this is almost certainly going to be the last summer when I’ll be able to call myself a student. So this summer I’m going to do all of the cool, fun, crazy things I did during the summer holidays when I was little. There will probably be other, equally insane challenges for July to September. Again, ideas are welcome, so if anyone wants to do a read-along or ‘genre-fest’, then I’m totally up for it. 🙂
Enough about me.

What’s everyone else up to over the summer?


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{Review} Burning Sierra – Pierre Pelot (aka. trawling the library for more cool books)

I haven’t read a ‘Cowboys and Indians’ story since I was nine: one of my best friends was obsessed with The Indian in the Cupboard series. Then, two weeks ago I found a book in the library with the intriguing title ‘Sierra Brulante’ [Burning Sierra]. It was published locally and so I thought I’d support a local author by reading his work.

It also ties in nicely with the We Want YOU (to read French books) challenge

Mr. Walker, the most powerful man in a small, New Mexican town is found dead by his son. Three Native Americans, a man, wife and their son have run away, taking two of his horses. Suspicion quickly falls on them and Mr Walker Junior tries and pronounces them guilty in their absence. His hatred of them seems to go beyond a quest for justice. He calls upon all the able-bodied men in town to help to find and kill the supposed murderer but few want to participate in the search. Mr Walker Sr. seems not to be missed by the other townsfolk…

Dylan Stark is passing through the town from Arkansas on the way to settle out in California. Tempted by the thousand dollar bounty that Walker has placed on the head of the male runaway, he quickly heads out into the desert in the hope of catching him. Or so he tells the other bounty hunters.

Will Dylan Stark kill a man who may be innocent or will real justice be carried out?

For the age group that it’s targeted at, it’s a good read. It deals with issues such as racism, segregation and loyalty very well. The main villain, Mr. Walker is sadistic and thoroughly bad with no redeeming qualities and the hero, Dylan Stark does oscillate from a bit flat to mildly tortured about his (mixed-race) heritage. That is not to say that the characters are badly written; they’re OK but they aren’t ground-breakingly different from other good or bad guys in the genre. Most of the other characters are more nuanced, especially Stark’s side-kick.

The style is another strong point: when Pelot writes about the burning sun and walking over torturous dust that burns the feet, you feel every detail that he describes as you walk through the desert with the characters. When he writes about racial issues, you squirm.

Sierra Brulante is a good novel for younger readers, especially those who enjoy reading about the USA ‘back in the day’. Whilst I’m not crazily in love with it, I’m interested enough to want to read the next two books in the series.

Wild Night In’s Verdict? Wavering towards WIN!


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{Review} Cahier d’un retour au pays natal – Aimé Césaire

Hommage à Aimé Césaire sur le Skatepark de Royan

Hommage à Aimé Césaire sur le Skatepark de Royan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Feel free to laugh at my ignorance, but I’d never heard of Aimé Césaire before last month and now his name is popping up everywhere! There was even a documentary about him on the television last week. Has anyone else ever had this happen to them? Or am I just being posthumously stalked by his work?

Blurb (from Goodreads )
Aimé Césaire’s masterpiece, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, is a work of immense cultural significance and beauty. The long poem was the beginning of Césaire’s quest for negritude, and it became an anthem of Blacks around the world. With its emphasis on unusual juxtapositions of object and metaphor, manipulation of language into puns and neologisms, and rhythm, Césaire considered his style a “beneficial madness” that could “break into the forbidden” and reach the powerful and overlooked aspects of black culture.
Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith achieve a laudable adaptation of Césaire’s work to English by clarifying double meanings, stretching syntax, and finding equivalent English puns, all while remaining remarkably true to the French text. Their treatment of the poetry is marked with imagination, vigour, and accuracy that will clarify difficulties for those already familiar with French, and make the work accessible to those who are not. Andre Breton’s introduction, A Great Black Poet, situates the text and provides a moving tribute to Césaire

This poem is one of the most difficult French texts that I’ve read in the last 3 months. Césaire’s goal was to mould the French language into the form that he wanted. His aim was to make his readers experience a sense of disorientation when they read it and to feel like foreigners in their native tongue. (When he moved to Paris for his studies in the early 1930’s, he experienced racism and wanted to stand up to the people who thought that he was stupid because he had a different skin colour from them). He used obscure language and made new expressions to great effect, totally blowing my mind and wishing that my level of French were high enough to understand every nuance. 

If you’ve ever been interested in the Harlem Renaissance, enjoyed Poeta en Nueva York or are interested in black culture, get your hands on a translation and read it.

Wild Night In’s Verdict? Wavering towards win.

Read for the Read French Books challenge


Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Books, Read French Books!


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{Review} A Way of life (Une Forme de Vie)- Amelie Nothomb

In the land of quirky literature, it is sometimes difficult for a book to garner enough praise to gain it anything but the dubious honour of a loyal cult following. If her position in the French book charts is anything to go by, Amélie Nothomb’s work definitely appeals to a growing number of readers.

And it is definitely surreal. Prior to winning the ‘Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française’ in 1999 for her fierce Fear and Trembling, she and her work were  continually derided by critics who tended to view her work as flights of fantasy that were best left unread.

The question is this: is Nothomb still able to deliver the unique experience that endeared her to her judges over a decade ago?

‘This morning, I received a different kind of letter.’
One morning, Nothomb receives a letter from one of her readers, an American soldier called Melvin Mapple, who is fighting in Iraq. Horrified by the endless violence around him, he takes comfort in over-eating. Over-eating until his fat starts to suffocate him and he can barely fit into XXXXL clothes. Disgusted with himself, but unable to control his eating, he takes his mind off his ever-growing bulk by naming it Scheherazade and pretending that he is not alone at night with his flesh.

Although initially repulsed, Nothomb is fascinated and begins exchanging letters in earnest with Mapple.

Nothomb carefully unravelled the story from the start, developing the main characters gradually. Just fast enough to keep the story going, but not so fast as to be unrealistic. By the time Mapple started to get into the details of his life, I was hooked.

Whilst Nothomb is the narrator and plays a significant role in the novel, it is the character, Mapple’s story-telling abilities that come to the fore. The first clue we have as to this is his naming of his excess weight after the story-telling wife in Arabian Nights. For every instance that Nothomb’s character sits and tangentially contemplates her life and woes, Mapple’s gets to the heart of the issue he wishes to address in his letter.

And Mapple chooses his subjects carefully. His first letter uses strong, abrupt language to describe the war in Iraq. In later letters, he uses more nuanced language to write about his opinion of the invasion. But this criticism forms only a small part of his letters: his main focus is his weight. His size obsesses him, fascinates him, disgusts him at times and alienates him from a vast number of people, especially his slim colleagues.

In the army canteen, they mock him and his clinically obese colleagues.

‘So what did you do in the war apart from eat?’ they jeer.

They look down on the obese as undisciplined grotesques who pad themselves out with fat to make up for all manner of (supposed) deficiencies.

 Mapple writes about these daily struggles to Nothomb, who ‘will not judge’ [him]. He gives a voice to a group that previously suffered in silence, and this voice is usually eloquent and compelling.

 There are also moments when Mapple becomes repulsive, particularly when he starts to note down every calorie he has consumed in an attempt to make his body into a living art project.

The end of the novel spirals quickly out of control and into the surreal bleak comedy that made Fear and Trembling so exciting to read. Here, events move so rapidly compared to the middle section of the novel that I felt somewhat cheated by the neatness of the ending and how quickly it was wrapped up. Although that feeling was probably mostly due to my desire to have the two characters continue to exist and develop.

Experimenting with the epistolary style whilst interweaving her own private beliefs and experiences in asides to the reader; this is Nothomb at her best. She dwells on issues that have not received much press coverage, such as obesity in the U.S. Army and brings up issues that have been mentioned in the press. Such as her way of using surrealism and extended metaphors to lend weight to her work and, in some paradoxical way, to make it more real than it could otherwise have been.

Wild Night In: Win!

Read for the Read French Books and European Reading Challenges


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Read French Authors!

As hosted by beware of the froggies

Reading List (read but review pending in italics)
1) Troie – M. Honaker
2) Cahier d’un retour au pays natal – A. Cesaire
3) Le Tour du monde en 80 jours – J. Verne
4) Sierra Brulante – Pierre Pelot
5) Une Forme de Vie – A. – Nothomb
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1 Comment

Posted by on March 9, 2012 in Read French Books!

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