WLRN #FridayReads — Bastille Day Edition

Jul 14, 2017

It’s Bastille Day! To celebrate the French national holiday, this week we asked some experts on France and the French language about their favorite books.

Share yours with us — or just tell us what you’re reading – by tweeting us @WLRN.

Travis Cohen, writer

“The Fall” is the last complete novel by Camus and arguably his most brilliant and unsettling. Over a series of anecdotes, monologues, and seemingly casual one-sided conversations, “The Fall” will make you wonder what lurks within the life of a bohemian, what virtuosity truly is and whether your notions of 'good' and 'bad' are really of any consequence at all.

“Journey To The End Of The Night" by Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Consider this the French analogue to "On The Road.” It is a novel of equal, if not greater, profundity and poetry, but one that is far bleaker and more cynical. Céline takes you from the fields and forests of WWI Europe to the Ford factories of the U.S. and back and shows you a dismal painting of humanity with a perfectly painful kind of humor and a wholly enthralling with.

Sebastien Da Ru, Miami resident originally from Cannes

The one I really recommend is Frederic Beigbeder. He's a 21st century philosopher, writer and a book critic. His writing is very direct and rough. He often writes about his own life, very much about sex, drugs and alcohol.

One book that I loved is called “99 Francs.” He's talking about his life working for a major advertisement firm in Paris. In this novel, he criticized so much the advertising world that he ended up getting fired from this job in real life. I first saw the movie about eight years ago starring Academy Award-winner Jean Dujardin. Frederic Beigbeder did a little cameo as himself. I was really moved about the movie that I did my research on it and this is how I learned that it was written by Beigbeder. So I went online and purchased the book. It was amazing and I devoured it in a couple days. It is then I started reading more of his books and the last one that I've read is called "l'amour dure 3 ans" (love lasts three years).

Sophie Painchaud, communications professor and part-time Key West resident

Though he kept a residence in New York City and began wintering in Key West in the 1990s, American writer Harry Mathews lived in France mostly full-time from 1953. Mathews was an early contributor to The Paris Review and the sole American member of Oulipo, an innovative (if not unusual) French literary salon. As a seasoned expatriate, Harry was an expert on French living and locales.

"My Life in CIA" is Mathews' memoir of his life in Paris in the late '60s and early '70s, yet the lines between autobiography, facts, and fiction are blurry. It all begins when someone infers that Harry — somewhat jobless at the time, floating in eccentric literary and artistic circles, and perhaps wealthy and/or gay? — must be an agent of CIA (never say “the CIA”). The more Harry denies his covert personae, the less people believe him. So, he decides to live the part. Ensuing are clever and humorous schemes and ruses, as Harry embraces his new undercover life. But ultimately, from the streets of Paris to the Vercors’ mountains, Harry must, in the best spy thriller style, find a way to vanish." Harry Mathews died last January in Key West at the age of 87. He had just completed his latest novel.