Home from a genuinely rewarding weekend in Montreal at their Salon du Livre, as guest of my Quebec publisher, Alire. The Salon can actually restore, however briefly, some optimism about the book world. 120,000 people over 4 days or so, paying to crowd their way in to see … nothing but books, publishers, and authors signing at booths like people in a revolving door. I was a revolver. Four sessions over Saturday and Sunday.
As Alire’s only translated Anglophone author, I am not the star attraction at their booth for a French-langage fair. But my time there, among other feelings induced, reminded me how lucky I am (how lucky all English-language writers are) as too the language in which we write and sell. I always say I feel fortunate to be able to write the books I want to write, at the speed that lets me research and polish them, but a trip like this reminds me that the good fortune includes my principal language of publicatuon.
Alire’s star is a writer named Patrick Sénécal. He sells hugely in Quebec, one of the top 3 in the province, had lines starting for each of his four sessions long before he arrived. But his work is not translated into English, it is not even in France … because the French have an extremely narrow view of Quebec writers. Patrick does Stephen King-like horror-thrillers, and Louise and Jean of Alire are appalled that he hasn’t achieved a wider breakout. It is tough to be a Quebec novelist, and I was genuinely happy to see the crowds honouring and responding to their own.
They were awfully good to me, too. There’s ongoing political language tension in Quebec, the nootious Bill 101, restricting the use of English on signs, new questions about the teaching of Engloish in schools … but I was touched and humbled by how generous every single reader who came up for a signature was. My spoken French is clumsy, ungrammatical, and appallingly accented … and without exception people shifted into English for me, and many then apologized for their English. I kept pointing out that they were idulging me, shifting into my language, that I was the one who needed to apologize.
Many amusing moments, but here’s one: there was a pair of readers, about half an hour apart on Sunday. Each reported at the signing table that I was their ‘2nd favourite writer’. When asked (how do you not ask?) one said Tolkien was his #1, the other actually blushed, looked away, didn’t answer. I will admit that a part of me wondered if 50 Shades had me beaten out with her (so to speak). Um, that’s an off the cuff joke, of course.
I was also touched by how many had read all of my books (and some brought all to be signed). I have been associated with Jean Pettigrew and Louise Alain in Quebec for twenty years now. This is a friendship and a really happy publishing relationship.
And yes, yes, I know … this is further eroding the curmudgeon image. Is it a rescue if I point out that Winokur’s very funny The Portable Curmudgeon is one of my bedside books?
Didn’t think so.