From the Department of Francophilia, an article (<<Je n'ai jamais vu Nougaro sans un livre>> ["I never saw Nougaro without a book"], April 13) in Le Figaro is an hommage to recently deceased French singer Claude Nougaro by his friend, the writer Christian Laborde. I like two things about this article. First, the image of someone "with his nose always in a book" is not a negative one in France; in fact, it is a compliment to Nougaro.
I never saw Claude Nougaro without a book within arm's reach, a book resting on a table, next to the Botot water bottle, on the rear seat of his car, or carried in the little suitcase he took on tour.I've seen French politicians photographed on television with their copy of Montaigne or Rabelais in hand while on vacation. Fake or not, the message is that bibliophilia is an admirable quality. Second, I love that he praises Nougaro for his love or words and a command of language:
To a journalist who asked him if song was a "minor art," Claude Nougaro responded, "Minor, but a deep miner! Allow me to fall back on the charcoal of language and suck the marrow out of words to make emeralds."
Jim Harrison, Legends of the Fall (1979)
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In this 1998 interview with Jonathan Miles for Salon, Harrison tried to explain his scintillating celebrity in France:
The French have quite a tradition of interest in American literature. You know, it was the French that busted Faulkner open. And they like somewhat rural American fiction. They don't need to read New York fiction—they already know that. It's the landscape and the setting that they've long been interested in. They don't have that there—that enormous space—and they have a much more homogeneous social life. They like the stew that America is. . . . They will accept [lush language] in a way that it's hard to get accepted in America. They're not so grotesquely plot-oriented. Even if you look in their literature—try reading Proust and looking for a plot line.I can't possibly add anything to those words. Go read.
The French are very sophisticated in a literary sense, but they aren't lit majors. They're just people—butchers, actresses, actual bakers. They're not in the lit game or the lit industry. I think it's interesting what someone there said to me once—it's something that I hadn't thought before, and it startled me. He told me that (the French) read me because in my fiction you have the life of relative action but also the life of the mind. In so much fiction we have one or the other, but never both. We tend to try to separate them.