Working in a bookshop

‘Ah, now that you work in a bookshop, you must know so much more about books, mustn’t you?’

Depends on how you define ‘knowing’ there. If it means I can more easily associate a name with the content of a book, then yes, I know more now that I work in a bookshop. But if you mean being able to advise someone on which of these works he/she should try according to his/her specific taste, then no, I’m not there yet.

‘But you’ve only been there a week.’ Half a week, to be precise – thank you wisdom teeth.

True, and there is so much to know! Good news is I can learn. Yay!

What I can already do with my personal little knowledge is to give advice on classic literature if anyone wants to discuss his/her inclination. However no one besides me is into classics, except for those who make school programmes for students to hate it. Therefore I have very thin chances to be useful at present. And yet the other day – my first day – I had the pleasure to have a say in a customer’s request as for which classics she should have read by now that she hasn’t. She was what I will call a ‘blank page’ and it was an absolute delight to share with her my sincere opinion about this play by Shakespeare, that masterpiece by Flaubert or Stendhal, etc. Being of a realistic nature, I am not likely to succeed in bringing people to reading more classics. This lady happily proved me wrong. She ended up buying Boris Vian’s L’écume des jours – Vian’s work is just as mad and poetic as Joyce’s and they’re both now considered ‘classics’ within the scope of literature, may we like it or not. It’s a start. A wild one, but it’s a start. We’ll see if she ever comes back. Haha.

Time will be my best friend in this job since it takes you a lifetime to gather information about so many works – and believe me, there are many many many many many… of them. I can read when the shop’s empty, which is a duty I am more than happy to perform, and the team is adorable and helpful. So far so good.

‘I’m looking for a book that’s just come out. About politics. You know, it’s all over the radio and on every TV show. You see which one, right?’

‘Uh… See my colleague over there?’

2016 – Part Two

I have told my 2016 experience in a previous post, but I only spoke about the difficult first half of that past year. Because, as I said before, 2016 had two sides and fortunately the best was yet to come (well, it couldn’t possibly go much worse than it already had). Being 25 years old was harder to handle than forecast, and it seemed to me I couldn’t get over the fact that it was okay to be 25. I don’t know what happened. I suppose uncertainty regarding my future life restlessly bullied me until some ground-breaking decisions were made. It was time for my fiancé and I to move back to France. He proposed to me on my Graduation Day, so the celebration was simply spectacular.

Having a deadline for a return to our roots, being busy with the wedding planning, and counting the days till I quit my lousy job gave me some strength back. I could now try to foresee some potential opportunities in a not too distant future. Even though not all the ideas and projects about our new lives sounded actually achievable, they gave me hope. I was hopeful that everything was possible. For the first time in my life, I was planning and doing what I wanted to plan and do.


Then we said goodbye to the Emerald Isle after two wonderful years spent exploring her green landscapes, beholdinIMG_4951g her wild seascapes, admiring her unbelievably tormented skies. You gave us so much Ireland. We are just forever grateful for all you were able to offer us in so many ways – work, culture, friendship, witchcraft, sightseeing…

Therefore I got married at age 25 (a perfect, joyous, enchanting day), got to travel throughout Asia for two months and a half with my husband for our honeymoon, and came back in time for the end-of-year feasts. That was a nice twist for a year that had appeared so dark at the beginning. Again, goals are only beyond reach if you think they are, if you make them unattainable. Otherwise, you wouldn’t believe what you can do. Try it!

What’s in a tale?

A tale? Like a fairy tale? A fable, a moralistic story, a preachy narrative with extremely naive characters on the one hand and know-it-all saviours on the other, right?

Well, not necessarily, not always, not all of them. Tales are old. The written tradition came to replace the oral tradition in the western culture through them. Therefore an entire period of our history and a substantial piece of our culture hinges on them. Since their creation they have become more than genuine bedtime stories – children’s literature is rarely just for kiddies.

Tales for adults? How ridiculously controversial! Grown-ups have stopped believing in fairy lands and imaginary creatures long ago, haven’t they? Well, not necessarily, not always, not all of them.

The English language adds another dimension to the word ‘tale’. A tale can be a lie, a rumour – we would use a different substantive in French for that. Hence maybe its lack of credit within the narrow-minded world of grown-ups. Tales struggled to gain recognition from literary circles, but they finally managed to do so thanks to, I suppose, creative, fanciful, whimsically-built people.

Simply those who don’t forget – History, their history. If you remember being a child, if you remember going through several phases of life until you became of age, you must locate fairy tales, folktales, stories somewhere in your memory. If you can’t, I’m just sorry for you. Yet I discover things everyday I wish I had known a while back. And perhaps those who apprehend tales today, who didn’t get a chance to appreciate them as kids, will make the most out of them – more than those who think they grabbed their content, their implied meaning through a first and last reading. We’re often more astounded when something surprises, pleases, bewilders us as adults than it might have when we were younger – because we know how much harder and rarer it is.

However I want to believe that all adults aren’t destined to transform into sourpusses. Again, not necessarily, not always, not all of them. And this is a fancy I refuse to let go whatever happens, whoever I meet, even though counter-examples are more visible in our world of reason, pride, and seriousness.

Read tales people, believe it or not it’ll do you good! And believe is a key word here…

What’s happened in a year

Last post on this blog: January 2016. Today, a year later, I am ready to write again. So how shall we sum up the year that has just passed? Well, it’s simple. For me, 2016 was double-edged – I can account for a rough first half, and a delightful second half.

In January last year, I had finished my Masters with insightful teachers and wonderful classmates. Everyone went away, was scattered as leaves blown by a wind of change. From then I lost track of what was important to me – do what I like to do – and got involved in a boring job that paid well. Again, it’s a two-sided story: meaningless work but good salary, some really nice people but very little interaction allowed. 2016 appeared to be the year of controversy. Hence my having hard times to cope with it. But I can see now the benefits of such a disagreeable part of my life. You learn every moment, from everyone, in every situation, even though it feels like your brain is no longer functional due to the repetitive tasks you perform every day. What I have learnt from this experience is: first, NEVER AGAIN! Second, that what I needed to survive wasn’t money, which is not obvious when you first enter the professional sphere. Like any naive young worker, I thought money was fairly equivalent to happiness. That’s where being miserable became a good thing for my understanding. Money isn’t everything. But how should we know this since we are always concerned about it – and if you’re not, people will be for you? Money is something, but not everything. That’s where I got confused. But now I know. Now I know…

It’s like the story of the part and the whole. You must have different elements to create wholeness, and entirety depends on the bits that compose it. Anyhow, last year, I understood how life was to be approached a little more. I still can’t make the most out of the whole (life), but I can make the most out of the part (what I have acquired through a painful though eventually rewarding experience). Assimilating how to use our time on Earth is a life-long quest, and the answer is not often satisfactory, legible, within our reach. Therefore we have to be brave to be ourselves because it is no easy enterprise. But that’s life, folks!

Ignored revelations

I am a twenty-first-century girl transported by nineteenth-century literature. And I think I have finally figured out why that is. Last month I finished my second reading by D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, which obviously is a modern piece of work since its author’s years of activity began in the early 1910s and lasted until his death in 1930. Therefore it is a rather unusual reading for a shameless Victorian addict. Yet, as I had to work on D.H. Lawrence’s ground-breaking approach to the novel for my end-of-year thesis until last September, I thought I could bother to read more than one of his books. And in the end, that’s how I discovered why such a passion for the Victorian period and its art animated me.

The Rainbow isn’t a bad book. It is skilfully written in a simple but fascinating manner, has a progressive evolution that we follow from the start (it tells the story of three successive generations, of their differences and common points), and ends, like many of Lawrence’s pieces, with a question mark. D.H. Lawrence is well known for his Lady Chatterley’s Lover – which, I must confess, I haven’t read yet – and, more especially, for his daring, suggestive style – which is also, let’s be honest, why modern and postmodern literary figures are so much interested in his work. Besides some lengthy and somehow clumsy passages, what really bothered me was the frankness that makes The Rainbow a great book. This is where I find that I am a bit Victorian myself, as knowing the truth doesn’t necessarily mean to publicly acknowledge it (which is, I must say, the principle of hypocrisy).


My Victorian side then revealed itself to me when I realised that what we feel doesn’t need to be expressed in another way than through the appropriate emotional demonstrations to the people concerned only. I am not saying that I am proud of that prudish version of myself; I just recognise its existence and its connection to the nineteenth-century vision of how the world should be. Again, the description and analysis of nascent feelings alongside the awakening of the senses in The Rainbow is spot-on, and it is this very truthfulness that makes me uncomfortable. It is way too close to reality! So I can’t completely agree with D.H. Lawrence’s art because he is right (isn’t that controversial??).

What I want to say here, although I am not sure clarity is with me on this, is that what can be suggested may not always come out. We do that every day; we understand things that aren’t spoken out per say, and we nevertheless are able to grab their meaning. But one can argue here that this is where misunderstandings come from, and I can do nothing but to agree. And yet I maintain that some things, without being hidden, could as well remain implied. Not concealed, but not too obviously exposed either. I am not pro-deception, but I am a bit concerned about the private and the public merging into one. It is hard to explain, but words may not always be used. Body language exists for a reason, and there are beautiful, subtle ways to make one’s intentions noticeable.

On the other hand, I believe that what has to be said should be said. But this may mostly encompass negative feelings like resentment, anger, sadness, fear… I think letting these out allows them to become of a positive influence and contributes to one’s healthy development. Here again, a valid argument would be that it may be a good way out for you, but what about the person in front of you who has to put up with your moodiness? Do we have a right to openly SAY to someone he/she is a mean, aggressive, unpleasant know-it-all? Personally, I’d say YES!

Dots on a line

“Each moment was a separate little island, isolated from time, and blank, unconditioned by time.” (290) This short but dense sentence from D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow got me thinking about how the human machine is wired. At that moment in the book the character in question, Tom Brangwen, is described through the eyes of his niece, Ursula, who sees him as a cold, inhuman creature because of his characteristic yet uncanny detachment. The girl portrays her relative as a barely living thing, as he “did not care any more, neither about his body nor about his soul.” (290) This is where I connected the two sentences. It seems fair to me that an inanimate entity has its history – or, not to use such a big word, the moments that composed its life – represented as individual links of a nonexistent chain. As a shell deprived of an inner self, I can picture why its existence seems to be made of unrelated facts. But when we look at human beings – those whose body actually contains a soul, I cannot regard their lives as composed of isolated actions, without antecedents, triggers, and which result in nothing. I know John Locke developed the idea of the blank page, and that he saw each human baby as pure clay ready to be modelled by its own future behaviour – that will later be redefined by Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism. What this seventeenth-century philosopher is putting forward is our ability to stand for ourselves, and to become who we want to be despite any familial background. I admire that theory although I think I don’t agree with it, or not completely at least.

I can see where Locke is going when he says that it is not because your father was a king that you will be a good one, or because you were born a peasant that you can’t do anything but work the land. I believe so too, but a king’s or peasant’s son nevertheless has genes – Locke couldn’t have known that though. And this is where I don’t agree with Sartre when he says that we are not defined by those who came before us, but by our actions; not by our past, but by our present. Again, this can only be partially true. We are a mix of both – and to me, it’s not a fair mix since I think our DNA must rule maybe two thirds up to three quarters of our selves; we are entitled to less freedom than we think we are., but that’s only my personal view of the matter. Why are we all so different? Why is every human being unique? It is because each of us is the result of a one-of-a-kind blend. Because if we were all genes, we would be the same as our ancestors; and if we were 100% spontaneous behaviour, we would all look alike – let’s face it, we can all accomplish the same deeds (kill someone, save lives, believe in what we can’t see). On the one hand, we would just be predetermined creatures. On the other, we would be similar ones. Who we are is both who our family are, and who we want to be. We are the whole and the part, we are the detail in the painting that makes that painting what it is – a masterpiece.

“Everything was amorphous, yet everything repeated itself endlessly.” (290) Here is yet another interesting quotation from that very same Lawrence book. That passage is not dealing with someone anymore, but with a newly-built town – one of these industrial bunch of houses of the East Midlands at the beginning of the twentieth century. It certainly reflects our History, which looks all so blurry to us, but which possess such an anaphoric character. We are once more confronted with an amalgamation of components: the shapeless feature comes from the unpredictability of our actions, and the regularity and likeness of the events ensue from the foreseeable consequences of our individual history. See why I was talking of mixes and blends? Every one is a bit of both. We are dots on a line. Wait, no. We are the dots that constitute the line. We make the line. We are the line. As another character in the book says: “You wouldn’t be yourself if there were no nation.” (261) But the nation couldn’t either be what it is without us. We can call it a virtuous or vicious circle, depending on how pessimistic we want to be. Or we can just call it a circle, without judging its nature. But that’d be beyond our human power to simply look at something without gauging it. We have to ponder on the value of this or that, on the potential existence of God, on how the human machine works. But hey, that’s what we live and are known for!

What does poetry represent?

To ask this question is pointless, I give you that. Yet it’s like wondering what the meaning of art is and why man started painting on these cave walls back in the day; you can’t help it! I suppose the suitable answer would be “why ask?” as we can’t possibly come out with a satisfying explanation (although brain specialists and memory experts will tell you that everything we let out of our minds, like when we express ourselves on paper, on canvas, on cave walls, relieves our brain loaded with too many memories). That theory states that what has been let out can then be erased from the inside of our heads, and thus create room so that we may start hoarding again. But I am going off topic, this is not the point of my post – not really. What I would like to do today is going on an expedition to try and penetrate the fascinating land of poetry.

When we look at, say, Wordsworth’s two-part Prelude – to take a barely ever mentioned master of the poetic landscape (yes, I tend to like unsung heroes, how unusual) – we associate the purpose and benefits of poetry to childhood memories. What the poet put on paper there concerns his remembrance of happy events that occurred during his youth. Is poetry a way to reach back to a long gone blissful time, or is it simply about telling and sharing tales? I think both aims are at stake in this case, and what Wordsworth also seems to have to deal with is regret. To me, the sadness in Wordsworth’s writing has something to do with powerlessness, either his own or human beings’ in general. We are powerless to regain what we have lost over time, like years and dearly departed, and powerless to make plans for the future because we don’t know what it’s made of, and it really scares us. What is left for us to work on is the present, but we are as powerless to manage this one as we are with the others, since we are too busy complaining about our powerlessness. So we feel sorry for ourselves, and we write poetry.

That’s how I feel when I read Wordsworth’s poetry – don’t get me wrong, I love being depressed by others’ poetic worries – and to be honest, poetry is about feelings and emotions, so I can’t be completely wrong. When I say poetry is about feeling, that encompasses both how the author and the reader feel. I believe poetry is a successful combination of the two. Here, for example, Wordsworth tells us anecdotes about his happy-go-lucky childhood and how looking back at it now makes him realise how nice it was to be carefree, how quickly these moments fly and never return. Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Maybe his poetry is beautiful because I feel sorry for him, maybe he reaches his goal as a poet because I once felt what he expresses in his verse. Fairly, I don’t know how poetry works. But if it involves compassion, Nature, grief and sorrow, joy and happiness, I think I might have found some meaning to it, which may just lie in enjoying your reading, enjoying the moment.

Aren’t these great poets powerful!