by Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam BarryAugust 2009
Literature from the City of Lights
Dateline: Paris, where your intrepid Author Enablers almost forgot we had a column due because we are enjoying our honeymoon in this most civilized of cities. We would have loved to bring you with us, but you would have had to sleep in the bathtub. But wait! Maybe there is a way. . . .
There is not only a grand literary history here, but a lot of actual living writers roaming around, and we met quite a few. We invite you to come along to Paris by popping down to your local library or bookstore for some late summer reading by these illustrious authors.
Upon our arrival we landed on a bed in David Sedaris’ apartment in the sixth arrondissement. How often does that happen? David wasn’t there, but his delightful partner Hugh stayed around long enough to show us how the washing machine worked. The reason we were in this particular apartment, and not, say, President Sarkozy’s pad, is that our pals Amy Tan and Lou DeMattei invited us to stay there with them. This brings us to our first recommendation: Amy’s Saving Fish from Drowning, a witty and delightful novel in which San Francisco socialite Bibi Chen has planned a vacation along the Burma Road for a group of friends, only to die days before the trip begins. Bibi narrates the tale of the disastrous journey from beyond the grave.
The apartment building is the site of the original Shakespeare & Company, the first English-language bookstore on the continent. Owner Sylvia Beach published James Joyce’s seminal work Ulysses when no other publisher was willing to do so. Joyce also lived here, so you can add Ulysses to your Paris reading itinerary, though he will transport you to Dublin. And while we are at it, you can add the groundbreaking Native Son by Richard Wright, who once lived just around the corner.
But back to the present and David and Hugh’s lovely apartment. As big fans of Sedaris’ work, we were delighted to encounter his socks and underwear in the closet, not to mention his macabre interests tastefully represented by the art on the wall. We recommend When You Are Engulfed in Flames, his brilliant collection of essays.
At the wonderful restaurant Les Deux Magots, we ran into conceptual artist and author Jonathon Keats, whose The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the Thirty-six re-imagines Jewish folklore in stories about the Talmudic idea of 36 righteous souls who must always exist in order for the world to sustain itself. That evening Harvard professor and string-theorist physicist Lisa Randall stopped by, here for the premier of an opera based on her work, Hypermusic Prologue. Her latest book is Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions.
Each month a group of fiction writers meets for lunch at Le Rotunde (aka “home of the scum of Greenwich Village,” according to Jake in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, another good Paris read). An ordering fiasco resulted in Kathi getting a huge plate of salty smoked salmon, but the company was delicious: Le Grand Prix de Cognac literary prize-winner Jake Lamar, author of Ghosts of Saint-Michel; Diane Johnson, author of Lulu in Marrakech; Polly Devlin, author of All of Us There; and Barbara Chase-Riboud, author of Sally Hemings. Later, we attended a reading at The Village Voice, an English-language bookstore (today’s Shakespeare & Company and home to a terrific reading series). Tarun Tejpal, author of The Alchemy of Desire, was interviewed by his French editor, Marc Parent. Also present was Susan Griffin, author of Wrestling with the Angel of Democracy, and afterward we all went out for dinner at a bistro near rue St. Germaine.
We also saw our dear friend Rabih Alemeddine, author of The Hakawati (Kathi’s favorite novel of 2008) and Pierre Haski, author of The Diary of Ma Yan (a forthcoming HarperCollins title), and had the true pleasure of meeting Duncan Clark, a Twitter tweeter of epic proportions.
We want Lynn, our editor at BookPage, to know that we are available to serve as regular correspondents from the City of Literary Lights. [Ed.: Thanks! Can I join you?] Meanwhile, with this list of great books by wonderful authors, we’ll always have Paris . . . now please get out of the bathtub.
In a first for BookPage columnists, Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam Barry got married (to each other) in June. After a fabulous honeymoon trip, they are back on the job, answering questions for aspiring writers at email@example.com. Don’t miss their new blog.