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Screen legend Sophia Loren is back in an adaptation of a Goncourt Prize-winning novel.

Aaron Robertson

October 29, 2020, 1:36pm

The late French author Romain Gary is the only writer to have won France’s most prestigious literary award under two names: he received the Prix Goncourt for The Roots of Heaven (Les Racines du ciel; 1956) under his birth name and, more than 20 years later, “Émile Ajar” won the prize for The Life Before Us (La vie devant soi; 1975).

Gary was a complex figure—to many, a swaggering hero of the French resistance during WWII, a polyglot diplomat, a film director, and something of a charming literary strongman.

Though his name isn’t as familiar today as it once was, Gary was known among English speakers during his time living in Los Angeles for his writings against anti-Semitism (a subject that appears in much of his work). The Life Before Us was the best-selling French novel of the 20th century, and Gary wrote upwards of 30 books: essays, memoir, fiction, and plays.

Gary was also friends with Sophia Loren, the two-time Oscar-winning Italian actress who stars in the upcoming Netflix adaptation of La vie devant soi, called The Life Ahead, which is garnering plaudits and Oscar buzz (the film begins streaming on November 13th).

The 86-year-old Loren is one of the last surviving giants of classic Hollywood cinema. She comes up in the same breath as Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, and Elizabeth Taylor. Her last, brief onscreen role was in the 2009 musical Nine.

The Life Ahead is directed by Loren’s son, Edoardo Ponti. The original story follows an aging Parisian Holocaust survivor and former prostitute who becomes a guardian for young orphans on the street. The movie has been slightly updated—the shadow of the European migrant crisis looms, and we’re in an Italian seaside town rather than France. Loren’s co-lead, Ibrahima Gueye, plays a 12-year-old Senegalese boy named Momo.

Ponti’s adaptation is the second time Gary’s novel has made it to the screen. The 1977 movie Madama Rosa was an Oscar-winner starring Simone Signoret.

Gary published under multiple pen names throughout his life, but none more famous than Ajar. This alter ego was supposedly an Algerian who had badly performed an abortion as a medical student and had to flee to Brazil to avoid prison. An author is not allowed to win the Goncourt twice, and although some suspected Gary and Ajar were the same person, the judges of the 1975 prize paid the rumors no mind.

Gary, who committed suicide in 1980, revealed his alter ego posthumously in a confessional text titled The Life and Death of Émile Ajar (Vie et mort d’Émile Ajar).

Are bookstores essential businesses? In France, they’re making the case.

Jonny Diamond

October 29, 2020, 12:15pm

As Europe goes back into pandemic lockdown French bookstores are making the case to remain open, despite the fact bars and restaurants will be closing. Citing fears of increasing “cultural isolation” bookstore associations are joining with publishers to demand classification as essential alongside grocery stores and pharmacies, arguing that “Our readers, who love independent bookstores, would not understand it and would experience it as an injustice … books satisfy our need for understanding, reflection, escape, distraction, but also sharing and communication.”

Look, as anyone reading this likely knows, I am a fan of independent bookstores, and I think we need to do everything we can as a community of book-lovers to help them, along with the booksellers they employ, survive the inevitable hardships of this winter’s lockdown. But just because I love something doesn’t mean I don’t understand why I can’t do it. And by “do it” I mean slowly browse the shelves of my local indie, head aslant, taking in the accidental poetry of book titles in search of nothing in particular.

I do think it’s possible for stores to remain safely open to fulfill online orders but in order to do so employees must be able to travel to work. This, I think, is the crux of the problem in France: the lockdown there is going to require sworn declarations by individuals about why they’re leaving home; my French is pretty good but I can’t yet figure out if all non-essential businesses are closing entirely, or if traveling to nonessential work will b a valid reason to be out.

This issue came up in the US over the summer for many of the same reasons, as outlined in this Washington Post op-ed by bookstore owner Alex George, who pointed out that:

The order issued by my city contains 42 categories of business that are essential; enterprises permitted to stay open range from pharmacies to restaurants to hardware stores to dry cleaners — but bookshops are not on the list.

In this case, I think he has a point: if curbside pick-up is deemed safe enough to collect your crisp button-downs it can probably be safely implemented for book-buying.

As with most superficially argument-ready topics the question of bookstores as essential businesses comes down to situational specificity and broader context: Are they essential to a vibrant and healthy society? Yes. Can they safely stay open for delivery and curbside pick-up? Yes. But are they really essential during a pandemic to the kind of people who can, in normal times, regularly afford to go to a bookstore? Frankly, no.

Mindy Kaling is set to star in an adaptation of Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed.

Dan Sheehan

October 29, 2020, 11:52am

Two rom-com titans are getting into bed together over at HBO with the announcement that Mindy Kaling will produce and star in a movie adaptation of Jennifer Weiner’s debut novel, Good in Bed.

According to EW, the semi-autobiographical novel, which launched Weiner’s career back in 2001 and was a huge bestseller, “follows a plus-size, up-and-coming journalist in Philadelphia grappling with shaky self-esteem, a newly out-of-the-closet mother, an absent father, and a broken heart after a breakup. Over an eventful year, she befriends a movie star, weathers public humiliation, finds true love, and learns to accept herself and her life in all its imperfection.”

Weiner has written 13 novels since then, including 2002’s In Her Shoes, which was made into a successful 2005 film starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Colette. Weiner has also been a vocal critic of what she sees as the literary community’s dismissive attitude toward commercial women’s fiction, and was embroiled in now-infamous virtual war of words with Jonathan Franzen back in 2010.

Kaling is, well, Mindy Kaling, so if you’ve clicked on this post there’s really no need for me to explain her fame.

[via EW]


Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy is getting the perfect audiobook narrator.

Emily Temple

October 29, 2020, 11:18am

Yes, it’s Kristin Scott Thomas, our most recent Mrs. Danvers and our forever Fiona. Can’t you just imagine her as the narrator of Cusk’s cool-toned autofictions?

The best part is, she got the gig because she’s a fan. “Faber heard that I was a Rachel Cusk fan so I was thrilled when they asked me to record her recent novels,” Thomas told The Bookseller. “I have been practicing for years, reading them aloud to myself, hoping that one day somebody would ask me to record them. It has been such a pleasure. Rachel Cusk has a relentless and humorous eye for the truth in relationships, and describes that brilliantly.”

Thomas is the master of portraying a woman trying to keep her sharp edges while emotions broil underneath; I can’t wait to hear her take on Cusk’s contemporary classics.

A new mentorship collective for BIPOCs is taking applications now.

Corinne Segal

October 28, 2020, 1:17pm

With the end of the year (unbelievably) approaching, there’s a new opportunity for writers of color to kick off 2021: a new mentorship program, created by some of the most accomplished writers in journalism and literary media today, is taking applications now.

The PERIPLUS collective, which aims to support emerging BIPOC writers, has gathered a superstar list of mentors including C Pam Zhang, Daniel Peña, De’Shawn Charles Winslow, E. Alex Jung, Eduardo C. Corral, Esmé Weijun Wang, Hanif Abdurraqib, Jenna Wortham, Kelli Jo Ford, Layli Long Soldier, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Nicholas Casey, Nicole Chung, Oscar Villalon, R.O. Kwon, Rachel Khong, Tiana Clark, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, and Yukari Iwatani Kane.

Each of them will spend a half hour every other month with mentees to discuss career development, craft concerns, and anything else related to the practice of writing. The mentors are unpaid, the group noted in a statement:

We like the idea of a low-key, informal, mutual-aid-style project that exists outside of institutions. Though some of us are affiliated with institutions such as universities or magazines—the group includes creative-writing professors and staff writers at the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, New York, and Wired, for example—we don’t have outside funding or other institutional support for this project. It’s just us.

Anyone who’s interested can apply here by Dec. 15.

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