Napoleon and The Thinker

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In the foreground: Rodin’s unnamed Thinker. In the background, the dome of Les Invalides,  where Napoleon lies interred in his multiple coffins.

While the ravenously ambitious Napoleon conquered nations, strode across history like a colossus (although he was only about 5’5″) and ultimately died in exile, the Thinker seems to be frozen in perpetual contemplation of the enigma of his own existence.

What are you thinking about?

Literary corner

Need a place to sit down and… I don’t know… read a book?

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Want to have your own reading break here? Or need a place to enjoy the gelato you got at Grom? (I haven’t been there yet, but thanks to an online tip, I have another reason to get back to the neighborhood.)

Here’s how to find this fun little hidden corner known as Square Gabriel Pierné:

  • Go to the Pont des Arts (the one that used to be shackled full of love locks until the city took them off).
  • Head toward the big dome (the Institute de France), but veer a bit to the right, slip under a pedestrian archway and come out on the other side.
  • Walk a short block and there you are.

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From there, wander the neighborhood and take in some of the many galleries. You’ll find every kind of art, from the sublime to the slightly silly…

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What’s in the box?

An old suitcase full of books, sheltered from the rain in front Shakespeare & Co. in Paris. And not just any books. Unknown, mysterious books in sealed brown cardboard boxes. The key to unlock a box’s mystery? Five euros. Who can resist? Not us!

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I felt like a kid at Christmas as we picked up different boxes, giving them a shake, feeling their weight. Is a heavier book a better book? Hmm, how to decide… In the end I went with the first one I’d picked up. Reasonably weighty. No second guessing–let’s do this.

We took it inside, slapped down five euros and ran up the stairs with our prize to one of the funky reading rooms. The sign on the suitcase had promised “classics & mysteries.” What would ours be?

 

And….. it’s a Stephen King novel I’ve never heard of. Given how many books he’s written and how few I’ve read (two, I think), it’s not a big shock that it’s one I’m unfamiliar with. Not sure it’s a classic or a mystery–but it’s probably mysterious.  It’s gotten decidedly mixed reviews on goodreads, but after I get through my current pile of reading, I’ll give it a try.

In the evening we went to our church’s community center near Châtelet for Creative Night. The girls enjoyed a painting lesson as well as working on decorative letter kits we’d picked up earlier in the day.

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My creativity definitely trends toward the written and the musical (and I’d already spent the afternoon rehearsing), so I was happy to chill out with friends at the event while the girls had fun being artistic.

Paris has been invaded

Look up: invaders are everywhere in Paris. And you never know where you’ll see the next one. In this city overflowing with Very Important Art, some of the most fun to find are the mosaic tile creations that are lurking in corners all over the city. If you visit, don’t worry about missing your chance to spot one; the anonymous artist celebrated the creation of his 1,000th work here back in June of 2011. So go for a walk. Chances are you’ll find a place where he’s left his mark.

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Some are classic invaders, but you never know what you might find.

And if you look long enough, you’re sure to see a familiar face or two.

Finding new invaders is one of our favorite things about exploring Paris. Evelyn even has an app for it–take a picture of each one you find and score points–like these alien guys are demonstrating…

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“Writers… of a larger reality”

Ursula K. Le Guin doesn’t want her books to be sold like deodorant. And neither do I (assuming I ever sell any).

Last night I finished polishing up the second draft of my opening set of scenes, about 7,500 words, or roughly 25 pages. (People always ask me how many pages I’ve written, but it’s much easier to think in terms of word count since words per page can vary so much. Some use 250 per page as their guide; I prefer 300. Not sure why–probably because I came across that number first.) It feels good, and it’s just in time for the girls’ Christmas break and a little sightseeing and a visit from family.

Of course, as soon as I move on to the next big chunk of the book, I come across a passage that might make more of a dramatic impact if it came earlier–back in the middle of those 25 pages I just finished revising. But I’m resisting the urge to fiddle with it. After all, second draft won’t be the final draft. Moving on!

Now, the real reason for this post is a chance to reprint this wonderful speech–with that line about deodorant–by Ursula K LeGuin, author of fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, and more (check out The Lathe of Heavenit ain’t Katniss Everdeen’s dystopian fiction…).

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Photo Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch

It’s one of those acceptance speeches that is actually worth reading. Not just “I want to thank the academy… my agent… my family…” She does that. And then she succinctly and persuasively defends the nature of her art, the art of writing, holding up its value in an age under the sway of profit and market forces.

There’s another fantasy author you may have heard of, who’s sold a few books in his time: J.R.R.  Tolkien. He didn’t write the Lord of the Rings because he consulted the findings of a focus group. It was a sequel his publisher wasn’t expecting, probably didn’t want, but which so many are so grateful he wrote.

Isn’t that how the best art is? Not the result of the marketing machine, it’s something we didn’t even know we were looking for, but something that speaks to the depth of the soul.

Now, without further ado (you have to say that kind of thing when introducing someone about to give a speech), Ursula K. LeGuin:

 

Speech in Acceptance of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

To the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks, from the heart. My family, my agents, my editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as my own, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice in accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long — my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination, who for fifty years have watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality.

Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book 6 or 7 times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this — letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable — but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.

Thank you.

Ursula K. Le Guin

November 19, 2014

This text may be quoted without obtaining permission from the author, or copied in full so long as the copyright information is included:

Copyright © 2014 Ursula K. Le Guin