What Are the French Reading?


What are the French reading? To find out I drop by Albertine, a bookshop tucked away in the French Cultural Services building on Fifth Avenue. 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), who was the official portraitist of Marie Antoinette. I should tell you that the exhibition is winding down, closing May 15th, so if you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to hustle on over. It's stupendous, the first solo show ever given a woman artist by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What were they waiting for?  Long overdue, Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun is a superb choice.

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 YouTube video that has hasd 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.

Histoire du terrorisme is a history of terrorism from its roots to its culmination in Daech—also known as Islamic State— and Submission, the latest from Michel Houellebecq takes place in 2022 when France's new Islamic party sweeps to power bringing with it Islamic law. Women are veiled, polygamy 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, a photograph that captures the first time I saw Paris. Then, too, there's Open Letter with a forward by Adam Gopnik, another Francophile.


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. Why?

If you're in the neighborhood, be sure to drop by Albertine. On the upper level you'll find the children's area with low stools, lovely picture books and comfy sofas for grownups who want to take a break. 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 bogged 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.

By the way, for those of you in and around New York, I will be discussing my memoir at Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side May 16 at 7 PM, with Sande Boritz Berger, the author of The Sweetness: A Novel, also published by She Writes Press. Come join us; we'd love to see you.

Thanks for stopping by. Before you leave, would you take a second to share this post? Merci beaucoup. hope to see you soon, when I'll have the coffee ready...until then, may life be good to you.