I’m back in Paris after two weeks away at my parents’. I always vow to take advantage of the holidays to catch up on everything I’ve neglected during the term, including my blog, but of course, I get so caught up in family life that I get very little done at all. This time was no exception, and it was only last night, once I’d settled in again after the trip back north, that I finally got around to reading up on everything that had happened in the blogosphere.
It turned out there was a surprise in store for me: Victoria/Litlove of Tales from the Reading Room nominated me for this year’s Liebster Award! Thank you Victoria!
From what I can find out, the Liebster Award (from the German, meaning “dearest” or “beloved”) is granted by fellow bloggers to new blogs with fewer than 200 followers and deserving of recognition and encouragement. The rule is you answer the questions put to you by the person who nominated you, then make up your own set of questions which you send on to those you, in turn, have chosen to nominate. I love the list of questions Victoria came up with!
1. What do you think of literary prizes? Good idea or bad?
I’ve only recently started taking an interest in literary prizes. I used to think that they were designed solely for publishing houses to rake in a maximum of money, and that the winners were always too experimental, too obscure, too heavy-going and pedantic to make for good reading. Now I tend to think that a) publishing houses are struggling enough to stay afloat in the face of the economic crisis and the advent of the e-book, so if they can sell a couple more books thanks to a prize, good for them; b) I wouldn’t say no to winning one of those prizes myself one day in the dreamed-of future, so I’d better not spit in the soup, to translate a popular French saying; and c) it’s quite fascinating to see which writers, and what kind of writing, are deemed important in our day and age. And from time to time, I actually stumble upon something I really do think incredible!
2. If you could write any sort of book, what would you write?
I would hate to have my work labelled, categorized, put into a neat little drawer. Rightly or wrongly, I feel that to label is to restrict and constrain, and thus to reduce the power of a book. I would wish my own work to transcend the conventions and boundaries of genre; to draw on many different sources in order to create a rich and multi-layered texture; to move but also to provoke thought; but most of all to invite the reader to dream; so that opening my book(s) would be like entering a world unlike any other…
3. Describe your ideal home library/study.
First of all, my ideal library/study would be a separate room, with a door that not only shuts out the outside world, but locks it out. Books in the living-room: yes. A desk in a corner or on the landing: no, no, no! I love secret gardens, long-forgotten rooms, towers, garden sheds: encircling, protective walls and a sense of inviolate privacy. A small fireplace, with a crackling fire of pinecones in the grate; a deeply cushioned window seat. A thick carpet on the floor, Aubusson, or a Chinese antique. A colour scheme made up of warm apricots, creams, and deep rose-pinks, with a touch of crimson here and there. A cozy, chintz-covered wing chair to curl up in with a book – and nearby, on the tea table, scones or crumpets or orange sponge cake, and a silver teapot of piping hot tea, the orange flames of the fire rippling across its rounded belly. Books on every wall, in tall bookcases of rich, glossy wood. And an old-fashioned desk with pigeon-holes and an ornate brass key and perhaps a secret compartment that springs open when you press a particular button.
4. Name two new authors whose work you think will last the test of time, and explain your choices.
I’m sorry but I can only think of one. I also apologise to those who have heard me say this before… In my opinion, the greatest living English writer is A. S. Byatt. She’s not exactly new, but as she is still actively publishing I think she qualifies. I haven’t read all her work, but two hefty novels and a book of short stories have given me a fair idea of her writing and I am lost in admiration. It’s not just a question of telling a great story – though both Possession and The Children’s Book certainly do that – or of mastering an impressive network of historical, mythological, and artistic references. Byatt plays with language like a potter kneads wet clay in his hands: she pastiches, parodies, and re-creates, and in the midst of all that creates something uniquely her own, glorying in the infinite possibilities of language, deepening our understanding of literature past and present, and compelling us to think about what it is to use language, to write, and to be a writer. That is, in my opinion, what makes her timeless.
5. Which books do you hope to get for Christmas?
The first book I’ve asked Father Christmas for is in French. My very favourite literary figure is the nineteenth-century writer George Sand: her life is a source of endless fascination to me. Two years ago my brother gave me Le dernier amour de George Sand, Evelyne Bloch-Dano’s biography of Alexandre Manceau, a Parisian engraver who was introduced to Sand by her son and who supplanted Chopin in her affections, sharing her life until his death from tuberculosis sixteen years later. This year I would like Solange Sand, ou la folie d’aimer, Christine Drouard’s biography of Sand’s daughter Solange, who married the hugely talented but abusive sculptor Auguste Clésinger, and whose stormy nature and unreasonable demands caused a monumental family quarrel in 1847 and a lasting rift between her mother and Chopin.
The second book I would like is Winter’s Tales by Karen Blixen. I read Karen Blixen for the first time last year, when I received Anecdotes of Destiny for my birthday, and I instantly fell in love with her sensual, lyrical, dream-like prose. I have never read any short stories that could equal hers and she is second only to George Sand in my affections. So I am (very casually!) dropping a hint…
6. What’s the last book you did not finish and why?
Nightingale Wood, by Stella Gibbons. I bought it at Heffers in Cambridge exactly a year ago, when I went to do some research on Rosamond Lehmann at the King’s College Archives. I had read a lot in praise of Stella Gibbons on various blogs, and was curious. So when I came across Virago’s brand-new re-issue of Nightingale Wood, with its glamorous, ice-blue, vintage-looking cover illustration, I thought I had struck gold. As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’d been promised a 1930s Cinderella story, full of chic and sassy humour. But I wasn’t amused, I wasn’t entertained, I wasn’t even interested. In fact, I was downright bored. I ploughed my way to the middle and then gave up in disgust.
7. Would you accept 20 books that were absolutely perfect for you and dependably brilliant reads, if they were also the last 20 books you could ever acquire?
What a horrible dilemma! After lengthy consideration, I would have to say no, I would not accept those books. Only twenty more books for the rest of my life?? Call me materialistic and the product of a consumer society if you must, but I’d rather forego those twenty perfect books (and pray, what is a perfect book, anyway?) than the pleasure of browsing in a bookshop and adding a hundred more unsuitable titles to my TBR list!
- What is your favourite reading spot?
- What do you think of movie adaptations of famous books? Do they enhance or hinder your appreciation of the book?
- Has a book ever made you want to travel to a particular place?
- What is your reaction when someone you know dislikes a book you are especially fond of? Have you ever quarrelled over a book?
- Do you like knowing all about an author before you start reading their work or do you think biographical details aren’t necessary to understand and appreciate a book?
- In your opinion, what makes an excellent book review?
- And just for fun: Mr Darcy or Mr Rochester?
© Florence Berlioz 2012