This is the second installment of Kaprielian’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
11:00 A.M. Trying to write my column. I got an e-mail from Michel H. asking me not to put the photos of him bare-chested on the cover for September 8. It’s too bad, those photos are the best by far.
11:15 A.M. Still trying to write my column (nothing to say, really). Get a phone call from the French publisher of Bret Easton Ellis’s new novel, Imperial Bedrooms. (It’s such a great novel. I know American critics don’t like him. As we say in French, “nul n’est prophète en son pays.”) They’re very cool about it, but they just want to let me know how badly we’ve screwed up their plans. We put Ellis on the cover of our rentrée issue, which came out August 18, and ran the interview he gave me in Los Angeles, but it was a month before the book came out. Usually we don’t do stuff like that. Nobody does. But this year the publishers decided to publish some very famous and interesting writers late in the season—no doubt to get coverage early on for authors who are less well known.
But the rentrée needs one or two locomotives if the books are going to get read—ditto the magazines. If you put a star on the cover, people are curious to read the article, then they read the other reviews, even of first novels. (That’s how each book finds its readers.) Also, I have to say, we’re the only magazine that puts writers on the cover at all. Everyone knows a writer doesn’t sell copies. That’s the sad reality. And it’s why I like working for Les Inrocks—we can still do it anyway.
2:00 P.M. Reading the new (to us) Philip Roth, Indignation. I interviewed Roth last year in New York. He’s one of the sexiest minds I’ve ever met. Les Inrocks are putting together a series on the greatest American writers. I wonder if an American magazine would ever do the same for French writers!
5:00 P.M. High heels? Not serious enough. An expensive bag? Too bling. Black trousers and black jacket? Too executive… Finally I opt for a black minidress and black ballerina slippers for our annual rentrée cocktail party. It takes place in a restaurant in the Panthéon cinema, decorated by Catherine Deneuve. Cozy, cool, lounge-y. Unless you’re as tense as I am. It’s nice but always difficult to have all those people around. And will they even show up? If they do, what to say? How to behave? But I’m relaxing as the years go by. Now I know all you have to do is smile. And kiss. So I spend my evening smiling and kissing. And everyone is happy—me included.
10:00 P.M. Over. All the publishers came, lots of writers I like, and of course, my friends. How easy it all was. I no longer feel the need to look serious when a writer tells me his new book is about vibrators. And when a writer comes up to shake your hand, now I know that “Bravo!” is all you have to say about the book. They’ll understand. What I’ve learned over the years is that everybody needs to be loved. Absolutely everybody! And the love people need is endless. By ten, the Inrocks team seems satisfied with the party, so I can leave with my friends for Le Rostand, a café across from the Luxembourg Gardens. (Yes, Rostand is a café now. Le Balzac is a cinema. And Colette is a trendy boutique.)
11:00 A.M. A TV crew shows up to interview me about Houellebecq for the evening news. The journalist’s big question: Is Houellebecq a genius? It’s funny. Five years ago they kept asking, Is Houellebecq a fake? How quickly fashions change. I tell the newscaster that I just spent four thousand words trying not to be so reductive. He gives me a big grin, “Sure, but this is TV!” The crew puts me against a blue screen—it’s very Avatar—and I talk in long sentences to try to wriggle out of the question. Maybe I can hypnotize them … or put them to sleep …
11:15 A.M. “Right, but is he a genius? Yes or no?” Evidently the hypnotism failed. “You have to answer yes or no!” He looks about ready to scream, so I murmur “In his way, yes, Michel Houllebecq is kind of a genius,” or words to that effect.
1:00 P.M. Lunch on the terrace of Marly—a very pretty restaurant across from the pyramid of the Louvre—with Ellis’s Paris publicist. Bret, who’s the other headliner of the rentrée, will be here in a few weeks. “Bret has asked me to set something up for every evening.” She’s worried because she hasn’t found anything for September 22. I suggest that Les Inrocks throw him a party. Everyone at the office loves the idea. In France, Ellis is an icon.
6:00 P.M. The TV crew is back. The blue screen has eaten my entire face. The sound is OK, but all you can see is a headless woman. A headless woman—who talks! I’m into it. But they’re not. So we do the whole thing again—this time against a green screen. I’m starting to get tired.
7:30 P.M. I join my friends Santiago Amigorena and Juan Pittaluga at l’Avant-Comptoire, a nice little bar at Odéon, for a drink. Then dinner at Le Comptoire. I’m impressed that they managed to get a table without booking it three months in advance. Le Comptoire is very small and very trendy. Since Juan co-produced the great Mondovino with Jonathan Nossiter, I have every confidence in his choice of wine.
8:30 P.M. Over our appetizers I tell them about my interview with Houellebecq—how down-to-earth and forthright he is. Santiago disagrees. In his opinion, all interviews are marketing ploys, and the subject is always aware of the game and plays it to project a certain image. I try to say that if I were that cynical, I wouldn’t do interviews at all. Sure, it’s a peculiar exercise. But for me an interview is an encounter between two people who try, as best they can, to be honest with each other in the moment. (Sometimes, of course, that encounter never quite takes place.)
11:00 P.M. Santiago is a cinéaste and a writer, and the author of one of this decade’s better memoirs. We are both obsessed with Proust. When the conversation turns to old love affairs, we both think of Swann’s famous sentence about his affair with Odette—“I felt my deepest love for a woman who did not appeal to me, who was not my type!” We both agree that the people with whom we were most passionately in love were not our type and didn’t appeal to us. Is this the true definition of love?
11:00 A.M. After several cups of coffee, I’m still puzzling over our conversation of last night. I find myself unconvinced. What if we’re mistaken in our reading of Proust as much as in our own real lives? After all, who says we have to believe this made-up character? What if Swann is wrong? What if he’s lying to himself? And what if—this is the cruelest and most ironic possibility—Odette was his type, after all, his exact type? And what if we ourselves felt the most passion for impossible people who were—all the same—exactly our type, whatever we said to the contrary? That would be the hardest thing to accept, for Swann and for us. Maybe we’ve felt our greatest loves for people whom … we couldn’t love.
3:00 P.M. An hour of pilates. I feel virtuous for the first time all week. Plus, sometimes it’s nice to think of nothing but your abs.
7:00 P.M. A friend, a radio journalist, calls to ask if he can use the tape of my interview with … Michel Houellebecq. I might as well get used to it: for the next three months, no one will call or speak to me without saying the word HOUELLEBECQ.
8:00 P.M. Finally a night at home with my books. I’m already reading the October releases. Among the stacks, Patti Smith’s lovely memoir, Just Kids. She doesn’t torture herself with questions like mine: even though he was gay, Robert Mapplethorpe was really and truly her type. I envy her freshness. I envy her for living in New York in the 1970s. It was still easy to meet people like Warhol, Burroughs, and Ginsberg, and to be accepted into their circle. I envy her lack of self-doubt and her readiness to accept whatever comes her way in life—without regrets.
11:00 A.M. Finally a whole day at home, in bed, surrounded by newspapers and books. A few leisurely cups of coffee, punctuated by a couple of cigarettes, while I read Le Monde and Libération … but how French politics annoys me! I won’t spend long on this subject, because it tends to be boring, but Nicolas Sarkozy’s government is a national disgrace and that’s all there is to it. Now his labor minister, Eric Woerth, is implicated in a serious financial scandal. Not only does he refuse to step down, but according to today’s paper, he’s attacked the press for mounting a smear campaign against him. Isn’t that just great. In the United States, I like to think, a cabinet member who found himself in the same position would already have been fired.
11:30 A.M. Oh, and guess what—now Sarkozy is claiming the right to handpick the heads of all public radio and TV channels … Isn’t our freedom of the press a wonderful thing.
Before I get really mad, I decide to read a novel …
2:00 P.M. … a French novel. When I started this culture diary, I promised myself I wouldn’t bore American readers by talking about French authors they’d never have heard of, since I know French literature doesn’t get translated much in the States, or at least isn’t in wide circulation. But I can’t resist. Not to “talk” to you about French literature, but to give you a list of names of contemporary writers who deserve to be read (or at least translated, if they’re not already):
Eric Reinhardt, Régis Jauffret, Patrick Modiano, Lorette Nobécourt, Tristan Garcia, Jean-Christophe Valtat, Anne Garretta, Valérie Mréjen, Eric Laurrent, Jean Echenoz, Philippe Vasset, Virginie Despentes, Antoine Bello, Grégoire Bouiller, Pauline Klein, Emmanuel Carrère, Marie Darrieussecq, Nathalie Léger, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Jean-Jacques Schuhl,
and, of course,
But that one you could have guessed.
Nelly Kaprielian is a critic and editor in Paris, France.