Acts of Kindness – Book Exchange Project
For the love of books…
It’s the love of books that, in the beginning, prompted me to approach Judy MacMahon, the founder of My French Life™.
I had stumbled upon an interview in myfrenchlife.org magazine of Canadian author Sandra Gulland, whose ‘Josephine Trilogy’ novels I had recently devoured. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed reading many more articles featured on My French Life™ site that day and without much ado, I was contacting Judy with ideas of articles and was immediately given an opportunity which turned out to be the role of Paris-based contributor for MyFrenchLife magazine.
Since then, our paths have followed each other closely and steadily. Books have continually played a major role in our collaboration. However the articles, in the main, dealt with books that were originally written in English; they were always related to France, but they were not French literature per se.
My French Life™ book club: recently-translated French novels
Almost three years ago, as MyFrenchLife Facebook Community Private Group was created, it became easier to interact with members, and them with us. It was at this time that the idea of a book club emerged: we would enable the Francophile members around the world to get to know French contemporary writers better, by offering to read recently-translated French fiction.
‘Lullaby’ (or ‘Perfect Nanny’ for the US title) by Leïla Slimani was our first read – it had won the Prix Goncourt the previous year and had become an instant bestseller – and as of today, the last one we discussed was ‘The Exchange of Princesses’ by Chantal Thomas.
In between those two books, and since its creation, MyFrenchLife Book Club members have:-
- read 18 books by major French contemporary writers and their translators,
- carried out interviews,
- had intimate book club meetings in Paris,
- zoom discussions during lockdown, with members from USA, UK, France, and Australia, and
- we’re now sharing our passion for books in what is a new subgroup to our Facebook Community Group, simply called Bookchat.
The birth of the book exchange project
However, 2020 is not a year like any other.
In times of global epidemics, members can’t travel or visit their loved ones like they used to. Publishers postponed release dates of translated fiction.
Reading together and discussing online would not bring as much warmth and enthusiasm as it had initially. Still, there was something else books could offer and it had to be figured out…
Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.
Indeed, this quote by American aphorist (and professor of French) Mason Cooley could not have been, in this particular situation, more appropriate.
In that respect, Judy imagined and set up a project in which books would make up for what we missed so dearly:
- traveling to France,
- paying our yearly visit to the Louvres,
- connecting with like-minded people,
- and being kind to one another.
The France-themed Book Exchange project took shape out of these observations. Judy paired the participants according to the place they lived, addresses were emailed, and by the beginning of November, the first books started arriving at their destinations.
All the books we can read…
We would have expected to see duplicates!
And this was what we expected as the first participants shared the lovely pictures of their gifts, gradually, one by one…
Thirty books (see list below) have been received so far, and they’re all different albeit they have France and Paris as common denominators:
- from memoirs,
- travel books,
- biographies to
- historical fiction, and more, what an astonishingly diverse list of books has been unveiled!
This array of books continues to grow and is still being revealed on the MyFrenchLife Instagram profile @maviefrancaise where you can view them, and read the shared comments and stories of the happy recipients.
With such creativity, generosity, and joy that was injected into this book initiative, we thought it was our duty to share its journey with a larger audience: you.
We’d love to know if we decide to repeat the Book Exchange in 2021, would you be interested to be part of it?
In the meantime, Christmas is almost around the corner, and you might find among the participants’ selections, a great book for the Francophile friend on your list (or yourself!).
You may also be interested to hear that My French Life™ is actively supporting independent bookstores and is gathering all its Francophile books in one place in its own bookshop at bookshop.org, where you’ll find numerous fascinating booklists, perfect for the Francophile in your life.
– The Francophile Book Exchange #booklist
– Francophile favourites: Paris focus
– Books about France: written or translated by Members of MyFrenchLife.org
… and more booklists are being added and Francophile titles uploaded as we speak.
Feel free to have a look at it and tell us if this list was helpful. Have you read any of the featured books? Do you have any other suggestions?
The books exchanged and received:
TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH:
– Madame Bovary of the Suburbs by Sophie Divry
– Hear our Defeats by Laurent Gaudé
– The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbéry
– Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
– The Paris Architectt by Charles Belfoure
– Desirée by Annemarie Selinko
– All the Light we cannot See by Anthony Doerr
– Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin
– Hidden in Paris by Corine Gantz
– There’s something about Paris by Vivien Lacey
– The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay
– Paris in the Dark by Robert Olen Butler
– 8 Months in Provence by Diane Covington Carter
– My Life in France by Julia Child
– (not quite) Mastering the Art of French Living by Mark Greenside
– Inside a Pearl by Edmund White
– Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
– The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by T.E Carhart
– Paris was Ours by Penelope Rowlands
– Paris! Paris! by Irwin Shaw and Ronald Searle
– Quiet Corners of Paris by Jean-Christophe Napias
– Almost French, A New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull
– L’Appart by David Lebovitz
– The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
– Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah
– 52 Loaves, a half-baked adventure by William Alexander
– Paris Noir by Tyler Sovall
– Dreaming in French by Alcie Kaplan
– Footprints in Paris by Gillian Tendall
– Take me to Paris, Johnny by John Foster