Literary Evening for Freeman’s Launch

I don’t often get the chance to attend literary events , but when one is happening it’s img_3906-1usually in Paris and I try my damnedest to get there.  Tuesday night, the 11th of July, I had the pleasure of listening to Edwidge Danticat and Marie Darrieusseecq in promotion of Freeman’s The Best New Writing on Home at Shakespeare & Company in Paris.  This is the third literary anthology of Freeman’s and I’m really excited to discover some new and interesting writers that maybe I’m not that familiar with.

The evening began with waiting in line for seats.  I was accompanied by Manika and Silje both Booktubers you should check out and while waiting we couldn’t help but exchange on bookish topics until we were finally shown to our seats. Lucky for us we weren’t too badly placed.  The weather was nice.  A cool breeze with a hint of rain settled us all into our seats awaiting the commencement of the event.  It started just after 7pm.  John Freeman officiated the event, of course, and drove the talk with precision, asking and making pertinent questions and statements.  I was amazed to see that these two authors as different as they are, race and background, that they share some common ground in the themes they choose to write about.

Marie Darrieusseecq is a French author originally from Bayonne in the Basque region of France.  I was happy to discover her up close and personal since I have heard so much about her but have never read any of her books.  Her novels contain many recurring Being Herethemes – belonging and identity which both authors talked a lot about that evening.  Her latest novel, Being Here:  The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker was released this month in English translation by The Text Publishing Company.  An excerpt of the novel can be found in Freeman’s if you’re interested in discovering her work before embarking on a full novel.  Darrieusseecq assured me that The Text Publishing Company translation is the best for Being Here: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker.  Just to get you a bit more interested in it, here’s the blurb on the front cover, “A burning intelligence and a fierce hold on what it meant and means to be a woman and a artist.” J.M. Coetzee. 😉

Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American writer who lives in Brooklyn.  She also writes aDeath lot about identity and belonging, as well as mother-daughter relationships and the diaspora.   Some of her more well-known novels are Breath, Eyes, Memory (her first novel), Krik? Krak! (short stories), and The Dew Breaker, among so many more. Known and loved for her short stories you can find the story All the Home You’ve Got in Freeman’s.  The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story is her newly released novel (July 11, 2017)  which focuses on Danticat’s mother dying of cancer and how death is treated in other novels by authors.

After a series of questions from John Freeman and discussion back and forth between the two authors, the floor was opened for questions.  I couldn’t think of anything to ask because my mind was racing with all the great things they’d said previously.  However there were a few great questions from the audience.  What was great was the lovely natural discussion and humor from both of these ladies.  They played off of each other and that was humorous.

This is the second time I’ve been to a literary event with discussion between two authors and I really do think this should become more of a regular occurrence because it brings to light even more profound discussion of literature, writing, and existence. Wishing that I had taped this event so that I could go back and compare once I’ve read more of their works, I happened upon the podcast version of that evening which I’ll link here.  Shakespeare and Company has a podcast of all of their author events at the link I posted.

Of course the evening wouldn’t have been complete without purchasing a few books and getting autographs.  Thorough as I am, I brought 4 books by Danticat to be autographed from home, which she graciously did. Meanwhile we had a very interesting conversation about reading books out of our comfort zones yet finding that they parallel some of the same themes we usually like to read about.  She also agreed with me about author events with 2 different authors that write about similar themes in different ways.

We finished off the evening with cocktails and more bookish  conversation and anticipating our next literary event…. Shakespeare and Company will surely deliver.

SaveSave

34. The Fountainhead

On a rainy cool day twenty-two years ago, I walked to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore www.shakespeareandcompany.com  on the left bank of Paris.  I had two hours to kill before catching my train back to Normandy.  I didn’t have much money on me, but I was determined to find a treasure since I was desperate to read in English.  I was learning French intensively at the Sorbonne and my brain desired nothing more than an English break.

Combing the shelves for something good wasn’t easy because there are so many goodies there, but since I was broke my choice was limited  to a really cheap book.  What did I run across?  A dried water-logged version of The Fountainhead for 2 francs.  I had only heard of this book but hadn’t had the chance to read it at university.  So, for 2 francs I figured I had nothing to lose. It’s was a steal!

I began reading it on the train and found myself immediately engrossed  in this story of Howard Roark, passionate, arrogant, driven architect who’s been thrown out of architecture school.  I was glued all weekend to this book that I found fascinating and intriguing.  I enjoyed immensely the architectural descriptions and the complexity of the story.  Now I realize I really loved this book probably because I was young when I read it.  Who wouldn’t be inspired by such a character; who is self-assured and inspired to build to perfection, no matter who doesn’t like it.

Now it’s twenty-two years later and I’m re-reading The Fountainhead with my book club.  I read it in four days just like the first time but not with the same enthusiasm.  The constant preachy theme of Ayn Rand’s unrealistic philosophy of objectivism was an omnipresent whisper throughout the novel.  Objectivism can best be described as “an uncompromising  defense of self-interest as the engine of progress.”(back cover of the Penguin Classics edition of The Fountainhead)  After researching the philosophy of Rand a bit closer I discovered that objectivism can be broken down into five branches: reality, reason, self-interest, capitalism, and romantic realism.  Did this discovery make me understand and believe in her philosophy more?  Absolutely not.  Rand stated that man’s “highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness, and that he must not force other people, nor accept their right to force him, that each man must live as an end in himself and follow his own rational self-interest.”  Blah, blah, blah…  This is the principle philosophy in all of her books and essays including the well-known Atlas Shrugged, which is a big whopping 1200 pages(surely a lot more of the same) and Anthem, which examines a dystopian world in the future where individuals don’t have names, values, or independence.  Other work by Ayn Rand include The Virtue of Selfishness, We the Living, Capitalism:  The Unknown, and The Romantic Manifesto.

As I read along diligently, I marvelled at the quality of writing and the intricacy of the story, since English was not Rand’s maternal language.  The names of the characters to the descriptions of life, expressions, and so forth are like a step back in time.  The novel is divided into four parts named after the principal characters beginning with Peter Keating, Ellsworth M. Toohey, then Gail Wynand, and finally Howard Roark.  The amazing parade of secondary characters is unbelievable but adds to the quality of the story.  If you go on Goodreads.com www.goodreads.com there is a book discussion for The Fountainhead:  Best character in The Fountainhead and why?  Difficult.  Ellsworth M. Toohey is an amazing antagonist – manipulative, cold, calculating, with a pertinacious cruelty; where Howard Roark is a hard-working, knowledgeable, self-confident, arrogant, perfectionist architect.  You can’t help rooting for Roark and hoping for the violent death of Toohey.  Needless to say, all the characters are low down and despicable!  I have never read a book like that before.

All in all, this is a must read.  I don’t agree with Rand’s philosophy at all but it’s an intriguing, well-written story on capitalism and how it can go wrong (like we don’t already know) and that was written over sixty years ago.  When I first rated it on Goodreads I gave it five stars but I’ve decided to take off a star because of the philosophy even though I know this book wouldn’t be what it is without it.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian-American author, playwright, and screenwriter.  In 1926, she came to the United States where she worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood and produced a play on Broadway.  Her first novel The Fountainhead got her noticed but Atlas Shrugged is her best-known novel.  She was largely ignored in the literary world because of her philosophy of objectivism.  In her early life, Rand’s father was a pharmacist in Saint Petersburg and his shop was confiscated by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.  Her family then fled to Crimea.  Rand was twelve years old at the time and that incident no doubt contributed to her development of objectivism.  Check out the video below of Rand ardently defending her philosophy to Mike Wallace!