What are the French reading? To find out I drop by Albertine, a bookshop that's an arm of the Cultural Services Department within the French Embassy. Their mission is to promote the best of French literature, cinema and the arts in America. Once past Cupid at the entryway, you will find the library at the rear of the building.
On their website this month, for instance, are notices about the exquisite exhibition now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755--1842), the official portraitist of Marie Antoinette. I should tell you that the exhibition is winding down, closing May 15th. So if you haven't been, give yourself a treat and go. As for French contributions to the music scene in New York, the newsletter notes an upcoming performance by the French counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky on May 6 at the Morgan Museum. What's a counter tenor? To find out, click on his name and you will hear the angelic voice as captured on a You-Tube video with more than three million hits.
Named for the love interest in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Albertine, a charming bookshop on two levels, has more than 14,000 books in French and English, making it the largest repository of French literature in the United States. Here’s a quick sampling of what the French are reading this week.
A history of terrorism, from its roots to its culmination in Daech -- also known as Islamic State. And there is an English translation, Submission, the latest from Michel Houellebecq. What's it about? The year is 2022 and France's new Islamic party sweeps to power bringing with it Islamic law. Women are veiled, polygamy is encouraged, and François (our bored hero) is offered a tempting academic advancement--on the condition he convert to Islam. Will he do it? Not sure, but there's a good chance as critics have called it a 'comic masterpiece.'
And then there's Suspended Sentences. Unfamiliar with the writer Patrick Modiano, I'm ready to buy the book based on nothing but the cover. That photograph captures the first time I saw Paris. But then still another catches my eye. Decisions, decisions.
The overall selection is serious, intellectual and centered on ideas. The tables laden with books look quite different in tone and composition from those found in most bookstores. What would be your choice, if you were to choose one. And why?
If you are in the neighborhood, be sure to drop by Albertine. On the upper level you'll find the children's area with low stools and lovely picture books and, nearby, comfy sofas for grownups who want to take a break, thumb through a book. It's all very civilized, very comforting.
That's it for today. If I don't make it back next week, it's that I'm weighed down with matters related to the publishing of Veronica's Grave: A Daughter's Memoir. Official pub date is May 9 when the book will be available nationwide. In the meantime, you can order it at Amazon. It's on sale this week, which my publisher says is a good thing! so take advantage, if you haven't ordered. And should you read the book, I would be most appreciative if you could write a line or two to post on Amazon.
By the way, for those of you in and around New York, I will be discussing the book at Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side May 16 at 7 PM, along with Sande Boritz Berger, the author of The Sweetness: A Novel, also published by She Writes press. Come join us; we would love to see you.
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