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17.4.04

That's Good Reading: Fully Credited Links

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."
cover
Jim Harrison, Legends of the Fall (1979)

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Mark Sarvas at The Elegant Variation had a post about Jim Harrison on April 13 and his recent contribution of fiction to The New Yorker (in the March 29 issue, Father Daughter). I grew up in Harrison's home, the great state of Michigan, and got to know some of his fiction and poetry in high school there and at Michigan State University, where Harrison was a student. For the fiction, I think his book of three novellas, Legends of the Fall, is superb, although the cover of the current printing is marred by an image of that execrable cinematic blunder adapted from one of the stories (in part by Harrison himself), of the same title and which gets no link. (Another of these novellas, "Revenge," was adapted as a less offensive but ultimately missable movie.) I have also read and enjoyed Farmer (1976). For poetry, I recommend the elegiac Theory and Practice of Rivers (1989) and Letters to Yesenin (1970). Considering the large number of books Harrison has now published, and which I have not really done very well at keeping up with, I think there are remarkably few failures, which is a sign of this writer's prodigious talents. I have to say that I do not read more than the first few paragraphs of the fiction piece in almost every issue of The New Yorker. If a short story does not pull me in within a half-page, I am likely to lose all interest in investing the time to finish it. This was not the case with Harrison's story, which I read without noticing that Harrison's name on the first page. I thought something seemed familiar about the style, a suspicion that was confirmed when I turned back to learn the author's name.

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.

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.
I can't possibly add anything to those words. Go read.

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