Must-haves in Your Stock (I)
By HeeJin Lee
As an aspiring bookshop owner, I’ve been spending my free time fantasizing of the books I’d like to have in my stock. I’ve been inspired by Shakespeare and Company by Sylvia Beach, the owner of that legendary bookshop in Paris. Beach carried the works of the Lost Generation and their contemporaries from the United Kingdom. In addition to providing a meeting place for these writers in Paris, Beach’s bookshop is perhaps most famous for publishing James Joyce’s Ulysses.
While not all of us may be fortunate enough to participate in the births of literary greats on the scale of James Joyce, we all have a soft spot in our hearts for certain genres, authors, and titles that we’d simply love to have in stock. I’ll be sharing my must-haves (and short reviews of a few of my favorites) over the course of several postings. Here’s the first:
- Books for fellow Francophiles
I fell in love with French literature when I was 17, and for a while I contemplated a career in the field. (Alas, other interests intervened.) Although I’m not the French literature scholar I envisioned myself becoming, I’m still very much in love with the genre and am devoted to sharing my passion with others. In my bookstore, I’ll carry good English translations of modern literature (i.e., works written from the early 20th Century onwards) as well as non-fictional works related to the literature, such as biographies, historical accounts, literary criticism, and memoirs. My selections will range from works by Nobel Laureates and the writers of the famous “isms” (Dadaism, Surrealism, and Existentialism, to name a few) as well as their forefathers, such as Guillaume Apollinaire, who are often not as widely known in the English-speaking world.
Recently I read two books that have become part of my must-have list. The first is Bohemian Paris: Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse, and the Birth of Modern Art by Dan Franck (trans. by Cynthia Hope Liebow). I purchased this book when I was a freshman in college. It was a great luxury to me at the time, as I spent nearly thirty dollars from my allowance for this brand new hardcover. Unfortunately I never got the chance to read the book during the school year, and I even tried to sell it in an effort to shore up my funds for the summer. It’s been nearly a decade since I bought the book and I’m so glad that I failed in my attempt to sell it. This book is one of my new favorites; not only is it an intimate account of my favorite period in French literature and arts generally, but it is also beautifully written and translated so that it reads more like a fast-paced novel rather than a dry, historical study.
The next is Camus, A Romance by Elizabeth Hawes. Like the author, I also fell in love with Camus, through my encounters with The Stranger, his witty one-liners, the accounts of his relationship with Sartre, and the photos, of course. (I was happy to see my favorite photo of Camus on the jacket cover of Hawes’s book.) I loved the book for revealing Camus as a real person, someone who played with his children and worried about putting food on the table while writing his masterpieces. I was struck by his struggles with tuberculosis, his love for Algeria and his indifference towards New York, and the seriousness with which he thought and wrote about the socio-political problems of his day. Despite the tender close-up of Camus the book provided, I finished it wishing that it had dealt with at least the following two aspects. First, I wished that the book shed some light on Camus’s thoughts on art and being an artist. Hawes suggests that Camus saw himself as an artist, but his works seem to be motivated by purposes different than those of his predecessors in Paris during the earlier half of the 20th Century. Second, I wished that Hawes could have given us a better sense of where Camus saw himself in the grand scheme of French arts. Given his tendency to plan his works and his career, Camus appears to have had a clear vision of his position, and I wished that Hawes could have given me (and the readers at large) a sense of what that vision was.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that both Bohemian Paris and Camus were published by Grove Press. I’ll be keeping a close eye on that publisher to see what other books on French literature and arts they plan to bring out.
Next week, I’ll write about the next category of my must-haves: Books on Korea and Korea-related literature. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your must-haves. What are they, and how did they become your must-haves?
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