Pack Your Bags: We’re Going to France!

I suffer from chronic wanderlust. Unfortunately my passport sports a sad (small) number of stamps. The best balm for unrequited travel love is reading about your preferred destinations! Our Travel section is highlighting France for the month, and in that spirit, I thought I’d start a new series here spotlighting some great reading lists for different foreign locales! Let’s commence with the Cité d’Amour: Paris!

Metronome: A History of Paris from the Underground Up

by Lorant Deutsch

A look at the history of Paris from pre-Roman times through present day oriented by the stops of the French Metro. Did I mention the author is a well-loved French comedian? Yeah this is the best way to suck up Parisian history.

Les Petits Macarons: Colorful French Confections to Make at Home

by Kathryn Gordon and Anne E. McBride

Vacations are half sightseeing and half gorging yourself on er… sampling the local cuisine. I’m still trying to master making these traditional French delicacies at home, and this is the best cookbook I’ve ever found for them!

The French Cat

by Rachael Hale

Even if you’re not a cat person, which I absolutely am, you can’t help but fall in love with the dreamy light, French locales, and hopelessly French swagger of these felines. The story of Hale’s relocation to France is also told alongside these lovely photographs.

Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl

by Debra Ollivier

There are countless books focusing on the inherent chicness of French women and the ways we clumsy and brash Americans can emulate their style. I prefer this one because it illuminates the fact that there is not a cookie cutter type of French woman.

Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French

by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow

Why do we dream about kissing our true love atop the Eiffel Tower or shopping on the Left Bank after spending a morning exploring the Louvre but continue to malign the snotty, spineless Frenchman in our comedy? Read this insightful cultural study and find out!

Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi

by Olivier Magny

This tongue-in-cheek guide is spot on. Equal parts laugh-out-loud and envy-inducing.

How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance

by Marilyn Yalom

I picked this book up earlier this year and couldn’t put it down. Fascinating study on why we associate the ultimate wooing with the French.

A few other notable titles:

- Brandi

This, Still

by Rick Simonson

Rick SimonsonTo this day I haven’t seen anything written that really describes what was in the air then—here and elsewhere. The early 1970s, the Vietnam War winding down, Richard Nixon being both re-elected but also beginning to be undone, so much beginning to be undone. In and through that a certain coming along, as young people will, growing into an adult place, trying to figure what to do in the world. The impetus, in some critical mass way, was not to go the prescribed way.

Not that the former choices were still there. In Seattle Boeing went from over 100,000 to 40,000 in a heartbeat. From that time, from the various impulses—notions of change, community, making something, possibly this, not that—several things would happen. A generation of independent bookstores and small presses, many still with us, would be born.

From that time, too—Microsoft, Starbucks, and Nike were all started, not driven by MBA visions or venture capital. Seattle, politically, was opting for community by saving the Pike Place Market, keeping Pioneer Square and the International District from being razed to provide parking or mall-like development to suit the newly-built Kingdome.

That was some of what was in the air, things I was affected by, taking classes at the University of Washington, working in the kitchen and waiting tables at Das Gasthaus Restaurant on Occidental, when Walter Carr’s intentions to open The Elliott Bay Book Company first became apparent. Architect Dick Dunbar’s blueprint drawings hung on the windows of what had been an art gallery run by Jim Manolides. I’m affected by them, still.

Gary Fisketjon — Working with Jim Lynch, Part II

Concluding his musings on working with Jim Lynch is Alfred A. Knopf editor Gary Fisketjon. Remember: Jim Lynch will be joining us the store on Thursday, April 12, at 7pm, to launch his newest novel, Truth Like the Sun, set within the fascinations and wonder of the Century 21 Exposition, 1962. To learn more about the fair itself, be sure and check out Paula Becker and Alan J. Stein’s book, The Future Remembered.

GARY FISKETJON: It’s clear to me that one of Jim’s chief interests is the potency of change. In The Highest Tide, Miles encounters an historic high tide; in Border Songs, Brandon sees his quiet borderland transformed by the specters of drug smuggling and terrorism.

Library of the Future exhibit
photo courtesy MOHAI

Here, in Truth Like the Sun, Helen’s future is imperiled as her paper is beginning to feel the pinch of the Internet that soon afterward altered reading habits everywhere and made the very profession seem almost provisional.

It isn’t, obviously, but I greatly admire how Jim catches this game-changing phenomenon just as it’s emerging. Hey, this affects all of us, and he makes us realize this as we see Helen maneuver the shifting landscape of her work. Should they play tough in order to rout the competition and boost circulation or be careful to make sure of every last fact before printing a word? Is it a question of a business’ survival or ethics and even truth?

Bubbleator
photo courtesy The Seattle Times

All this becomes palpable when Roger hones into Helen’s sights. One of her first assignments is to summarize the World’s Fair on the occasion of its fortieth anniversary—something that bores the hell out of her until Roger, the mastermind behind it, becomes front-page news with his mayoral campaign. Suddenly this is the sort of story that is her heart’s desire, complete with juicy graft, police corruption and murder as well as the chance to prove how those in power are—as she tends to believe—scoundrels whose malfeasance she was put on earth to uncover.

But to Jim’s great credit, Roger Morgan’s far too grand a character to fit into any of the available categories, whether Doddering Old Fool or Shady Power Broker. He’s a man in full, including warts and hopes and compromises, and in my view he’s a fitting counterpoint to Willie Stark (aka Huey Long) in Robert Penn Warren’s classic All the King’s Men.

A third major character, of course, is Seattle itself, as notable denizens have already recognized. According to Ivan Doig: “With the keen eye of the journalist he was and the nimbleness of the novelist he has become, Jim Lynch provides a thought-provoking fictional portrait of a city on the make and its somewhat tarnished tribe of civic strivers.” (I love that “somewhat.”)

Perfume Fountain
photo courtesy WA State Archives

Seattle’s adopted son, Jonathan Raban, says, “Jim Lynch writes of the city where I live with great brio and persuasiveness [and] his only-slightly alternative history is at least as plausible as the official version.”

Anyone who’s read Jim Lynch before can rightly assume he can capture whatever place he’s writing about down to its most minute and telling particulars, but this begs an oft-raised question about regional versus national appeal, which to me is a moot point. All naturalist novels will necessarily be set somewhere or the other, and the more vividly the better. In this case Seattleites will be in for an extra treat while others will learn not only much about it but also about wherever they happen to come from, where those same civic issues are present on a daily basis.

Art Exhibit
photo courtesy MOHAI

This account skips over a great many of the wonders of Truth Like the Sun, from Helen’s relationship with her son (and where’s the father?) to Roger’s with his longtime aide-de-camp, or from how weather influences suicide rates to what the bar scene’s really like, but those are for each of you to discover.

The delights of reading Jim Lynch are manifold, at once highly enjoyable and deeply pertinent. And with this book he shoots for the moon—and has really hung it.

GARY L. FISKETJON is Vice President and Editor-at-Large at Knopf, having joined the company in 1990 after previously working at Random House and Vintage and at the Atlantic Monthly Press.

Fall Booknotes from Our Staff

Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane
by Andrew Graham-Dixon (Norton)

Graham-Dixon captures Caravaggio in this way: “Caravaggio lived his life as if there were only Carnival and Lent with nothing in between.” Graham-Dixon brings this dichotomy to life as he deftly captures Caravaggio’s infamous exploits, gleaning truth from contemporary biographies, court records, and perceptive critique of Caravaggio’s oeuvre. Caravaggio provides a thorough examination of one of art’s true geniuses. -Alex

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What It Is Like To Go To War
by Karl Marlantes (Atlantic Monthly Press)

The author of the modern classic Vietnam war novel Matterhorn has now written a nonfiction book that he calls his “song.” It is written for civilians, soldiers, and policy makers, and the result is a veteran’s searing philosophical and psychological meditation about being a warrior. He loved war and he hated it. For Marlantes, fighting in battle was the crack cocaine of all highs. Yet, reflecting back on it now he feels sadness. His meditation is an important one that fills the gap between the silence of our warriors and our society. -Carl

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The Swerve
by Stephen Greenblatt (Norton)

Swerve tells the tale of how Lucretius’s poem “On The Nature of Things” was returned to the world to the benefit of the burgeoning Renaissance. Greenblatt leads the reader through the life of Poggio Bracciolini, humanist, book-hunter, ex-Papal secretary, and discoverer of an ancient poem that would change the world. Greenblatt stops along the way to explain the history of books, their preservation, and the humanist spirit which spurred on the quest for these ancient tomes. Greenblatt sets out to write an accessible history for the curious, and succeeds. -Alex

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Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Booknotes from Our Staff

The Anatomy of a Moment: Thirty-five Minutes in History and Imagination by Javier Cercas (Bloomsbury)

The moment in question is February 23, 1981—bullets fly through the air in the Spanish Parliament during an attempted military coup. Three men refuse to take cover and remain upright as they face the gunfire. With a novelist’s eye for truth and meaningful symmetry, Cercas structures his broad non-fictional narrative around the film footage of the coup and examines the histories and motivations that lay behind these gestures of apparent courage. Along with exhaustive research, he pays close attention to the complex human elements of politics as he illuminates the larger moment of Spain’s fragile and contested transition from fascism to democracy. -Casey O.

 

BOOKNOTES, the book review of THE ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published and forthcoming books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.