by guest blogger Paul Schmidtberger
Paul Schmidtberger is a man of many talents, but perhaps his most notable accomplishment (for me) is his delightful novel, "Design Flaws of the Human Condition." It's the story of two New Yorkers whose paths cross in an anger management class, only to become friends, grow as people, and plot a little revenge. Mr. Schmidtberger, however, is now a Parisian, and after a short correspondence, he took my suggestion to find out exactly what Parisians were reading nowadays. --Daniel
Paris on a bright autumn afternoon. The goal? Find out which French writers were teetering on the verge of being discovered – and rightly so – by the American public. The plan? Canvas the city and talk to bookstore owners.
The wrench in the plan? A transit strike.
I have a will of steel, but I only have regulation-issue legs, so I gave up on the idea of criss-crossing the city; instead, I visited a few bookstores right around the Bastille.
I started with L’Arbre à Lettres on Rue du Faubourg St. Antoine. One should always keep delving deeper into this long, narrow store because all the way at the back, there’s a separate room of art books that looks out onto a bright, bamboo courtyard. The Arbre à Lettres is raving about Muriel Barbery’s second novel, “L’Elégance du Hérisson” (The Elegance of the Hedgehog). This book is an honest-to-goodness phenomenon having sold some 600,000 copies, a figure that counts as staggering in France.
Next, I stopped into La Belle Lurette on Rue St. Antoine, a store that I’ve always loved for its high ceilings and beautiful bookcases. The Belle Lurette gang has gone batty for Gilles Leroy’s novel, “Alabama Song.” It’s French, but it’s about Zelda Fitzgerald. Everyone here is calling it his big American novel. (Editor’s note: this book has since been awarded the Prix Goncourt, France’s biggest prize).
Rue St. Antoine changes into Rue de Rivoli, and I stopped into the Librairie Charlemagne. A friend of mine used to live a few floors above this store in a sublet with a harem-theme décor – everything was made out of Moroccan throw pillows. We found the whole thing enchanting until the overhead light blew out and we realized that there was nothing in the apartment that we could stand on to change the bulb.
The Librarie Charlemagne is recommending Philippe Claudel’s novel “Le Rapport de Brodeck” (Brodeck’s Report). Set in the years just after World War II, the booksellers thought it’d be a natural fit for Americans who want to delve deeper into the shades-of-gray psychology of a post-war Europe trying to get back on its feet. Well thought out. Well written.
Three independent bookstores in three blocks. But there’s more. I walked down Rue St. Paul and stopped in at the Red Wheelbarrow, one of Paris’s English language bookstores. They told me that they’re selling lots of Jean-Paul Dubois’ novel, “A French Life.”
So, that’s what’s in store from France. The strike is over, so we’re all back on the trains and buses, staking out our claims to tiny, transitory bits of public transit space. All while losing ourselves in books (or, as in my case, glaring at people with headphones that leak noise). Stand clear of the closing doors!
Muriel Barbery L’Elégance du Hérisson
Gilles Leroy Alabama Song
Philippe Claudel Le Rapport de Brodeck
Jean-Paul Dubois A French Life
Paul Schmidtberger was born and raised in Schooley's Mountain, New Jersey, and currently lives in Paris. He is a graduate of Yale College and Stanford Law School, and is a member of the California State Bar. This is his first novel.