Recent Work By Greg Olear

Where in the World is J. Angelus Dust?

I don’t know if anyone else noticed this, but TNB’s celebrated advice columnist, the pseudonymous J. Angelus Dust, seems to have vanished from the site. It’s been many weeks since his last, somewhat erratic, post. Where could he be? Did his book ever come out? Is it called Thomas World, or something else? More importantly, is Fabian okay?

(Speaking of which: I am not The Dust, and while I have had the privilege of corresponding with him on several occasions, I not privy to his actual identity. If I had to guess at who he is among writers in the TNB Universe, my money would be on Spitznagel).

Well, we know Dust is a radical leftist. We know he’s an activist. We know he’s been increasingly sickened by the goings-on in this country, as his posts got ever more political in nature. I think he’s one of the leaders of the leaderless Occupy Wall Street movement. The timing, the politics, the nature of the beast…call it a hunch, but that’s my belief. And this recent push to “relocate the nexus” of OWS to Oakland suggests that Dust could well be in the Bay Area as I type this, perhaps huddling under a tent, perhaps handing out fliers at Berkeley.

Anyone else have any theories?

This is a response to D.R. Haney’s essay, “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.” I’m including it here, so as not to leave a thousand-word comment.

American film, generally, has devolved into the stuff of teenage fantasy, as Duke suggests. This is irrefutable. We might even say the industry has, ahem, transformed. We go to the movies now to watch stuff blow up, to witness orcs battling halflings, to behold wizards-in-training cavort around on broom handles, to marvel at comics come to life. I indulge in this pleasure myself, from time to time. I enjoyed Iron Man — more for Robert Downey’s suave performance than anything else, but still. And yes, these movies are devoid of sex. The closest we get to carnality in these blockbusters is Megan Fox running among the robots-cum-Dodge Durangos.

A novelist of your acquaintance, an affable fellow named Roger Gale, has written a second novel, a follow-up to his highly unsuccessful debut, The Lap of Uxory. This sophomore effort, which concerns a stay-at-pyramid father who raises a young Egyptian prince, is called Pharaohmaker, and the “pub date” is fast approaching.

WHEN SHE FIRST burst upon the scene, with the release of The Fame in 2008, the artist formerly known as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta was written off by some as a second-rate Christina Aguilera—probably because they had similar bleached-blonde hair-dos.

The comparison was short-lived.  By the time “Bad Romance” came out a year later,  detractors dismissed the pop star as nothing more than a two-bit Madonna impersonator, a charge she can’t seem to shake.  While there are some surface similarities between Lady Gaga and Madge—they’re both women; they’re both superstars; they both hold with the less-is-more school of couture; and, yes, “Born This Way” sounds like “Express Yourself” to a degree best described as actionable—the two are worlds apart.

World War One doesn’t play well in the United States. Americans, as a rule, are much more interested in the sequel, which corresponds better with the heroic narrative we prefer. We beat Hitler! We saved the world from extermination camps and kamikaze bombers! And if we had to drop a few nukes on Japan to put an exclamation point on victory, well, c’est la guerre.

Our participation in the Great War was relatively minor: we arrived late, when victory was more or less assured, and our casualty numbers, while eye-popping by today’s standards, were nowhere near the losses the European powers endured. We lost “only” 118,000 men, in a country of 92 million. Total European fatalities amounted to a staggering 16,000,000, with Britain absorbing about a million of that total—this in a country with less than half the population of the United States.

No wonder, then, that the British have a more reverent attitude toward the Great War: the two minutes’ silence at 11am on Armistice Day, the ubiquitous monuments to the fallen, the art, the literature. The closest analog we have here is the Civil War, which claimed 700,000 American lives, in a country (or countries, as it were) of 31.5 million. This explains why place names like Verdun, Ypres, and Passchendale don’t have the resonance here that they do in Britain, whereas the word Gettysburg still connotes wartime horror.

Although it is overshadowed by its successor, although its causes are as murky as the mud of Flanders, the Great War, to me, is endlessly fascinating. The key to understanding all of the twentieth century, it seems to me, lies in solving the riddle of the First World War. Why on earth did all those nations embark on a path of obvious mutual destruction? Because a snooty archduke was picked off by a half-drunk Balkan dissident?

So it was with great interest that I acquired a galley of The Missing of the Somme, Geoff Dyer’s superb book about the Great War, which releases on Vintage today. Part history, part cultural criticism, part essay, The Missing is also a memoir, in the strictest sense of the word—it’s a book about memory; in particular, the memory, both individual and collective, of the First World War. Dyer’s well-argued and compelling thesis is that the Great War seems to have been fought primarily to be remembered:

The Great War ruptured the historical continuum, destroying the legacy of the past. Wyndham Lewis sounds the characteristic note when he calls it ‘the turning-point in the history of the earth,’ but there is a sense in which, for the British at least, the war helped to preserve the past even as it destroyed it. Life in the decade and a half preceding 1914 has come to be viewed inevitably and unavoidably through the optic of the war that followed it. The past as past was preserved by the war that shattered it. By ushering in a future characterized by instability and uncertainty, it embalmed for ever a past characterized by stability and certainty.

Like Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, Dyer parses artistic work from that era: Owen and Sassoon, Hemingway and Henri Barbusse, as well as photographers, sculptors, and artists. Unlike Fussell, these readings are supplemented by Dyer’s experiences doing the research: his boredom after watching hours of war footage (and his feeling guilty for feeling bored); his road trip of the battlegrounds with his friends, all of them jokingly affecting Great War expressions like “old chap”; his futile attempts to make sense of it all; his feeling of tranquility upon surveying a battlefield.

This makes for an engaging, entertaining, insightful take on what can be a depressingly horrific subject to read about—but one whose lessons remain frustratingly pertinent to the here and now.

Dyer—the versatile novelist, essayist, and winner of the Somerset Maugham Prize—was kind enough to answer some of my questions:

 

 

 

I remember learning about the causes of World War One in eighth grade; there were seven or eight of them, which we were encouraged to learn by rote with the aid of some inane mnemonic device that was as nonsensical as the causes of the war seemed to be.   For me, the murkiness of the cause—especially compared with the horrible cost—makes the Great War more compelling, from a literary standpoint, than WWII.

I write in the book about exactly that: my inability to concentrate and decipher the causes.   This leads on to the slightly  over-the-top claim that it was fought in order that it might be remembered.  What’s always stuck in my mind is  A.J.P. Taylor’s line about it happening because of railway timetables—a metaphor, but a very effective one.

 

One of the more fascinating aspects of your book—because it’s something I’d never considered—is how different the perspectives of the Great War are in Britain as opposed to here in the U.S.  Is it accurate to suggest that by introducing a nation to the horrors of modern warfare (i.e., war of attrition) the Great War played the same role in Britain than the Civil War did in the States?

The First World War was much bigger, obviously, and the scale of the industry involved much greater.  I think in both wars the striking things is the combination of  new technologies and the residues of older, far more primitive forms of conflict. The use of horses, for example—which actually continued into the Second World War (by 1944  the Germany army was still using a million and a quarter horses!).  This was brought out very clearly by an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum a few years ago: clubs used for trench raids that looked like they were from the Middle Ages. Also as has been remarked many times the means of defense were far more mechanized or industrialized than the means of attack.

 

Which explains the trenches and the stalemate. The Great War was a war of inertia; objects in motion remain in motion—or, in this case, trapped in foxholes along the Western Front—until something stops them.

The other point to make is that the horror of war doesn’t seem to significantly limits its attraction. People still join the Marines partly because Iwo Jima and Okinawa etc. were so horrible.

 

You have a great line in the book to that effect: “For all their abhorrence of war the poets of protest like Owen, Sassoon and Graves continued—for very different reasons—to wage it.” They were poets of protest, as you say, but not pacifists, per se.

Speaking of pacifism—Nicholson Baker wrote a book a few years ago called Human Smoke, which uses primary sources to trace the appetite for war and peace in the days leading up to Pearl Harbor.  His thesis is that all war—even supposed “good” wars like WWII—cause more harm for more human beings than the opposite; that pacifism is always better than warfare—even warfare against the Nazis.  I’m wondering of you’ve read that book, and what you make of Baker’s thesis.

Yes,  I reviewed it for a British  paper and thought it was fantastic: highly original, formally inventive and so on.  The fact that I didn’t go along with Baker’s conclusion didn’t interfere at all with my enjoyment or admiration.

 

Fussell writes that the Great War is about the loss of innocence on a grand scale (it also introduced many words to the popular lexicon, he points out, like entrenched and lousy).  You mention him a number of times in the book, and you seem to treat him with a certain ambivalence.  How do you regard Fussell and his The Great War and Modern Memory?  Is there something about him that gets under your skin?

I first read it at Oxford as an undergraduate. It’s a benchmark book, obviously: eye-opening.   But I think I’d grown got a bit weary of Fussell’s tone by the time of his Second World War book, Wartime.  I can’t remember why.

 

Well, he can get a bit tedious. Fussell also mentions the legendary football match between the British and German troops on Christmas Day, 1916.  In the book, you say it “probably didn’t happen.”  I agree with you that it’s probably apocryphal, but I’m wondering about that qualifier, and why you think it didn’t.

I think that line of mine is based on a quite detailed examination of the evidence by Modris Eksteins in his book, Rites of Spring. It’s another book, like Fussell’s, that is absolutely essential reading about the war.  And the Christmas Day truce was sort of ruined by that twat Paul McCartney using it as a video for one of his piss-poor songs.

 

Ouch! The world is much changed since 1994, when the book was published in England.  The EU, which must have been unthinkable to a soldier at Ypres, is now a reality.  Do you think that in some small way, the lessons of the Great War, and the way its devotional memory underscored those lessons, paved the way for the union to happen?

I’m not sure. Don’t forget that the end of the Great War, particularly the treaty of Versailles (“the peace to end all peace”, as Sassoon called it), made another big war almost inevitable, so that would be a rather roundabout way of bringing about European unity!

 

Another great element of your book are the interludes about you and your traveling companions, how you all, after awhile, adopted the absurdist attitude, albeit on a smaller scale, that the troops must have displayed.  (“Wipers” pronounced “Ypres” is particularly witty).  Any good stories from that road trip that didn’t fit into the book that you’d like to share?

At the risk of sounding some like war vet reluctant to talk about the past due to  post-traumatic stress,  I can only  say it was a long time ago and I can remember nothing about it that did not find its way into the book.

 

The book about memory!

That’s the thing about writing books: the finished book becomes a substitute  for—and barrier to—further memories of the events on which it was based.

 

You wrote this book in 1994, when a handful of Great War veterans were still with us.  In the intervening years, those vets have passed on.  Have your feelings toward remembrance (lowercase and capital) changed since then?

Not really.  I think, if anything, the War has become more present in recent years due to books like Ferguson’s and Keegan’s and because we are approaching the 100th anniversary when, like some planetary event, the Great War will once again come into precise alignment with the present.

 

A transit, we call that in astrology: the Great War Return.

…but then there was this group called the Nomadic Theatre troupe, and I kind of felt like okay, I can jive with these guys, so I auditioned for some plays and I played Azolan, the servant in Dangerous Liaisons, was the first thing I had done…

—Bradley Cooper, NPR’s Fresh Air, May 25, 2011

 

 

 

I discovered Bradley Cooper.

Really, I did.

I cast him (or rather we cast him—my friend and co-director Brian Rath and I) in the first play he ever did, a Nomadic Theatre production of Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, staged in the spring of 1995 at our mutual alma mater, Georgetown University.

I’ve been loath to disclose this piece of Greg Olear trivia because a) discovering the actor who played Face in the A-Team movie is not in quite the same strata as discovering a new planet or the cure for cancer; b) unlike Jessica Anya Blau’s full-frontal encounter with Smurf-schlonged Hollywood Leading Man X (who had, at the time, about the same Q rating Cooper does right now), there’s not much to the story; and c) as Ouisa so eloquently puts it in Six Degrees of Separation (written, incidentally, by John Guare, another Georgetown alumnus), “Let’s not be starfuckers.”

But the situation has changed. Bradley Cooper’s sudden and unavoidable ubiquity has forced my hand. I can’t seem to escape him. Consider:

>> Last weekend, The Hangover II established a new box office record for live-action comedy, and has now grossed some $200 million—or about $200 million more than our play grossed.

>> My father-in-law’s therapeutic herbal remedy company, Herbasway Laboratories, wrangled a tie-in with the aforementioned film to promote one of its signature products, the “hangover helper” Last Round (it really works, by the way; if your ambition is to be a literary lush, I recommend you give it a whirl), so even he has been singing the praises of said bohunk.

>> Cooper has once again dished about his formative experience in our play, this time to NPR, and thus his celebrated name has been a constant in my Facebook feed.

>> I found, while packing up the old house two weeks ago, photographic evidence of our association (see below).

The time has come to tell the tale. Starfucker I must be.

 

* * *

 

Let me set the stage.

Georgetown is known for producing politicians (Bill Clinton) and NBA centers (Patrick Ewing). But my alma mater is, and always has been, a sneaky arts school. Among its notable alumni are The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty, Guare, Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz, Fugazi guitarist Guy Picciotto, and acting legend John Barrymore.

Overlapping my time on campus were the Memento screenwriter Jonathan Nolan; the Emmy-winning director Michael Sucsy; my friend Dave Berman, who plays the assistant coroner on CSI (and who would have been in the play if he weren’t studying abroad that semester); comedian Mike Birbiglia; Vertical Horizon’s Matt Scannell; and the playwright/TV writer/comic book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, my friend and sometime mentor, who was hired a few months ago to re-work the script of Spiderman: The Musical.

For a school of nascent lawyers and diplomats, not too shabby.

In 1995, there were two drama companies on campus: the venerable and stuffy Mask & Bauble, and Nomadic Theatre, the young upstart known for breezy comedies like Dracula: The Musical (in which I played Van Helsing my freshman year). The two enjoyed a friendly rivalry, and it was our ambition crush M&B and establish Nomadic as top dog. To do this, we needed to stage an ambitious play, and stage it well.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses fit the bill. A demanding and difficult play, it is three solid hours of precise dialogue, ornate costumes (which we avoided by setting the action in the 1920s; men in tuxedos, women in gowns), and swordplay. The lead, Valmont—John Malkovich in the movie—is on stage for most of those three hours, almost never stops talking, and dies after an extensively choreographed swordfight. It’s not an easy part to pull off.

But we had the man for the job: our friend Bandar al-Hejin, a gifted actor who was also stunningly handsome. He’d smoldered his way through a production of Rope the year before, establishing his bona fides theatrical and heartthrob. We selected the play with Bandar in mind.

Madame de Merteuil, the Glenn Close part, is critical to the success of the show; for the play to succeed, we had to find someone who could go toe to toe with Bandar. Fortunately, we did: despite having to audition with a talentless schmuck in leather pants who handed out headshots, and who made it clear that he was the son of some Hollywood director we’d never heard of and therefore the Second Coming of Brad Pitt—as soon as he left the room, Brian tore up his headshot and screamed, “Fuck him!”—Lucy Ellenbogen dazzled in her try-out, and only got better as the play went along.

Rounding out the talented and attractive cast were Lucy Barzun Donnelly (who won an Emmy and a Golden Globe last year for producing Grey Gardens), Noelle Coates, Destiny Lopez, Maggie Kemper, Alexia Paul, Roman Kindrachuk, and Brady Richards, one of my best friends (who, among his many other talents, fashions Beer Buckles).

Azolan, a secondary part, is Valmont’s valet: his servant, but also his confidante, his comic straight man, his partner in crime. A fin de siècle DSK like Valmont, we decided, would employ someone young and handsome as a wingman. That’s what we were looking for at the audition.

We narrowed it down to two actors: Oliver, a Mask & Bauble veteran who delivered the lines with saucy aplomb; and a sophomore transfer student who’d never been on stage before in his life. He was a bit wooden, the newcomer, a bit stiff, but we liked that; we didn’t want Azolan upstaging—or, worse, trying unsuccessfully to upstage—Valmont. We felt a guy this raw would deliver the lines, many of them jokes, without acting like a stand-up comic.

Plus, he was a good complement to our lead. Bandar was dark and handsome, slender and on the short side. The new guy was tall, more filled in, and blonde. And he was good-looking. Fantabulously, jaw-droppingly, pinch-yourself, hot-as-all-get-out good-looking. So we went with him.

Our decision proved prudent. The new guy was the perfect Azolan. He did indeed deliver his lines well, never attempted to upstage Bandar, and remained as fantabulously, jaw-droppingly, pinch-yourself, hot-as-all-get-out good-looking as he’d been at the audition.

The new guy’s name, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, was Bradley Cooper.

 

* * *

 

The spring of 1995 was only Cooper’s second semester at Georgetown. A sophomore, he’d transferred from a school in Pennsylvania with his girlfriend, who was just as comely as he was (in my recollection, she looked a lot like a young Courteney Cox—curious, given his recent not-so-dangerous liaison with Jennifer Aniston), and, it seemed to me, more worldly.  They reminded me of the Bulgarian couple in Casablanca: attractive, optimistic, decidedly un-jaded.

As for me, I graduated in December of 1994, a semester early, and was only hanging around to direct the play, forestall gainful employment, and prepare my liver for the graduation week of drunken debauchery known as Senior Disorientation. So I did not know Cooper well.

He struck me as pleasant, quiet, polite, and shy (I realize this is not unlike how neighbors describe serial killers). He had a certain wide-eyed quality that was endearing, but he was also a bit aloof, perhaps because I was older and, as a director, something of an authority figure (one who threw good parties and made rehearsals fun, but an authority figure just the same).

In his recent NPR interview, he hinted at another reason for his aloofness:

“I also didn’t feel at all comfortable with the theater crowd when I was in high school. I never felt any connection to those students and so too was it true at Georgetown,” Cooper said. “I had nothing in common with them. Maybe I was intimidated by them.”

So we’ll go with that. He was intimidated by me (and probably by Brian even more, Brian being the “bad cop” of our directorial duo).  Because, you know, I’m so intimidating.

I saw him only once after that semester, at a theatre event for students and alumni a year or two later. He showed up with Eric Chase Anderson, Wes’s kid brother (Bottle Rocket was out by then) and eventual art director, who had cast him in a student film called, if memory serves, The Ant Colony, and coaxed a nuanced performance out of him that hinted at what was to come. Cooper wore a purple-and-blue pinstriped three-piece suit, and his hair was slicked back like Pat Riley’s. Gone was the wooden gait that had gotten him cast in Les Liaisons Dangereuses; now he strutted like John Travolta, not arrogantly but confidently. In other words, like a movie star.

He’d gone as Hollywood as it was possible to go within the collegial confines of the Healy Gates. He would wind up going all the way there.

We watched with interest as he guested on Sex in the City and was sodomized in Wet Hot American Summer. We shook our heads every time Alias came on.

When he nabbed the “Ralph Bellamy” part in Wedding Crashers, we were astonished. A guy we actually knew—a guy Brady still traded emails with; a guy I once implored to project—was in a major role in a major comedy!

But it didn’t stop there: The Hangover, Renée Zellweger, He’s Just Not That into You, Jennifer Aniston, The Hangover II.

It hasn’t stopped yet. It just keeps on going.

The A-Team? Try the A-list.

It’s kind of amazing.

 

* * *

 

Would Bradley Cooper have made it this far if we’d opted for Oliver as Azolan—if, in other words, we were lesser casting agents and directors? Of course. Much as we’d like to believe otherwise, he does not owe his success to us, his intimidators. We’re not like the guy from the Human League song.

Would he make a good Asher Krug? Absolutely (although it must be said: Bandar would, too).

Would it kill him to note that the play responsible for exciting his acting bug was co-directed by a novelist who has a new book out in the fall? Evidently. Or, more likely, this pesky detail has escaped his matinee idol’s attention. Can’t say I blame him.

Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to hear that, unlike that fateful night in Vegas—and now, one night in Bangkok—Cooper hasn’t forgotten his time in our play.

 

This is a partial list of everyone I met, hung out with, exchanged cards with, worked with, or stalked during the various events at last week’s Book Expo America. This is not an exhaustive list; I’m sure there are people I’m omitting, and I already feel bad about it.

With that disclaimer, here is the list, in alphabetical order:

 

ADAM WILSON

Editor at The Faster Times, and author of the forthcoming Flatscreen, which sounds fantastic. Hung out with him at the swankier-than-swank Authors Guild cocktail party.

 

ALISON SKAPINETZ

Blogs at Alison’s Book Marks. Met her at the Harper blogger party at Bill’s Gay Nineties. Like me, is from Jersey. Like me, is half Italian. Like my wife, had just taken her kids on a field trip to the Crayola Factory.

 

ANDY SHAFFER

AKA Evil Wylie. Author of Great Philosophers Who Failed At Love, which, unlike The Financial Lives of the Poets, really is about philosophers who failed at love. His line of “Evil” Christmas cards was featured on Colbert. Wore heart-shaped Disney glasses on his head. Is from Iowa. Does not seem like he’s from Iowa. Very funny.

 

BETH FISH

Nom de plume of [real name redacted]. Blogs at Beth Fish Reads.

 

CAROLINE KENNEDY

The biggest name on the docket, it says here, but she was a no-show. The official reason is that a family matter compelled her to bow out, but I think it was a conspiracy involving the Mafia, the CIA, and Fidel Castro.

 

COLLEEN GORMAN

Blogs at Books in the City, which is one of the best-designed book blog sites out there. Spends the holidays in Dallas, so maybe she’s also in on the aforementioned conspiracy.

 

DAWN RENNERT

Is too fond of books. Has four kids, whom she left home with her husband for BEA. In a related story, she looked very relaxed whenever I saw her.

 

DAVID GUTOWSKI

AKA Largehearted Boy. Wanted to meet him, but our paths, alas, did not cross.

 

DIANE LaRUE

Blogs at BookChickDi. At the party at Bill’s Gay Nineties, I mistakenly called her blog BookLadyDi, which would not be nearly as interesting, unless you’re into royal gossip and “Goodbye English Rose.”

 

DIANA SPECHLER

One of the featured authors at Monday’s Harper blogger event (the day after her TNB chat). Author of Skinny. Just a super nice person (real-person nice, not car-salesman nice). Wish we could have spent more time talking shop.

 

ELISSA SCHAPPELL

Author of the forthcoming Blueprints for Building Better Girls, a collection of inter-related stories that has one of the best titles going. Has more literary bona fides than you can shake a stick at, were you moved to shake a stick at literary bona fides. Met her at the Authors Guild party.

 

ERICA BARMASH

Perennial marketeer extraordinaire. Taker of vitamins.

 

JASON CHAMBERS

Managing editor at the increasingly-misnomered Three Guys One Book. Is launching a new venture called LitBreaker, a literary and pop culture ad network. Can totally pull off a white hat.

 

JASON RICE

He’s tall, and he has cool glasses.

 

JEN SCHULKIND

My excellent editor and companion-in-wandering around Javits. Waited with me to meet Russell Banks. Texted me showtimes for Bridesmaids.

 

JENNIFER HART

AKA Book Club Girl. Harper’s marketing director and associate publisher. New Jersey apologist.

 

JIM LEYRITZ

Former New York Yankee playoff hero who has written a book about the financial meltdown in Iceland. Just kidding! He wrote a book about his time with the Bronx Bombers. Spotted him on the NJ Transit platform in Madison.

 

JOHN LITHGOW

Keynote speaker at the Authors Guild dinner. Saw him at the cocktail party. Tried to play New York cool, but when I held the door for him, felt it would be rude to not say hello. Told him he was great on Colbert. Kept bumping into him for the rest of the party—when I went to the men’s room, for one thing—and again at BEA. Got to be sort of funny. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was stalking me.

 

JOSEPH PAPA

My publicist and handler for the autograph table. Thought an event was open bar; ordered two Champagne cocktails. It wasn’t; cost him $38. Was a bit shaken when the insane person came by the table (I used to recruit at job fairs, so I’m used to insane people).

 

JULIANNE MOORE

Walked by her on the way to my table; saw the back of her more-brown-than-red head. She’s small, and was folded up under the table like she was trying to vanish.

 

KIT STEINKELLNER

Blogs at Books Are My Boyfriends. Big fan of TNB. Was wearing a really cool dress.

 

LAUREN CERAND

Invited me to the Authors Guild cocktail party, which was awesome, and then did one better by introducing me to people when I showed up by myself, parched, early, and feeling quite out of place. As art deco swanky as the Edison Ballroom is, her outfit was even swankier.

 

LORI HETTLER

Longtime supporter of Yours Truly. Blogs at The Next Best Book Blog. Mastermind of The Next Best Book Club at Goodreads. First in line at the Fathermucker signing session. Introduced me to a lot of cool bloggers. Even nicer in person than she is online.

 

MARY SASSO

Harper’s marketing coordinator, which means she does the dirty work. Did a great job putting my stuff together. The lollipops turned out great!

 

MATTHEW NORMAN

Author of the very funny Domestic Violets, which drops in August. Lives in Baltimore. Is very tall.

 

MEGAN ABBOTT

One of the few American writers at the Quais du Polar festival I attended in March, in Lyon, France—and we were both at BEA, on the same day, at almost the same time slot, promoting two different books. Unlike in Lyon, the book she signed(The End of Everything) is in English, and is next in my stack.

 

MICHAEL FUSCO

Art director who designed the invitations for the Authors Guild event. Emma Straub’s husband, and the designer of the awesome book jacket for Other People We Married. Hung out with me at the Authors Guild party.

 

MOLLIE GLICK

My intrepid agent, who went with me to the Harpers party at The Park (her dog we left at the office).

 

RACHEL MANWILL

Blogs at Home Between Pages. Distinguishing mark: tattoo on her neck.

 

REBECCA COLEMAN

Author of The Kingdom of Childhood. Waited in line for a signed copy of Fathermucker; seemed surprised when I waited in line for a signed copy of her book.

 

ROB SPILLMAN

Editor of Tin House. Wearer of the coolest shirt-and-tie combo at the Authors Guild party.

 

RUSSELL BANKS

One of my favorite authors. I waited in line for a signed galley of his new one, Lost Memory of Skin. I actually said, “Hi, Russell; big fan,” like I was calling a sports radio talk show or something.

 

T. OLMSTED

BookSexy. Huge Colbert fan. Has tastes very similar to mine (guess how she feels about Franzen?).

 

TALIA CARNER

Author of Jerusalem Maiden, which sounds terrific…and releases today. Very elegant.

 

VANESSA VESELKA

Author of Zazen, which I’m reading now, and which is as superb as advertised. Has a tattoo of the New York Public Library lion on her arm. Met her at Javits, and again at Bill’s Gay Nineties. Inspired my wife and I to eat dinner at Veselka, our favorite restaurant in the East Village, after the party.

 

Word count: 94,794

Page count: 352

Cover price, in USD: 13.99

In Canadian dollars: 15.99

On March 3, which happens to be my father’s birthday, Totally Killer was published in French. Three weeks later, at the invitation of my publisher, Éditions Gallmeister, I flew to Paris to kick off a five-day, two-city book tour.

I expected to visit a few librairies, attempt to read from François Happe’s superb translation of the book without my tongue falling out, and be back in my hotel room by ten every night. I expected to get a lot of reading done. I expected to take long hot baths. I expected to see the sights. I expected no one to have read the book. I expected to be pretty much ignored.

Let’s just say my expectations were exceeded in the best possible way.

I was too busy meeting booksellers, inscribing books, decrying capitalist exploitation, and trying to remember the difference between envie de and besoin de to pay much attention to Twitter. (Plus, Twitterific didn’t work on my iPhone. #twitterificfail)

So here, then, a month late, are tweets I would have tweeted were I tweeting while in France. (Note: My brain does not have a 140-character counter, so if some of these run a touch long…c’est la vie.)

 

 

PREMIÈRE PARTIE: PARIS

 

1. Mardi/mercredi, le vol

 

Can the contrast between the point of departure and point of arrival be more stark than Newark to Paris direct? The City of Lights from the City of Raw Sewage.

 

* * *

 

Boarding the plane, the pre-flight stress behind me, I’m suddenly overcome with emotion. It hits me: I’m going to France—fucking France!—on a book tour! Me! Somewhere my French teacher is smiling. My English teacher, too.

 

* * *

 

No one’s sitting next to me! Cool. I can totally stretch out.

 

* * *

 

This Whiskey Brothers podcast is funny.

 

* * *

 

Air France is not stingy with the vino. Or the Champagne.

 

* * *

 

The flight attendant and the pilot speak French (duh). I shall have to break out my un peu Français soon. Zut alors!

 

* * *

 

Philippe, my editor, meets me at the airport. He identifies himself by waving around a poster of the Totally Killer cover. There is a French word for the kind of cajones it requires to wave around a poster of a gun at an airport. That word is chutzpah.

 

* * *

 

Philippe is wearing a hip t-shirt, jeans, cool glasses, and a corduroy blazer. I am wearing a hip t-shirt, jeans, cool glasses, and a corduroy blazer. This is the first clue that Philippe and I have a lot in common.

 

* * *

 

“There has been a change in the schedule,” he tells me. From the level of apology in his voice, I’m certain the TV interview (which I’d bragged about on Facebook) has been kibboshed—but no. “The interview with Radio RFI is off. She really wants to do it, but she can’t, because they are on strike.” Bienvenue à France!

 

* * *

 

I haven’t slept since Monday night New York time, and it’s now Wednesday morning in Paris. No way I make it through the day without a serious power nap. But what hotel will check me in at nine in the morning? Fortunately, Marie-Anne, my publicist, has thought of this, and arranged for me to check in early. This is the first clue that Marie-Anne is really kick-ass at her job.

 

* * *

 

Snowing in New Jersey, but 68 and sunny here. Paris, je t’aime.

 

* * *

 

The Hotel de la Sorbonne is a small and quiet inn right across the street from the eponymous French university. The Pantheon is a block away. I can walk to Notre Dame from here, easy. Of more exigent importance, there is a bed. J’ai fatigue. J’ai besoin de zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

 

 

 

 

2. Mercredi, l’après midi

 

 

There’s a bookstore every other block here. I’m not even exaggerating. There are more bookstores than bars, seems like. And in almost all of them, there’s my book, often in the window, usually prominently placed, sometimes with a note of endorsement from the bookseller.

 

 

 

* * *

 

Let me reflect on the enormity of that for a moment: My book is in almost every bookstore in Paris. I honestly don’t even know how to process this.

 

* * *

 

Also of note: how often the word art is used here. So many buildings, museums, streets, shops, all with art or arts in the title.

 

* * *

 

The streets of Paris are named after writers. In New York, city of bankers, the streets are either numbered or bear the surnames of the aristocratic dead.

 

* * *

 

I meet Marie-Anne and Philippe for lunch at a restaurant hidden above a cinema that is said to be owned by Catherine Deneuve. I have a double espresso.

 

* * *

 

Marie-Anne reminds me of my friend Ruth. This means nothing to you (unless you’re Ruth; hi, Ruth!), but to me, it means I can relax and let her do her thing. Both Marie-Anne and Ruth are really really good at Getting Shit Done.

 

* * *

 

Marie-Anne walks really fast. I walk fast, too—I lived in New York for ten years; I don’t mosey—but wow, can she fly.

 

* * *

 

Craig Johnson” sounds funny when spoken with a French accent. (Craig is the author of Little Bird, also published by Gallmeister).

 

* * *

 

To the 16eme Arrondisement, and the broadcast headquarters of France24, a relatively new cable news network in the manner of CNN. “There are 23 million viewers,” I’m told. That’s how many Facebook fans I have, give or take 23 million.

 

* * *

 

I’m getting my makeup done (!) when a production assistant comes in and tells me that the show has been revamped. “Elizabeth Taylor just died,” she said. “I don’t know if you knew that.” I didn’t. My first thought: Duke should write about that.

 

* * *

 

Katherine Nicholson—Kat—is the host, and she will be interviewing me. She’s very nice. She tells me she just finished the book, and she really liked it, especially all the pop cultural references.

 

 

* * *

 

Forgot to mention: Kat is British. For some reason, after a day of calibration for French and French-accented English, a British accent sounds almost like a different language.

 

* * *

 

Kat does two takes. On one, she pronounces the “r” at the end of “Killer”. It sounds cooler when she drops it: totally kill-uh. They go with that one.

 

* * *

 

Eight minute interview gone in the blink of an eye. I manage to sit still and not use “like” or “uh” too much. Also, my hair looks good.

 

* * *

 

“There’s one thing about the book. I didn’t want to say it on the air,” Kat says. I’m all, uh-oh. She says, “The phone on the cover? That’s from the mid-90s, not 1991!”

 

* * *

 

Back to the hotel to rest up for the party at Philippe’s apartment.

 

* * *

 

Writing the first TNB postcard. I hope this works…

 

 

 

 

3. Mercredi, le soir

 

 

Marie-Anne fetches me at the hotel. We cab across town, to Montmartre, Pigalle, and the 18eme Arrondisement. The hip part of town.

 

* * *

 

The cab stops in front of Le Moulin Rouge. I mean, there’s the fucking windmill, right there! I feel like I should burst into song. Hey sisters soul sisters gotta get that dough sisters…

 

 

 

* * *

 

Philippe and Anne, his wife, have a to-die-for apartment. Super-high ceilings, spacious rooms, oversized windows overlooking the side street where they live, huge bookshelves teaming with books, and really cool art on the walls.

 

* * *

 

I am looking at the books on Philippe’s shelves. It is clear to me why he bought my book, as we have the same exact taste in books. It’s like someone has teleported my bookcases to Pigalle. (I suspect Richard Cox).

 

* * *

 

Todd’s “Taylor Mix,” the one on the first page of Totally Killer, is playing on the stereo.

 

* * *

 

I meet Oliver, my publisher. He is carrying a box of wine into the vestibule. And not a case of wine—a cardboard box full of wine, in which the bottles are stacked one on top of the other, like socks. Talk about an entrance!

 

* * *

 

Philippe whips up quite the pasta salad.

 

* * *

 

“We don’t publish books we like,” Oliver tells me, patting my back. “We don’t have time for that. We put out ten books a year; we only publish books we love.”

 

* * *

 

The apartment begins to fill up. The Gallmeister crew: Oliver, Mary-Anne, Katarina (who is from St. Petersburg), and of course Philippe; Anne; and twenty or so Parisian booksellers.

 

* * *

 

I am expecting them to regard me as an arriviste. I am expecting them to regard me with suspicion. I am expecting them to make for the wine and the cheese and ignore me entirely.

 

* * *

 

I can’t believe how many of them have read the book! I can’t believe how many of them like it! I can’t believe how much French I can understand!

 

* * *

 

When your work is being complimented, your fluency jumps up a notch right quick.

 

* * *

 

One of the booksellers, a beautiful and hip woman named Sophie, is wearing the coolest ring I’ve ever seen. It’s basically a jagged piece of broken mirror on a ring. I want to get one like that for Stephanie! I compliment her on the ring, in my best French, which falls somewhere between “un peu” and “repeating ça va over and over.”

 

* * *

 

In France, it is against the law to sell a book for less than a slight percentage less than the price listed on the jacket. (Talk about prix fixé!). What this means is, a mega-box-store—or an Amazon—can’t kill off the indies by selling books at enormous volume discounts.

 

* * *

 

What this means is, indie booksellers are protected by the government from huge monolithic corporations underselling them into extinction.

 

* * *

 

Vive la socialisme!

 

* * *

 

“That would never fly in America,” I say. “To us, capitalism and the free market must be defended against all opposition—even if said opposition is The Good of All Humanity.” In the USA, our motto is shareholders über alles.

 

* * *

 

The French government is like the Lorax, and the price regulation is an edict protecting the Truffula trees/bookstores from the brutal ax of Once-lerian capitalism.

 

* * *

 

“Once-ler” is almost an anagram of “Olear.”

 

* * *

 

I ask Philippe and Katarina what Oliver’s last name is. “Gallmeister,” they say, and they both laugh at me.

 

* * *

 

I ask about politics. Everyone knows who George W. Bush is, and that he is an asshole, but Dick Cheney is more of an unknown. I enlighten them.  “He is a walking example of eminence grise,” I say.

 

* * *

 

Q. How do you make a Frenchman make a face like someone just broke wind? A. Ask how he feels about Sarkozy.

 

* * *

 

Q. How do you make a Frenchman flee in horror? A. Ask about Marine Le Pen.

 

* * *

 

If Sarah Palin were French, blonde, smart, dignified, classy, able to connect with a broader group of people, and the daughter of a perennial far-right political candidate, her name would be Marine Le Pen. Sarko is toast and she’s running; people are afraid.

 

 

 

* * *

 

I keep waiting for some other writer to show up. It’s hard to believe these people are here for me.

 

* * *

 

I give a short speech. I thank Philippe and Anne for hosting, and Oliver and Marie-Anne for coordinating. I thank the booksellers for coming. I tell them it’s an honor to be here. I tell them I love France. Then Oliver makes a few jokes, and the party continues.

 

* * *

 

I ask Sophie where she got the ring, explaining that I want to get one for my wife. “My friend made it,” she says. “When are you going back? I can see if she can make her one.” But Sunday is too soon.

 

* * *

 

So Sophie—lovely, amazing Sophie—gives me her ring to give to Stephanie! (I offer to pay for it, but she won’t let me). “My friend will make a new one, and she’ll be glad someone is wearing it in New York.”

 

* * *

 

Sophie, you are awesome.

 

* * *

 

Oliver doesn’t believe me. He (sagely) makes sure the gift is really a gift and not a translation error.  He makes sure I’m not making a…what is the French word for faux pas?

 

* * *

 

I met Emmanuelle, my sub-agent, who is directly responsible for me being here.  God bless you, Emmanuelle.

 

* * *

 

The others are sitting in a circle, all but Oliver smoking, arguing about the future of books, publishing, the price fix law, literature in general, in France. I’m tired, and I’m not fluent to begin with, so I only understand a few words here and there, but it’s fascinating to watch them talk.

 

* * *

 

The (friendly) argument is mostly between Oliver and a man named Sebastian, who has an incredibly expressive face. He gesticulates liberally as he makes his points. I love watching him talk.

 

* * *

 

The party winds down. Wednesday night, and I don’t get back to the hotel room until 2 am.

 

 

 

3. Jeudi, l’après midi

 

 

I sleep till noon. Longest uninterrupted sleep I’ve had in quite some time. A few hours to walk around the city before the radio interview.

 

* * *

 

Everything comes with salad here. Croque madame, steak frites, escargots. Salad is like the French French fry.

 

* * *

 

The waiter is furious for no apparent reason (fortunately, he’s not furious at me). I would totally watch a reality show that just filmed French waiters at work.

 

* * *

 

The architecture in Paris is homogeneous, much of it built in the same style, at the same time, and imposing in its unquestionable beauty and ostentation. Like every building in the city is wearing a tuxedo. The same palette: an off-white, faded by the elements and yellowed by cigarette smoke.

 

* * *

 

That’s why the Eiffel Tower is so amazing: it couldn’t be more different than the prevailing architecture of the city. It’s like this roller coaster-like monument to science fiction dominating the skyline.

 

* * *

 

Notre Dame looks like a spaceship. It does.

 

* * *

 

Lots of students milling around. No one is fat, and no one is emaciated. Healthy figures, devil-may-care coiffure, black and gray and dark blue clothes, funky glasses, cigarettes going. I love it.

 

* * *

 

No one smokes inside restaurants or hotels, but outside, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Even Zidane, arguably the greatest French athlete, smokes.

 

* * *

 

I have a man-crush on Zidane. (In English, this would be a good joke, but I’m not sure how to convey the subtlety in French, so I keep it to myself.)

 

* * *

 

At the pharmacie, I find a bottle of Klorane, the best shampoo on earth. Score!

 

* * *

 

My cell phone rings, startling me. Unknown caller. Who the hell is calling me? It’s a man’s voice. I panic; I’m sure it’s Oliver, and I’ve overslept and missed the radio interview.

 

* * *

 

It’s Nat Missildine, ringing from Dijon!

 

* * *

 

He has an ever-so-slight French timbre in his voice. This pissing-in-the-violin stuff is a ruse, I think; he speaks French just fine. He is—and this will come as a shock to no one—very nice.

 

* * *

 

“Don’t tip the waiters!” he says at the end of our chat.

 

* * *

 

Off to do the radio interview!

 

* * *

 

Odile Barski, my fellow radio guest, is incredibly elegant. She wears red fingerless gloves and a matching scarf, and her bearing is downright regal. She would be a perfect Lydia Murtomaki in the French film of Totally Killer.

 

* * *

 

I resist the urge to make a “Are you Banksy?” joke to Madame Barksi.

 

* * *

 

Odile says she’s read my book and she really enjoyed it. Is she just saying that to be nice? Something tells me no. Her IMDB page is a mile long—even longer than Duke’s.

 

* * *

 

This is a live broadcast, in French. I will have a translator, who will whisper in my ear as Tewfik Hakem, the affable host, speaks. She will then translate what I say as I say it. So I should talk slowly. No pressure.

 

* * *

 

Tewfik is around my age. He’s wearing jeans, a white t-shirt, and a sweater vest. He says he likes the book and is looking forward to discussing it.

 

* * *

 

“We will play Elvis Costello for you at the end of the segment,” Tewfik says.

 

* * *

 

Okay, this whole translation thing is VERY hard. You have to actively not listen to the person talking to you, making eye contact with you, and instead listen to the person whispering in your ear.

 

* * *

 

Why is it that at any live event, I always feel the need to burp really loud? A Tums, a Tums, my kingdom for a Tums!

 

 


 

What’s really difficult about this is, I can understand French just well enough to get what Tewfik is saying. Which means I have to just ignore him and tune him out to make this work. This would have been easier if he were speaking Japanese.

 

* * *

 

We are just talking about thrillers. All around the world, ambassadors from countries are communicating this way about nuclear arms and ceasefire treaties. I have a whole new respect for diplomats.

 

* * *

 

Tewfik seems to have really enjoyed the book.

 

* * *

 

Phew, that’s done. And here comes the Elvis: photographs and fancy tricks, to get your kicks at sixty-six…

 

* * *

 

“Fathermucker” does not translate into French. Hanging out after the broadcast, Tewfik asks me about my new book. “It’s called, what, Motherfucker?”

 

* * *

 

Back to the hotel, to interview with two bloggers. Or, as they are called in French, bloggeurs (accent on the second syllable).

 

* * *

 

Nicholas interviews me for his blog. He asks about The Nervous Breakdown. He thinks it’s great. He would like to do something similar in France.

 

* * *

 

I am explaining the inherent problem with the capitalist system: that it is finite. Its success depends on worker exploitation, and one of these decades, we’ll run out of workers to exploit. And then where will we be? Nicholas nods in furious agreement.

 

* * *

 

Marie-Anne and I walk to the bar where we will meet a group of bloggeurs. This involves going past Notre Dame. And going past it really quickly, because she walks really fast, as discussed. Did I mention it’s hot today? It’s hot today.

 

* * *

 

The event is on the second floor of a bar called Étages. I order a Champagne cocktail, because they have them, and because that’s what Victor Laszlo ordered at Rick’s Café Americain.

 

* * *

 

Louis Renault, one of the greatest characters in the history of cinema, and speaker of some of the best-known lines (“I’m shocked, shocked,” “Round up the usual suspects”): a Frenchman.

 

* * *

 

“Speak French if you can,” Marie-Anne says, as I introduce myself to the assembled bloggeurs (there are about a dozen, I think, who were good enough to come out).

 

* * *

 

“Oh, do you speak French?” asks Laurent, one of the bloggeurs, whose English is terrific (he worked in New York for awhile). “Un peu,” I announce.

 

* * *

 

Wow, a lot of the bloggeurs have read the book! And everyone who’s read it seems to have enjoyed it.

 

* * *

 

C’est vrai—je parle Français maintenant. That’s right. I’m getting’ my French on.  Somewhere, my high school French teacher is cringing.


 

* * *

 

You know the guy who wins for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and goes up to the podium and thanks the Academy in painfully slow and stilted English? I have enormous sympathy for that guy right now.

 

* * *

 

What I’m doing is, I’m trying to use English words that sound like they might be cognates, and pronouncing them like Maurice Chevalier. I just used the word erudite. The bloggeurs were impressed.

 

* * *

 

Talking about the new book—I defer to Philippe a bit here—I have to use the word motherfucker to explain the title. Fortunately, no one seems offended.

 

* * *

 

You know what this is? This is a book club meeting. The Totally Killer book club meeting. How many American novelists can claim that the first time they visited a book club to discuss a book they’d written, it was in Paris and they had to speak French?


 

* * *

 

The bloggeurs are great! I hope they write nice things about me. (Mental note: Google yourself in French when you get home).

 

* * *

 

The bloggeur party ends, and we head for a late dinner at a small, busy restaurant a few blocks away. Laurent joins us. The waiter looks like he walked out of a movie from the 1970s that Duke would write a TNB post about. He has the best glasses ever.

 

* * *

 

I love watching the waiters.  I really want that reality show.

 

* * *

 

Casting the French movie of Totally Killer (which would go down in Paris instead of New York). Marie-Anne wants Jude Law as Asher; Philippe and I shoot this down. I propose Romain Duris. “Too short,” Philippe says. But he looks the part.

 

* * *

 

“Sara Forestier would play Taylor,” Marie-Anne says, pronouncing the surname like it’s the Subaru model. “Sara Forester? She’s French? Because she sounds like she’s from Wisconsin.” “No, no, she’s French.”  She shows me Forestier’s picture on her iPhone.  I’m sold.

 

* * *

 

“Do you want wine?” Philippe asks. Mais oui! I’m in France, for Pete sake! Wine me!

 

* * *

 

Steak frites! And more salad.

 

* * *

 

It’s almost midnight, and the evening comes to an end. Laurent says, “You know, your French is better than en peu.” I tell him I’m using that as a blurb.

 

* * *

 

Last night at the Hotel de la Sorbonne. Tomorrow, after petit-dejeuner with my friend Melissa (“Breakfast is the new drinks,” she’ll tell me), it’s off to Lyon for the Quais du Polar Festival International and more adventures.  But it is already clear that Éditions Gallmeister is formidable, magnifique, superb, and other not-false cognates, and that I lucked out with my publisher.



 

Next time: La Deuxième Partie…The Kings of Lyon.



 



Du Point G

By Greg Olear

Travel

A week from today, I’m traveling to France to support the release of the French-language edition of Totally Killer (or, as it’s called en françaisTotally Killer).

In Paris, in addition to the usual dinners with booksellers and bookstore appearances, I’m being interviewed for France 24’s TV program « Le journal de la Culture », Radio RFI’s show « Littérature sans frontières », and Radio France Culture’s show « A plus d’un titre », where the other guest will be acclaimed French screenwriter and novelist Odile Barksi.

Then it’s off to Lyon, to the Quais du Polar Festival International (polar is how the French say noir, noir being, to them, plain old black), where I’ll sit on two panels with the likes of Sylvie Granotier, Marc Villard, Peter Robinson, Arne Dahl, Dominique Sylvain, and my fellow American Megan Abbott.  Oh, and I almost forgot: another TV interview, for Lyon 1ère.

All this, despite the fact that a) my Q rating can be roughly calculated by subtracting Barack Obama’s Q rating from Kim Kardashian’s Q rating, and b) my French, despite nine years of classes in junior school, high school, and college, can charitably be described as un peu. (There will be a lot of ça va-ing and pissing into violins).

I’m going into detail here not to brag (although it is pretty fucking cool, no?), or to hawk the livre (same imprint and same translator as Tom Robbins; yours for the low, low price of €22,90), but rather to explain how I came to visit Amazon.fr, and how this visit confirmed something I’ve long suspected—namely, that France is way cool. (Or, as they say in French, cool).

* * *

Totally Killer is one of those novels that straddle genres. In the U.S., it was decided to shelve the book in the Mystery section of Barnes & Noble, although the book is not a mystery, in the Agatha Christie sense of the word. Gallmeister, my French publisher, is marketing it as a noir thriller—a distinction bookstores make in France that they don’t tend to here.

For the French release, I was hoping for one of those classic noir covers featuring a pair of shapely gams. The main character in Totally Killer, after all, is a sexpot assassin, the 23-year-old Midwestern love child of Lady Brett Ashley and La Femme Nikita; why not stick her, or some close approximation, on the jacket in a short denim miniskirt?

Instead, Gallmeister went with that other noir staple, the gun. And when I say they went with it, they really went with it. The cover shows a handgun pointed directly at you. It’s kind of jarring, until you realize, as my wife pointed out, that it sort of looks like a parking meter. The cover is arresting, yes, but I was really jonesing for something sexier…until my visit to Amazon.fr, when it became clear that my publishers are all genius.

* * *

I visited the site (as we authors tend to obsessively do, Skinnerian rats that we are) to check my sales ranking. On release day, the book checked in at a healthy 5.089 (which is how they write 5,089 in French; the comma/period switcheroo is one of those cute Continental things they do, like put a slash through the 7 and eat snails). For a guy who never hit four digits on this side of the Amazonian pond, not too shabby.

Next to my own ranking, I was given the option to Voir les 100 premiers en Livres. So I voired. The number one book in France was a 30-page political pamphlet called Indignez-Vous!, by the former French resistance fighter and longtime advocate for human rights and peace, Stéphane Hessel. (The number one Amazon book in the U.S. that day? That would be Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book: Based on the Film Phenomenon. This is why the terrorists hate us.)

Scrolling down the list of French bestsellers, I noticed a slender volume at No. 25 entitled Qui a peur du point G ? : Le plaisir féminin, une angoisse masculine. On the cover is an erotic yet tasteful black-and-white photograph of a naked woman, her pudenda partially obscured by the sort of shapely gams I wanted on my own jacket. Customers who bought that—and there were plenty—also purchased, the site informed me, a little tome entitled Le secret des femmes. Voyage au coeur du plaisir et de la jouissance. The naked woman in the erotic yet tasteful black-and-white photograph on the cover of that book has nothing obscuring her pudenda—and an impressive tuft of dark pubic hair.

As I browsed through the books, I realized why Gallmeister went with the violence over the sex. Unlike here, where we conceal our bodies but proudly flaunt our firearms, in France, every third book has a naked chick on the cover. So Totally Killer totally stands out!

Upon closer inspection, I noticed something else: Qui a peur du point G ? : Le plaisir féminin, une angoisse masculine is loosely translated (by me, and therefore possibly wrong) thus: Where is the G-spot? The woman’s pleasure, the man’s anxiety. Again, this book, by an OB-GYN named Odile Buisson, was ranked No. 25 overall on French Amazon, and it appears to be a guidebook for men on how to propel their women to more profound and satisfying orgasms!

Needless to say, this is not the stuff of a U.S. best-seller. If American males are moved to read a book at all—and they’re generally not, marketing studies have found; they’d rather watch golf, NASCAR, or Fox News on a 52-inch plasma TV—the cover photograph would not involve a sexy, nude female body, but rather a bloated, pink male head, usually one belonging to a Tea Party zealot who insists Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim.

Furthermore, the very notion that American men need some sort of sexual GPS system to satisfy their lovers is, ahem, un-American! (It reminds me of an old joke:  French guy, Italian guy, American guy having breakfast. French guy says, “Last night, I made love to my wife five times, and in the morning, she said I was the best lover on earth.” Italian guy says, “I made love to my wife nine times, and in the morning, she said there was no lover like me in all the land.” They ask the American guy how made times he made love to his wife last night. “Once,” says the American. They ask what she said in the morning. “Don’t stop,” says the American.)

The inconvenient truth is, we live in a country whose residents tend to scoff at the French because they’re too busy making love and drinking fine wine to focus on important things, like warfare and Charlie Sheen. But France has a lot to teach us. To wit: There’s nothing shameful about naked bodies. Labor unions are good. Everyone should take off the entire month of August. Oh, and I almost forgot: a travers son témoignage, le docteur Odile Buisson révèle ainsi certains mystères du point G, la fabuleuse anatomie du clitoris ou encore l’incroyable complexité de l’orgasme.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Awards season is upon us, that time of year when we stave off the winter blues by watching befrocked Best Actress winners weep and neglect to thank their husbands.Since the line between movies and real life has become so blurry—as D-listers everywhere vie to keep up with the Kardashians, and cable channels and tabloid magazines swim with celebrity spawn—it’s high time we recognize the famous and flawed moms who make us mortals feel better about our own parenting.

Attention, NYC-area peeps:

Jonathan Evison, executive editor of this fine literary magazine and New York Times best selling author, brings his book tour to the Big Apple next week.

Sunday evening, March 6, he joins the great Caroline Leavitt — both of Algonquin, the TNB Book Club, and the aforementioned Times best seller list — at KGB’s famed Sunday Night Reading Series.

And on Monday, March 7, Evison holds court with two of my favorite writers in all the land, James P. Othmer and Marcy Dermansky, at Book Court in Brooklyn.

After that, the tour goes, um, west of here (eventually).


[photo by Kerry McCombs]