Friday Feature : On A Frenchwoman & Her Books


In my grandmother’s room, the books were lying down; she used to borrow them from the lending library and I never saw more than two at a time. These trashy works reminded me of New Year sweetmeats because their shiny flexible covers seemed to be cut out of glazed paper. Bright, white, almost new, they served as an excuse for petty mysteries.

Each Friday, my grandmother would get dressed to go out and say: ‘I’m going to take them back’; when she returned, and had taken off her black hat and veil, she would take them out of her muff and I would wonder, mystified: ‘Are they the same ones?’ She used to ‘cover’ them carefully and then, having chosen one, she would settle herself by the window, in her winged armchair, put on her spectacles, sigh with pleasure and weariness, and lower her eyelids with a delicately voluptuous smile which I have since discovered on the lips of the Mona Lisa.

Jean-Paul Satre, Words (1964).

I, too wonder, what dear old granny Satre might be reading that can elicit such pleasure and contentment, and not to mention the ‘voluptuous Mona Lisa smile’? 😉

And what about you, dear readers? When was the last time you caught yourself settling down with a book, with such visible pleasure? And what might that book be, if I may ask?

Friday Feature : On A Frenchman and His Books


I began my life as I shall no doubt end it: among books. In my grandfather’s study, they were everywhere; it was forbidden to dust them except once a year, before the October term. Even before I could read, I already revered these raised stones; upright or leaning, wedged together like bricks on the library shelves or nobly spaced like avenues of dolmens, I felt that our family prosperity depended on them. They were all alike, and I was romping about in a tiny sanctuary, surrounded by squat, ancient monuments which had witnessed my birth, which would witness my death and whose permanence guaranteed me a future as calm as my past.

I used to touch them in secret to honour my hands with their dust but I did not have much idea what to do with them and each day I was present at ceremonies whose meaning escaped me: my grandfather (so clumsy, normally my grandmother buttoned his gloves for him) handled these cultural objects with the dexterity of an officiating priest. Hundreds of times I saw him get up absent-mindedly, walk round the table, cross the room in two strides, unhesitatingly pick out a volume without allowing himself time for choice, run through it as he went back to his armchair, with a combined movement of his thumb and right forefinger, and, almost before he sat down, open it with a flick ‘at the right page’, making it creak like a shoe. I sometimes got close enough to observe these boxes which opened like oysters and I discovered the nakedness of their internal organs, pale, dank, slightly blistered pages, covered with small black veins, which drank ink and smelt of mildew.

Jean-Paul Satre, Words (1964).

To keep in line with the French ‘air’ that has been featuring rather heavily on the blog lately, I thought the excerpt from Jean-Paul Satre would be a good choice for today’s Friday Feature. 🙂

And if you think Satre’s grandfather is endearing in how he goes about his bookish ways, you will love what Satre has to say about his grandmother. We’ll save that for next week’s Friday Feature, shall we? 😉