A friend called me "reclusive" recently (I'm writing my thesis!), but I did make it out Wednesday night to the book swap party at Le Carmen** – a new literary event in Paris where you bring a book to exchange with a stranger.
I liked the idea of walking up to unknowns at a party and saying “Whatcha got?” referring to the books in their hand. But I could quickly see was that most people 1. loved their books and conveyed to you that they didn’t actually want to trade, regardless of what you were holding, 2. felt so so about their books but thought they would have value on the market (but people are so particular about their taste, especially at a literary party, so they can’t help belying how they really feel in the pitch).*
Except for one young woman. She pitched me Marcel Pagnol’s Le Chateau de ma mère. Not only did she love the book, but she is from the south of France and felt very “attachée” and “touchée” by the book’s regionalism. Her eyes shined. I said “Oh, I don’t really feel like taking a book that’s about hunting.” (She hold told me there was a bit of "la chasse" in it and mimed firing a gun.) After a certain point the party became about coming up with plausible rejections. I myself had recently been rejected by a girl who had Love in the Time of Cholera (clearly didn’t want to part with it) with a smooth “Oh, your story is about love? I don’t feel like reading another love story.”
Maybe I rejected the Pagnol girl partly because it is easy to reject someone after your own book has just been rejected. Maybe I wasn’t dying to read her Pagnol. Maybe my mind was dulled by the heat and drink, the hipsters hemming me in on all sides. But she loved her book and was willing to give it to me. She told me how wonderful it was with shining eyes. I broke the exchange.
All day yesterday I felt guilty about the girl with her Pagnol!
* I avoided the issue in a way. I was giving away something that I loved but that was superfluous: I had another copy at home. It was Oulipian writer Hervé Le Tellier’s Enough About Love (recently translated into English).