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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Novel Bookstore

 by Laurence Cossé
translated from French by Alison Anderson
Europa Editions, English translation 2010, original French publication Éditions Gallimard, 2009

Here's a book that simply must be read and then talked about among my reading pals. Get on it please, everybody!

The idea is that two mismatched loners start a bookstore for people who are, like them, uninterested in all parts of popular culture, and passionate about interesting books. They will stock only good books, and they call it THE GOOD NOVEL. This mission comes very close to my ideas about reading, and culture generally. They organize a secret selection committee, a group of writers who choose books with their identities shielded, to avoid unwelcome pressure and/or attention from publishers and media and prize committees, so they can work from conviction only, without any commercial considerations. Ahh!

In fact, Cosse writes on p. 385 "...if...The Good Novel was so successful that it brought about the unexpected rebirth of a practice you would have thought was timeless–the appreciation of talent as its just value." Isn't that just the problem with contemporary culture?

Apart from the novel's value per se, and despite it's slightly shaky translation, it offers a fabulous reading list for someone who would rather be offended (or anything other) than bored. As soon as I finished it, I went to look to see if someone had created the list of books mentioned as a stand-alone document, and what I found, to my pleased surprise, is that, as described in the book, exists with (at least a partial) book list available. Now the book I was hoping would be captured there was not: El pintor de batallas by Pérez-Reverte. I do not own (or even know of this book) but I was attracted to Captain Alatriste by Pérez-Reverte, don't know why and it was probably a delete, which I bought for my reading pile. Gratifying and motivating. Must pull it up to nearer the top. Must look for El pintor, in English.

Here in Italy I know from the beach two very cultured sisters, from Prato, and they chase down art shows nearby, and go to the opera, and they finish each others' sentences like: "Well yes, of course,..." "...Stendhal." Is that cool, or what? Now Stendhal is on my list anyway, as an all-time star of literature, and in one of those delightful connections of life, he wrote a biography of Rossini, which I would also like to read, for the usual reasons (ie opera and Pesaro) and of course he in stock at The Good Novel. Again, gratifying and motivating.

And very much in line with part of the ideal position of The Good Novel: to create a community of readers, recommending and suggesting and exploring and enjoying. Next job: print out the list and check off the titles I have read. I keep a file of interesting reading lists, lists that are as quirky as I can find, of course.

Funnily, when I was looking for the reading list from A Novel Bookstore, I found the Time Magazine book critics Top 100 since 1923, Here on the beach I recently read Codex by Lev Grossman, Decent beach reading, in the books-about-books category, mashed up with a story about video games. I was puzzled that there were no biographical notes about the author, of whom I had never heard. Turns out, he is a book critic at Time magazine, perfectly illustrating EXACTLY the other way of book publishing: connected, eye on the prize, hitting the current cultural memes with precision, an author with a foot in a few camps within the industry. Little to do with "...appreciating talent as its just value". Still, I think I will print this list too, and check it off, but all the while I will be thinking cui bono (who benefits?).

I also found that Wikipedia (my beloved Wikipedia, I should have said) has a list of reading lists! Quite long, but I see I will have to add a few items, like the best reading by country, math fiction, art fiction and, of course, the list from A Novel Bookstore.

The marigold is wondering nervously: How much time can I spare from reading to consider and compiling reading lists? So compelling....

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