Du Point GBy Greg Olear
March 15, 2011
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 français…Totally 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.
I didn’t say the gun on the cover looked like a parking meter, I said it looked like one of those viewfinder things that you look through in Battery Park to look at the Statue of Liberty.
Maybe I said parking meter, but I meant that.
Have fun. Ok, I’m a little bitter that I will not be joining you.
Mais, s’il vous plaît ramener Qui a peur du point G. Merci
You mean for your Nook?
@Stephanie St John Olear,
You have to go!
I know, Irene. Je sais. Le sigh.
Thank you for the lament. I love France – sooo – mucho.
And my father’s side of the family are from there – and G and I went on our honeymoon.
And G and I have not traveled out of the tri-state area since we became parents six years ago – it is a crying shame.
How, (comment?), am I to go?
Too many obligations (said in a french accent).
And not enough support. As in financial. And etc.
But, I am tres heureux for Greggie!! It’s so great that he gets to go.
Stephanie, you are hilarious. Er, hilarieuse. You make me want to laugh en francais. Hohn-hohn-hohn. Mais, pourquoi as-tu besoin d’un point G pour le nook? Tu as le ‘G’!
Hohn-hohn-hohn! Love it – that’s how my Dad does his pretend French laugh!
And to answer ton question:
Parmi mais bien sûr! J’ai tous les ‘G’ dont j’ai besoin!
Merci, Erica la belle!
Considering the extent of my French vocabulary consists of the line from that *classic* Lady Marmalade song, (wondering: do I sound like an 8th grade boy here?) and a few important phrases for traveling (where is the bathroom and I am having a heart attack), I’d say your mastery of the language reads impressively in your piece, G. I know this is no consolation from someone who took eight years of Spanish and stumbles in conversation once I get past the pleasantries and my name….
Seriously thrilled for you — what an experience. To be feted, and feted well. Deservedly so….
What impressed me most last time I went to France — on our honeymoon, nine years ago — is what a linguistic disability it was to not be able to swear. Hopefully, this time, I will not have reason to!
Fete. Ah, what a lovely French word!
Fete is indeed a lovely word…. enjoy, enjoy, enjoy (my apologies to Steph, who wins understanding spouse of the century).
I, too, took 8 years of Spanish and can converse BRILLIANTLY if the person I’m talking to talks Forrest Gump-slow and sticks to five basic present tense verbs. But start telling me how you, “had decided” or “wish that x or y were a certain way” and I’m all deer in the headlights.
I’d like to think that if we were plunked down in the middle of Central America that all that learnin’ would kick in and we’d thrive. Right, Robin? RIGHT?
What I did not know in high school — it would have made me both take and pass the AP French exam — is that the more you drink, the easier it is to speak foreign languages. I figure if I drink a bottle of wine a day, I’ll be good to go.
Are we talking Survivor or Lost here? Hmmm, perhaps no conjugation, present tense, simple declarative sentences and we could get our asses out of the jungle……..
I’ll get your back if you get mine:
No tenemos dinero.
Tengo una vagina muy inferma.
Mi amiga, Robin, is una luchadora.
i don’t know what this says, but it looks painful.
except for “luchadora”. that’s awesomepossum.
Muy bueno, Gloria, muy bueno. Soy un luchador, sin miedo! Voy a proteger a la vagina enfermo!
Estas una luchador de la vagina muy valerosa, Robin! Vámonos a la selva!
My daughter helped me with that last bit, we’re golden if she goes into the jungle with us!
Let’s promise that if your daughter, you, and I ever end up having to bushwhack (heh) our way out of the jungle together, we’ll write about it for TNB. Okay?
Valiente vaginas se unen! And what a story we will tell…. 😉 I imagine Greg never thought we’d be talking vaginas in his Totally Killer goes to France comment thread! Lo siento, G!
I did, in fact, think the subject might come up. The post is called “Of the G Spot,” after all.
You are being published in France!
They are keeping the “Totally Killer” title in English!
I hope you tape everything that happens in the interview, (with subtitles,) and take a million pictures!
We are so proud of you!
Your book deserves this, though. It totally does!
Thanks, Irene. I have a little project planned, updating the day to day. We’ll see how it goes…
I’m really excited to go (although I’ll miss my family beaucoup).
If Barnes & Noble can have a section labeled “Supernatural Teen Romance” (and they do), there’s no reason they can’t also have a “Noir Thriller” section. Or at least retitle the banal “Mystery” as something more like “Mystery & Suspense.”
Congrats, Greg. And have fun! Send postcards.
I know, right? It made sense to do, though, because it got the cool TK cover displayed face out for a good month at B&N.
Postcards will be sent! That’s my idea.
i love france. love the french. i have alsatian blood. my paternal grandmother and her line all come from there. maybe i feel some sort of kinship to it. i don’t know.
i don’t want to romanticize it too much, because france and its people have their troubles and shortcomings, just like anyplace else. but i also don’t believe in false equivalences, which seem to be all the rage these days. as in: every country is just as fucked up as the next. not so. not in my mind, anyway. in my mind, saudi arabia is way more fucked up than america. france is probably less fucked up than we are. and so on.
there’s something sort of special about france…something about it that certain people tend to loathe and find revolting. i find it curious. and i tend to think that when a country draws the ire of fox news and its ilk the way that france does, then the country must be doing something right.
Brad from Alsace! Who knew.
Je suis d’accord about having their heads on straight. France has the best food, the best wine, the best cinema, the best attitude toward art, and the best attitude toward both sex and censorship. And politically, I like that they err on the side of too much socialism rather than not enough.
The USA/France thing can be traced back to the fact that without them, we’d never have achieved independence. My grandfather used to help his Italian cousins who came to the country, letting them stay at his house, giving them money etc, and once they got on their feet, they treated him like shit, because he reminded them of what they used to be. (Same thing with Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian). I don’t think it runs any deeper than that.
It’s worth saying that France’s socialist tendencies can, at times, be just as frustrating as our capitalist ones, and that’s coming from a lifelong liberal.
Meanwhile, I just got back from a trip to San Francisco, and while I adore France, there’s still plenty of magic left over there that you can’t get anywhere else in the world.
Somewhere, there’s got to be a middle ground. Maybe Montreal.
I love Montreal.
Absolument génial! I just saw your book stacked in a prominent spot in the policier section at a bookstore in downtown Dijon, looking pretty sharp. The tour sounds great and I can’t wait to tune into the tv interview.
Though not without its own intractable problems, France is indeed cool. Plus writers get a little more respect around here. When I tell people in social settings that I’m a writer they actually become more interested, rather than less. Where in the U.S. telling people I’m a writer usually causes puzzled looks, like I just told them I’m a victrola repairman. But in France you’re still met with a measure of awe. So there’s that.
Also that Indignez-Vous! pamphlet is being sold everywhere, even in checkout counter impulse buy bins, like the way they sell Silly Bandz in the States.
And the G spot book cover is nothing the French don’t show in skin moisturizer ads during kids’ cartoons.
Bonne chance et à bientôt j’espère, monsieur.
Thanks, Nat! That’s great about the bookstore…I wasn’t blowing smoke about the publisher being genius.
In kids’ ads here, of course, we show action figures blowing each other up and/or shooting at each other. But one accidental flash of Janet Jackson’s nip and forget it.
I’ll write you offline when I find out more details of where I’ll be.
I am SO SO SO excited for you!
Many things to love in this post:
1. You used the word pudenda. More than once, even.
2. You are currently adoring the French, which I always do!
3. The title of that book is, “WHO IS AFRAID OF THE G-SPOT.” Dang, not them. They’ll read that book and learn quick, won’t they?
4. I wish I were going to France on book tour but will take total joy in the fact that you get to go!
1. I love that word. So elegant. Sort of clinical, with just the right hint of erotic obscurity.
2. J’adore toujours la France.
3. Ah, that makes sense. Either way, it’s an instruction manual.
Yay! Good for you, Greg. This is so exciting. Good luck, sir.
I’ll keep Steph company on Twitter with offers of virtual red wine and giggling.
Thanks, Gloria! She will also have actual red wine on hand, and plenty of it!
Tres cool! (Yes, I too, after several years of French in public school and one in college, can speak it only negligibly better than Lane Meyer’s mother in “Better Off Dead.”)
BTW, do you get to read any of the French edition at the readings, or will you be sticking to the American? I bet “Totally Killer” sounds just as sexy as “Qui a peur du point G ? : Le plaisir féminin, une angoisse masculine” in French.
I love Lane Meyer’s mother. “You see it’s got, uh, raisins in it…you like raisins.”
I thought I’d be able to read it out loud okay, but it’s pretty hard to do, as it turns out. But then, everything sounds sex in French. La homard est grand et rouge. See?
Thanks for reading!
Isn’t the G spot rather 1970s? Or have the French come full circle?
Anyway, don’t forget what the French mean by le petite mort, so maybe the gun covers all bases, so to speak.
Congrats on the French pub, Greg. It’s a real accomplishment.
I think “coming full circle” is the point of the book…
I’m working on one language, but I think I almost got it.
Please enjoy the happiest place on earth for me. I haven’t been since 2000, and I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything.
I will do my best to enjoy myself. That I will! Thanks, man.
Wait wait wait… don’t Americans also put a slash through their sevens?
Good luck in France. It’s my favourite non-Asian country.
I do, but Americans as a whole do not.
I’m particularly excited to check out Lyon, which I’ve not yet visited. As a friend of mine told me, “Lyon is where Parisians go when they want to eat good food.”
Craziness. When I got to Korea I was amazed that the concept of a seven with a slash through it just didn’t exist… My students were baffled. They couldn’t work out what this odd symbol meant that came between six and eight.
Never made it as far as Lyon. Spent a lot of my childhood on the Atlantic coast, though, in a little place called the Vendee.
American math geeks put a slash through their sevens. I got it from my Dad who is an engineer. But, it’s not taught in the elementary schools this way, as I noticed when our son brought
home his homework. But maybe it’s taught in engineering school – I just don’t know.
According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, “most people in Europe, Latin America and New England” write seven this way. It’s done to differentiate it from the number one.
first nine years of my life
I spoke as much French as English
& now I’ve totally forgotten.
But reading through your post
I remembered some…
Ah, JMB, the picture of you begins to be less fuzzy…
It comes back, doesn’t it? A few months in Paris and you’d be fluent.
Congratulations, my friend. I think anyone should be proud of heading to France for un livre such as Complete Mourir.
Or something like that.
Ms. Glatz, you were so right to give me that B.
Madame Glatz, Simon parle Francais exceptionalement!
There was talk of the translation being CARREMENT MORTEL, but they decided to retain the English (or the Americain, as it were).
Groundhog Day, curiously, gets better with each viewing.
Thought of you, Greg, when my teacher dropped some French phrases in yoga today. Among other things, thought: Thank God it’s not going to be me called upon to use that high school French!
It’s awesome that you’re being so well promoted there. Bonne chance!
French in yoga, huh?
I don’t think I even did that right…
On a separate topic, your piece this week is a must-read. I’m posting the link here, in case anyone missed it:
You are living the dream, sir. Have a terrific trip! I know no French. Except merde and bon voyage.
I’ll teach you more…a tuxedo is le smoking.
I love that.
Congrats on the great fortune with TK- as I write this, I’m reminded of how much I enjoyed it. Ironically, I read the entire book in Europe. I might have to pick up the French copy, just to enjoy the Beatles diatribe in another language.
I also love France. Having studied French for eight or nine years myself, I am likewise embarrassed by how poorly I sound these days, recently admitting to Nat in his violin-pissing piece that I don’t even attempt it around French people anymore.
But Paris is gorgeous to me not for the buildings, museums, or wine (I know nothing about architecture, am easily disoriented by the smell in most museums, and no longer drink). I just like the cool vibe of reading a magazine in an outdoor cafe, eating a tasty meal by myself while watching French people protest, and walking around one of the oldest, storied cities in human history.
Oh, and the last time I was there, when I was drinking, my friend and I thought it would be funny to pretend like we were in Epcot Center and ask where we could catch the tram to Frontier Land. So yeah, sorry everybody…
Thanks, Joe. I appreciate the kind words about the book.
Am I the only one who thinks it’s funny to pretend you’re at Epcot and ask about the tram to Frontier Land?
The first night of our honeymoon in Paris…maybe it was the second, after we rested…we were both as bombed as we’d ever been. We drank two bottles of wine apiece or whatever. The roll of film from that night was mostly blurry images of us walking along the Seine. Ah, those were the days!
First off, congrats. France. That’s wicked cool.
Second – this made me shoot milk through my nose. Why do you do that to me?
(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.)
You have succinctly explained everything.
Thanks, Ducky. Milk propulsion is a goal, of course.
(I hesitate to add that the pop-up book was actually #2 that day, but it was too funny not to include in the piece).
I’m so totalement stoked for you. So cool.
Thanks, Erika. Totalement.
“(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.)” That’s classic, Olear.
I love the French. When Sue and I went to Paris a few years ago, the people we met were alternately helpful, indifferent, snooty — but I think they appreciated our stumbling attempts at speaking the language. The TK tour sounds like one in a million. Enjoy!