Friday, November 19, 2004

Le Salon du Livre

I had a very inspiring morning. Today was a field day, a trip to Le Salon du Livre. It's a big expo of publishing houses being held in the Place Bonaventure downtown. This event has been happening for many years. It's only $6 to get in, but we got in free as a school.

I didn't really know what to expect. The event was getting a lot of press. There was an article about it in both the free dailies, as well as all four hebdos (hebomadaire means weekly in french; there are two english and two french free weeklies here). I also heard that they were going to be broadcasting all the daytime CBC shows from there.

I'm pleased to report that, judging by this event, the book business is really booming in Québec. The exhibit hall was huge and the booths were professional and nice looking. There were a lot of people at the event. I used to put on events and expos like this and you can tell when one is suffering. There was lots of energy and everybody working the booths seemed really positive. There were many smaller publishing houses that didn't have so many people coming to them, but they had an air of patient confidence rather than desperate loneliness that you see when a company in a booth is hurting for business. I read later that the budget for the event was 1.6 million dollars. 10% of that came from the government; the rest is booth and entrance fees ($6 for adults).

Except for one stall, it was entirely french. There were some big French houses (as well as Larousse and Robert, the two big french dictionary makers) and a Belgium company, but the rest were Québecois. Bande-Dessinées (comics) were well-represented as well as food and drink (the theme of this year's expo is L'Art du Vivre). But Children's books were far and away the biggest draw. There were tons of schools there and lots of authors signing books and speaking.

I watched a Radio-Canada (that's the french CBC) panel discussion led by the animatrice (that means hostess) Marie-France Bazzo. There were some pretty famous Québecois authors there, including Michel Tremblay. His plays and books are the first to incorporate the rich lower-middle class culture and slang (le joual) of Québec in the early '60s. His "Les Vues Animées" about his childhood relationship with movies is the first book I read in French and it was great. I came to the discussion as he was saying he's reading a lot of fantasy these days because he loves the way they have an internal consistency that allows you to believe the amazing things in that world. That was pretty interesting to hear! Sort of surprised me, because his reputation is as someone who really represented the reality of Québec in literature. It was a very animated and intelligent discussion and there was standing room only.

One of my stronger literary interests is crime. I know that it is a genre appreciated in France and in Québec and I had a suspicion that there are quite a few decent Québecois mystery and detective authors. My suspicions were confirmed when I ran into the Alire (that means "to read") booth. They have been serializing a book by Jean-Jaques Pelletier in Le Journal (one of two broadsheets in Montréal) called L'Argent du Monde. First of all, that is extremely cool to me that they are serializing a book at all in the newspaper. I love the idea of serials; the expectation of continued narration, the sense that the story exists outside of you and will thus never end. I recognized the cover design of that book and was drawn immediately to their booth.

I ended up having a half-hour conversation with one of the publishing house's employees. His name was Vincent and was extremely friendly and clearly passionate about the books they were selling. Alire is one of the larger publishers of science-fiction, fantasy, crime and espionage books in Québec and almost all of their authors are French-Canadian. The english-speaking writers who are translated are all Canadian. I was impressed with that. But even more impressed that they put out quarterly journals of short stories by new and established authors in the genres of sci-fi & fantasy (Solaris) and crime (Alibis) and they sell!

There are a few stragglers in the english market of these genre journals, but they are barely hanging on. Back in the heydays of the '50s and '60s, those monthly magazines was where writers "gagneaient leur croute" (made their bread and butter, literally, earned their crust) and new writers got a start. I found it very inspiring that this opportunity still existed in Québec. This is a lot of what Vincent and I talked about. He explained to me that because most of the english publishers focused all their marketing efforts in english Canada and the U.S., Québec was in a bit of a commercial vacuum. On top of that, the people here really like to read books that take place in their milieu. Jean-Jacques Pelletier, for instance, is hugely popular. Vincent said, "Il est un locomotif. Ses romans sont commes let petits pains chauds." [he's a locomotive. His books are like hot little loaves of bread, meaning, as he explained to me when I asked him, that people couldn't wait to eat them.] His books are about corporate espionage and international intrigue, but they are all based in Québec. There are tons of characters and there's action in all the global hotspots, but the foundation is back here in Québec!

I ended up buying Le Rouge Idéal, a mystery by Jacques Côté that Vincent recommended. It's about a cop in Québec City in 1979 hunting down a killer. "un tueur fou est en liberté dans la ville et tout porte à croire qu'il est engagé dans une terrible spirale de violence!" [a mad killer is loose in the city and [all are ready? see how tough french is!] to believe that he is engaged in a terrible spiral of violence!] Sounds pretty good to me, but pretty standard. I trusted Vincent's judgement after hearing some of the books he read and he claimed it was really well-received. I'll let you know when I finish it.

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