October 28, 2014

"The French minister for culture has caused a stir by revealing she hasn't read a single novel in two years."

"In the interview on a Sunday evening television show, [Fleur] Pellerin said she had enjoyed a 'wonderful lunch' with [Patrick] Modiano after he was named this year's winner of the Nobel Literature Prize."
But she admitted she couldn't say which of his titles she preferred because she hadn't had time to read his books - or indeed any others - since taking up a ministerial post two years ago.

"I admit without any problem that I have had no time to read over the past two years," she said, adding: "I read a lot of notes, and legislative documents. I read a lot of news. But I read [for pleasure] very little."
MORE: At the NYT:
At the French site of The Huffington Post, Claude Askolovitch, a writer, said... “Barbarism is here.... If one can be culture minister without reading, then we are mere technocrats and budgeters." He chided her for prioritizing the reading of ministerial memos over the uplift provided by great literary works....

“One can salute her frankness, understanding that the life of a minister leaves little time for the calm required for reading, and even salute the spontaneity of Fleur Pellerin,” noted an article in Le Point titled “Fleur Pellerin hasn’t read Modiano! So what?”...
Are we supposed to read novels? It used to seem so. Does it still?

60 comments:

John Lynch said...

So she works all the time. Hard to fault her for that.

Scott said...

She should listen to audiobooks while the limo takes her to work.

Bryan Townsend said...

See, this is the problem with social media and the internet generally. It soaks up all your time with drivel and trivia and leaves no time for things like novels, poetry, plays, symphonies, operas and fine art generally.

And we wonder why everyone seems so dumb these days...

DKWalser said...

Seems like you cannot run for political office without being asked to name the books you've read recently. I always thought is was a pointless question, offering little if any insight to a candidate's governing philosophy.

Quaestor said...

So she works all the time. Hard to fault her for that.

Nevertheless I shall. Any society that needs intervention at the ministerial level so intense and timely that the minister hasn't even time to read a book is too tenuous and unstable to survive in any case. Ergo Fleur Pellerin's efforts are either a waste of time, or more likely amount to counterproductive mischief.

Read a book, Mme. Pellerin. Better yet read a ton of books. Spend every waking hour immersed in great literature. Start with Homer of Smyrna and finish with Homer of Springfield, being to sure not to miss anything in between. France will be the better for it.

Paul said...

I haven't read a 'novel' in years.

Now I have read quite a few books written by people who were THERE at certain times in history. Personal accounts of both great and tragic events.

Plus several technical books (boring but necessary.)

But fiction? NO.

David said...

"Are we supposed to read novels?"

If you are the French Minister of Culture you are.

Perhaps the French taxpayers should chip in and buy her a Kindle. Or the French equivalent of a Kindle.

(There is a French equivalent of a Kindle, isn't there?)

(No? There is not? Sacre Bleu! Time for the Euro-Regulators to take a bite out of Amazon. Must not let them show us up again!)

Quaestor said...

I always thought is was a pointless question, offering little if any insight to a candidate's governing philosophy.

What a candidate reads is less important than the fact that the candidate reads, and the more the better. The Devil finds work for idle brains as well.

Anonymous said...

Is there a need for a minister of culture in any country ? And what pray tell does this woman actually do?

richard mcenroe said...

She should be forced to listen to audiobooks read by Candiens Quebecois. The accent will be punishment enough.

Freeman Hunt said...

I'm in the middle of a good novel. It's distracting. I see no way in which reading this novel is making me better at other things in my life. I think it's actually making me slightly worse. I can't wait until I'm finished with it.

Sebastian said...

"Are we supposed to read novels? It used to seem so. Does it still?"

No.

"Used to seem": well put.

Quaestor said...

Should we be reading novels?

Absolutely yes. Why leave any avenue of the mind unvisited? Since I stopped watching television more than ten years ago, I've discovered that there is ample time to do all the reading I must do, and all that I am compelled to do. Compulsion is the right word here. Any art that is fully appreciated becomes compelling both to the maker and the beholder.

Most of my reading is history, and I am compelled to read history because learning is the process of expanding the scope of one's ignorance. Each question that finds an answer in some work of history demands at least another question.

As usual I'm plowing through several volumes concurrently: Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WWII by John W. Dower, The War that Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan, The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss, Liberty and Its Price: Understanding the French Revolution by Donald M.G. Sutherland, and Stillwell and the American Experience in China by Barbara Tuchman. These are all books for the general reader, but they are nevertheless works with serious scholarship behind them. Each chapter exposes gaps in my comprehension of subject, and sends me on exploratory voyages up the tributaries and side channels, as it were -- so I read a bit, go off on a tangent, then return.

A novel however is complete unto itself, or should be. When I read a novel give it my undecided attention. Just recently I finished a monumental novel that I recommend to everyone with any interest in the French Revolution -- A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantell. 768 pages and worth every moment.

Revenant said...

It takes a special kind of people to create a "Minister of Culture" and then complain that culture is run by a bureaucrat.

Lucien said...

To be fair, the legislation and notes she reads may count as short form and absurdist fiction.

jr565 said...

Yeah reading novels does seem so last year. Certainly reading novels in novel form on a kindle or iPHone. But except for Game Of Thrones I haven't really read actual novels in a while. A lot of computer books.

I did buy an actual book recently (book 1 of The Accursed Kings about the leadup to the 100 years war but never bothered reading it.

Freeman Hunt said...

In a non-fiction book that I recently read, the author argued that it was important to read novels because one learns about how other people live and think by them.

But is that true?

Isn't one really learning how imaginary people live and think?

Robert Cook said...

It's not that "we're supposed to read novels," it's just a shame more people don't want to.

As for French Minister of Culture, the French public's reaction to her admission to not having read a novel in two years is a reflection of their values, just as here the public at large would take umbrage at a politician admitting to atheism or not liking kids or dogs...(or that he or she liked to read books).

n.n said...

Not on The New York Time's reading list:

Diversity Politics: Not See the Trees for the Forest

Redistributive Change: An Investment Guide to Recycling Returns

Viability: The Equivalence of Life and Death
Roe v. Wade: The Myth of Spontaneous Conception
Pro-Choice: The Private Holocaust

Liberalism and Progressivism: A Libertine's Dream

Peder said...

Yes, you should still read novels. I've read half of 'Brothers Karamazov' over the past six weeks while on the treadmill. What else do you have to do then?

Joe said...

Reading is way overrated, especially since the vast majority of books suck. And is it really reading if you listen to a recording? If not, does the act of reading itself have intrinsic value?

I just finished reading a series of novels which ranged from awful to pretty good. Have they affected my life? Not really.

I'm now reading a book on the history of air warfare. Despite being well read on the subject, I have learned a few new things. However nice that is, it's utterly irrelevant.

and leaves no time for things like novels, poetry, plays, symphonies, operas and fine art generally

How do any of those things make you smarter or even more interesting? It does appear to make you a snob. Is that a desirable trait?

Anonymous said...

In a memoir or biography I read of Ralph Waldo Emerson it was mentioned that he never read a novel. I know on another occasion he predicted that the novel would be surpassed by the diarist. Bloggers everywhere agree.

He also predicted that passenger service by train would be replaced by air travel, "...once a rudder for a balloon is invented." Good old Ralph.

I read mostly non-fiction.

tds said...

I'm reading Stephen King's The Stand, now, (for obvious reasons) and it's bloody long and the author can't really get to the point. Moreover, there's no trace of Ebola, but Satan shows up instead for no good reason.

I'm not that surprised that she's chosen memos when given the opportunity.

fivewheels said...

I've always believed reading is very important to intellectual development, both as children and as adults, but I'm pretty relaxed about what people want to read. Comic books are fine. Novels may be the most overrated of the bunch.

It's interesting to me that when you ask guys what's useful and interesting to read, you often get a lot of them touting military history, which is a category that litters my Kindle as well. Not a lot of Oprah-book-club, oppressed-victim-class-of-the-week stuff.

If we're going to pick sides on the issue of novels, I'm pretty happy not being on Oprah's.

rcocean said...

You mean current, modern novels or the classics?

I can think of plenty of novels written before 1950 that any educated person should have read or listened to. Since then, Nope.

rcocean said...

1950 or you could push it out till 1970 if you wish.

William said...

Novels might be going the way of epic poems. People still write epic poems, but who reads them. The wish to become immersed in another person's life won't vanish, but it's probably better realized in a tv miniseries. I wonder if the Mnister of Culture has found time to watch Game of Thrones or The Sopranos........I still read a book every seven to ten days, but mostly I read biographies, memoirs, and history. There's quite a gulf between what actually happened and what happened in movies and novels.

Richard Dolan said...

Do we still?

Well, education is what you do for yourself. The stories we tell ourselves, be it in the form of novels, movies, plays, music, poetry, are an essential part of that.

rcocean said...

Novels are basically pitched to 2 audiences. First is the mainstream female which just wants entertainment and "beach reading" and the second is the liberal elite audience.

Neither audience has any interest in reading "great novels" as commonly understood prior to 1960.

Bob R said...

It takes a special kind of people to create a "Minister of Culture" and then complain that culture is run by a bureaucrat.
For the win.

David said...

And by the way . . . .

Not a single Patrick Modiano book is available on Kindle. In French or English.

Zee Amazon, zay are so--how you say in American--threatening?

David said...

Revenant said...
It takes a special kind of people to create a "Minister of Culture" and then complain that culture is run by a bureaucrat.


Well put.

T J Sawyer said...

Fiction is just a series of stories that some people made up. (simpler version, a bunch of lies.)

There is really no point in reading fiction until you have finished all the non-fiction.

Carl Pham said...

Novels serve two purposes:

(1) For most people, they are merely distraction and relaxation, a way to immerse yourself in a better universe than that in which you live, where good is good and bad is bad and everything makes sense, whether it works out happy or sad. The TV and movies do this better these days.

(2) For intellectuals, they are touchstones and totems, things to quote at each other so as to identify the other members of your club -- a secret handshake, more or less. Can you quote Cicero or recognize a quote by him? Excellent! You're in! Fully recognized as a Quality Person. Later, de Tocqueville, de Maupassant, Henry James, Zora Neale Hurston, whatever. Naturally, intellectuals create a mythology to justify the aristocratism as rooted in merit -- reading broadens the mind! -- not just tribal bonding rituals. Yeah, right. But anyway, social media does this kind of thing (the tribal bonding) better these days. Did you read that great piece in Slate? Yeah, how 'bout those peckerwoods in flyover country, huh? Gimme five!

Anyway, I think by the time you're 50 or so, you realize you've read all the novels that are sufficiently popular they can reach mass publication. I mean, sure, the names change, and sometimes it's on a three-masted ship in 1849 and sometimes a starship in 2490 and sometimes a small Vermont town in 2014, but pretty much, the story is the same old one of about 100-odd stories that humans have been telling and re-telling probably for millenia. It gets dull. You start to hunger for something new -- which can only be found outside the cramped no-windows room of human imagination -- in the anything-is-possible realm of real events and real people. So, history and biography become more interesting, perhaps.

Of course, for a French political leader to declare a lack of interest and time for literature is like saying she prefers a lo-cal white zinfandel with her dinner.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

The Government Minister for Culture. (!?)

The concept is chilling. Frightening.

Clyde said...

Reading novels? Only on a Kindle or other tablet. Dead trees are so 20th Century.

Clyde said...

And the reason they have a Ministry of Culture is to try to keep out the culture of the ubiquitous Anglais.

Lost My Cookies said...

Ever read that story by one of the Amises where he switched poems with blockbuster movies? The poet had a 20 million budget, but the screenwriter was living hand to mouth. It was kind of funny for a couple of pages and the Epic poem comment, above, made me think of it.

lgv said...

How can anyone read a novel when they are busy reading and commenting on their favorite blogs?

tim maguire said...

She is not someone who doesn't read novels, she is someone who is currently too busy to read novels.

At least among those of us who are not speed readers, starting a novel is a significant time commitment. I would love to read more novels and it is not a personal failing that currently cannot.

Shanna said...

I'm in the middle of a good novel. It's distracting. I see no way in which reading this novel is making me better at other things in my life. I think it's actually making me slightly worse.

If a novel is very good, I tend to read it to the exclusion of all other free time activities (tv/internet/etc). But I read fast, so I finish quickly. Where I really get into trouble is if I get into a series and have to finish all of them. That can take significant time away from everything else.

At least among those of us who are not speed readers, starting a novel is a significant time commitment.

I read a lot of novels, and non-fiction as well but non-fiction takes longer, so I read fewer of those. If other people read fiction like I read non-fiction I can maybe understand why they dont' read all the time.

Tibore said...

I sort of stopped at the phrase "Minister of Culture". Yes, in many nations that can be a legitimate position (Wikipedia says France's is in charge of promoting things such as national museums, etc.). But on a deep personal level, the notion of a government official having say and control on a nation's culture just strikes me wrong. Feels vaguely Orwellian, in fact, even though the actual execution (as in this case) is more or less benign.

Blech... it just bugs me. And I think there are legitimate reasons to be bothered by it. Nevermind the Sturm und Drang over whether this minister read a particular novel or not.

who-knew said...

Like others here, I don't read many novels (except for science fiction) written since 1970. I think this is because novels are going the way of poetry. Modern poetry has been taken over by the university and the writer's workshop and devolved into mutual masturbation. The so-called poets strive for the approval of the other workshop members and no one outside the circle gives a damn. Modern novels (again, except for science fiction) suffer from the same problems. Apparently the touch of the modern academy s death.

Tibore said...

"Barbarism is here.... If one can be culture minister without reading, then we are mere technocrats and budgeters."

If he's so accepting of the notion of a Cultural Minister, then yes, for reasons other than what the minister has read, that government is a collection of technocrats and budgeters.

Shanna said...

The so-called poets strive for the approval of the other workshop members and no one outside the circle gives a damn. Modern novels (again, except for science fiction) suffer from the same problems.

I think kindle changes things somewhat, because you have a lot of people writing just what they want without outside influence and selling directly to the public. The main problem with this is quality, some of these are good, but the bad ones are pretty bad.

I love old novels but at a certain point you run low on classics. And sometimes its nice to mix it up. I have been re-reading some of my old mary stewart books lately and they are so old fashioned. It's charming, but it's a whole different world than the one we live in. Variety in reading material is nice too.

Revenant said...

I read novels occasionally, but non-fiction is just more interesting.

Writing has to work extra-hard to keep me reading it when I know the story being told isn't true.

Shanna said...

non-fiction is just more interesting

I think the subjects are interesting but sometimes the writing is not. A well written non-fiction story is harder to find sometimes.

Known Unknown said...

This is why American car culture is superior. It allows us time to listen to culture as we commute or sit in traffic.

Peter said...

Doesn't downloading novels count, even if you don't actually read them?

ken in tx said...

I agree with those who think that having a Minister of Culture is unnecessary and unwise.

BTW, remember when Bush was queried and disbelieved when he answered, about what books he read? What do we know about what Obama's reading these days--Golf Digest?

who-knew said...

I like looking for older best-sellers (40's to 60's)that were turned into movies (like the "The Secret of Santa Vittorio"). These can be very enjoyable. I say that were turned into movies because that's generally the only reason I recognize the name. And being turned into a movie also means there is a good chance of a strong plot, another thing that the academy seems to be driving out of novels.

Revenant said...

I think the subjects are interesting but sometimes the writing is not. A well written non-fiction story is harder to find sometimes.

True. A lot of non-fiction authors seem to think that writing in an engaging manner would demean their work. :)

Sam L. said...

Only them as wants to. That would be me. I also read a fiction magazine, amongst many others, and websites.

Char Char Binks said...

Maybe she does lots of other cultural things, like listening to opera, or eating snails.

Freeman Hunt said...

If a novel is very good, I tend to read it to the exclusion of all other free time activities (tv/internet/etc). But I read fast, so I finish quickly.

The novel I'm in the middle of is 900 pages long. Because I bought it on Kindle, I didn't realize that it was so long when I started it. Now I'm in for keeps. (And luckily, three-quarters through, so not far from finished.)

I only read classics when it comes to fiction, so the language is a little denser. I would estimate that I read about a page a minute of this sort of book. So for this 900 page book, that's an investment of about 15 hours. That's a lot! Who knows what else might have been accomplished. (Or, perhaps, what little.)

I don't find non-fiction distracting, and because I'm usually reading non-fiction that is written more recently, the language is simpler, and it's much faster going.

Anthony said...

The bigger question is why a country needs a "Culture Minister"

Freeman Hunt said...

The novel is finished. I am released!

Freeman Hunt said...

Everyone is gone because a thread does not grip so hard as a novel.

Kirk Parker said...

Good grief, people, is no one going to quote Flannery O'Connor here?

Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.

Kirk Parker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.