Bernard Maris, L’Avenir du Capitalisme (2016)

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about business or economics since I finished my university degree more than 20 years ago. Not that I’m allergic to the topic, but I much rather consume that kind of information through the press, radio or magazines. When I saw this very, very thin book (a mere 80 pages) by Bernard Maris, whom I used to listen to in the French national radio, I thought that I could go out of my comfort zone, but that wouldn’t be too difficult a stretch.

Bernard Maris is well-known in France for sad reasons. He was an economist but also a journalist and he was one member of the staff of Charlie Hebdo who were assassinated by terrorists in Jan. 2015. The book is the published version of a speech he made. As you can guess from his working at Charlie Hebdo, he was indeed not a conservative. In this book he highlights the way capitalism has changed the way people lived and worked since the beginning of times: it changed the way people consider time, labor, technique and nature. He goes back to the origin of history, before capitalism, and shows that trade and labor existed before capitalism, but were deeply impacted by it. The essay is short but full of concepts and reflections, full of references like Max Weber, Freud, Nietzsche, etc.: indeed Maris’ conception was larger than just economy.

It’s hard to have a critical position with such a short text: either you were already convinced or you were not, but this opus will not make you change your mind. I enjoy how Maris’ train of thoughts flows and jumps from one fact or theory to the next, how the continuum of human history becomes meaningful thanks to his concepts. I also appreciate that he explains different possible future for capitalism, and not all of them negative, which I was not expecting. Yes, Maris is rather pessimistic about capitalism, but he still keeps the door open.

I enjoyed this short foray into economic theory. Some time ago, I had borrowed from the library a much more ambitious liberal economic theory: Thomas Piketty’s Capitalism in the 21st century, but it was clearly beyond my grasp (and almost 1000 pages!) and I returned it unread but for the first chapter. As I start to think about next year’s reading goals, should I try and read something in the middle?

Pod Review November 27 – December 3

Beware, you may well be reading Pod review – the grumpy edition. (Aren’t all French people supposed to be grumpy anyway?) Cold-sleety-rain-low-skies kind of grumpy. No-booster-shots-available kind of grumpy. Certainly OMicron-grumpy with a dash of Covid-fatigue and cancelled plans. It’s hard to be merry and deck the halls with all the bad news everywhere. Even some podcasts have made me grumpy, can you believe it?

  • Heavyweight (on Spotify) #40 Barbara Shutt
  • Heavyweight (on Spotify) #41 Barbara Wilson
  • Crime Show (on Spotify) 21 Witnesses: about a school shooting in 1978 in Austin, Texas
  • Crime Show (on Spotify) An Unlikely Suspect. About secondary transfer DNA
  • Nice Try: The Vacuum [new-to-me]
  • Nice Try: The Bidet
  • The Mom Hour: #340 House rules for playdates
  • Bad Women, the Ripper Retold: Ep. 4 Polly the Prostitute.
  • Science Vs.: Jurassic Park: Hold on to your butts
  • Throughline: Fighting Fires and Family Secrets
  • Sentimental Garbage: Eat Pray Love with Abigail Bergstrom [new-to-me]
  • This American Life #752 An invitation to tea: a former Guantanamo prisoner talks to the one who kept him there.
  • Sentimental Garbage: The Devil wears Prada with Lindsey Kelk
  • 💙 10 things to tell you with Laura Tremaine #145 Time Anxiety

Switching between Spotify and Pocket Casts for my podcasts proves to be cumbersome and annoying. Spotify podcast features are not as good as Pocket Casts. Besides, I’m paying for Spotify Premium on our family iPad but I haven’t managed to transfer this account on my phone (is it even possible?), so I still get their ads. I’m really disgruntled that Gimlet made this deal with Spotify, giving us listeners no choice but to listen to their quality shows on a poorly designed podcast app. Can you see how torn I am? The Heavyweight episodes were so great…

Annoying habits have also come back in “Bad Women, the Ripper retold”. The podcast host keeps complaining in the show against self-proclaimed Ripperologists who criticize her for taking a feminist angle and proving through research that Jack the Ripper’s victims were not prostitutes. As a listener, I’m here for the historical research, not for the finger-pointing. I do not care what old white men say against female researchers, ’cause I bet they don’t like being challenged. It’s such a shame about an otherwise interesting show, but I’m considering moving on.

When I wasn’t being grumpy, I tried 2 new shows which were both quite interesting. Nice Try was recommended by the Gloria newsletter and focuses on home appliances that have changed the daily life of people. The episode on bidets is great (there’s a moment of Freudian analysis of American culture which is priceless), as is the one on vacuum cleaners, which were designed to be *not* as efficient as they could be. Interesting social perspectives on gendered unpaid work etc. etc.

My second new podcast of the week is Sentimental Garbage, which returns to iconic “chicklit” or “women fiction” bestsellers (movies or books). I enjoyed both episodes I tried, but they run on the long side for me. It seems to have done a whole season on Sex on the City, I’m not quite ready to invest that much time in a rehashing of a TV show I’ve already spent countless hours when I was younger. But if a short version exists, I’d love to dip my toe.

Now that I’m writing about investing time, and short versions, the best episode I listened to this week was about Time anxiety by Laura Tremaine. In one way or another, I feel seen when she mentions “I don’t have enough time”, “Time is passing me by” and “I’m wasting too much time”. She reframes these three stressing thoughts, and the episode is indeed timely for me (pun fully intended).

Happy weekend everyone! I’m ready to let go of all my grumpiness!

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Abominable Man (1971)

Although this one is #7 in the series (of 10), this is my penultimate book (as I didn’t read it in order, but in function of what was at the library). Strangely enough, the library doesn’t have the whole series, and they might have been scared by such an abominable title. (or by the book cover). Another version would be that it was so good that a reader stole the library copy. Whatever the version I choose, I’m glad I have bought this copy, because it’s quite memorable.

The Abominable Man (in Swedish version The repulsive man from Saffle) is not the killer. It’s actually the victim. A man is killed with a bayonet as he lies defenseless in a hospital bed. He was a high-ranking policeman and a former soldier. But don’t cry for him just yet. As Martin Beck and his team investigate, they discover that this man was the epitome of police brutality. By his negligence, prejudices, direct or indirect actions, he’s responsible for the death of several innocent people and the harassment and unfair indictment of countless others. In short, he won’t be missed much and it’s rather difficult to narrow down a list of suspects. To make it even more relevant to some recent cases in the media, a lot of people among the police force were aware of his cruelty and abuses, and they all kept silent.

Contrary to several books of the series, where the crime is rather banal and the investigation is long and tedious, this book is flashy and cinematic. The killer with the bayonet will not stop just with one victim, his despair and hatred have turned against the whole police force and he’s not afraid to die. It’s a tragedy of epic dimensions, and the humor of the previous volumes is scarce. The denunciation of the systemic corruption of capitalist (patriarchy, conservative, insert any of the more current vocabulary) Swedish society gets more obvious, but never at the cost of forgetting the human dimension. That’s why Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s books are still so relevant today.

The book is so full of tension, it’s hard to stop reading, especially the last quarter of the book. There’s a rampage of violence, with a single man on one hand, and the entire Swedish armed forces on the other hand. The cliff-hanger is absolutely nail-biting, but I spoiled it a bit for myself by having read book #8 before. Don’t make the same mistake!

In a twisted way, it reminded me of a classic 1975 French movie with Jean-Paul Belmondo, Peur sur la ville (The Night Caller in UK/US), where the whole of the police force is hunting a cunning killer throughout a dehumanized landscape of modern towers, but in many important ways the movie and this book are polar opposites. In the movie, no soul-searching about the systemic violence of the police, no social criticism, but instead a not-so-subtle manly man demonstration of force to protect weak single women from evil killers who certainly aren’t worth a fair trial, and barely the bullet of the good detective’s gun. Unless you’re interested in cultural movie history, don’t bother watching this dud, but I guess the relentless movie music by Enio Morricone would be the perfect soundtrack for the Sjöwall & Wahlöö book.

We’re now in December, and only one last book left in the series to complete! I can’t wait!

TBR Tag

I have indeed some finished books to write about, but today I’d much rather play! Inspired by Laila from Big Reading Life, here is a book tag that had me poring over my wishlist and will probably inspire you to do the same!

How Do You Keep Track On Your TBR list?

Goodreads exclusively. I’d done writing titles on a notebook, they forever get lost and forgotten. Everything in one place is much more efficient. Now, that’s not to say that I’m very consistent with Goodreads either. I go for long stretches where I think about a particular author, and then I never check his/her particular books on Goodreads, I just check on my library catalogue whatever they have by this author. I also keep blog posts tagged in my RSS Feed aggregator (Feedly), but I refuse to consider it a TBR list. It’s only a compendium of inspiration, where I might or might not take ideas to transfer towards my TBR list.

Is Your TBR Mostly Print or E-Book?

I’m an opportunist in terms of format. As long as I have the title I want, I don’t care. I tried once or twice to check if any of the books on my wishlist was on Amazon Kindle’s special deals, but it was not worth the effort.

How Do You Determine Which Books from Your TBR to Read Next?

Whim of the moment. As I read several books in parallel, I have books for different moods.

Name a Book That Has Been on your TBR the Longest

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, whose short stories I enjoyed more than once.

Name A Book You Recently Added to Your TBR list

The Singer’s Gun by Emily St John Mandel, recommended by Laila after I finished The Glass Hotel

Is there a book on your TBR list that’s there strictly because of its beautiful cover?

I am influenced by cover art when I’m in a bookshop or a library, not so much when I read a blog post about it, which is the main source of titles gathered in my Goodreads TBR. The Crow Folk by Mark Stay has a gorgeous cover and called on me from the bookshop WH Smith in Paris, last time I went… end of August. As much as I am a library lover, I often feel overwhelmed in bookshops where the pressure to sell is way stronger.

Is there a book on your TBR that you plan on never actually reading?

I sometimes weed out my TBR list on Goodreads, so I could pretend my list is clean, but I have some lingering doubts that I will read Watership Down now that I have seen the sheer size of the thing. Same for other ambitious, high-brow or non-fiction reads that are out of my comfort zone. But I still keep them, just in case I will find the courage to start. Some books I own a copy of are even more difficult to weed out. There are also some titles I put “on hold”, because I wasn’t in the right mood and I have not decided if I should quit or try again, for example Sunburn by Laura Lippman.

Name an unpublished book on your list that you’re excited for

To nobody’s surprise, the next Michael Connelly: The Dark Hours. But also, the next Emily St. John Mandel, the next Lazy Genius book by Kendra Adachi…

Is there a book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you?

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn? But to make up for it I’ve read her next novel The Huntress.

Is there a book on your TBR that everyone recommends you read?

I’d say everyone has said that I should read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, but I’m a little shy. Also, in another genre, Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine.

A book on your TBR you’re very excited to read

I’m very much looking forward to reading The Terrorists by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö because it will be the final book from 10 mysteries I’d started reading haphazardly and then grew totally serious about it!

The Number of Books on Your TBR Shelf

181. Now this is totally underestimated. I could probably add another forty easily.

If you had fun reading my answers, consider yourself tagged! I’m always so curious about other book lovers’ habits!

Pod Review November 20-26

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers! I hope you had a lot of yummy food and you were in good company, and I’m totally jealous! Over here the mood is definitely more jittery, as a strong new wave of Covid is hitting the European continent, and I don’t know yet how it will affect our lives in winter. The government is pushing for the booster shot, businesses are told to remain open as normal but already we see some events getting canceled (I wouldn’t want to go anyway). So the lesson of the day is for sure to be grateful for what we have while we have it… And please keep a slice of pecan pie for me!

  • Lazy Genius #236 – 10 Things saving my life right now
  • A Matter of Degrees: (S2E5) A farming solution for a hotter, less stable world [new-to-me] a positive podcast about climate change, for a change
  • Good Inside with Dr Becky: How to talk about death with your kids. I wanted to confirm last week’s impression, and it is the same: I have kids too old for Dr. Becky
  • This American Life #753 What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate
  • Sorta Awesome #357 Awesome Holiday Gift Guide 2021. Now, this one is inspiring as in… take your notebook and have your credit card ready… Some of my own gifts may or may not have been mentioned in this episode.
  • 💙 A Slight change of plans with Maya Shankar: The science of quitting. I wish I’d taken notes from this episode, it was so, so good.
  • The Argument (NYT podcast): I love true crime, should I feel guilty? Mmh… I’m not.
  • A Matter of Degrees (S2 E8) The Win-win-win strategy to retire coal. I learnt so much in this episode (a cross-over between this show and How to save a planet, which I love too). The subject is about as un-sexy as you get, but they managed to make it clear and fun.
  • Sorta Awesome #359 Our spiciest confessions yet! Who doesn’t love a confessions show when it makes you snort and laugh out loud?
  • The Mom Hour: Cooking inspiration, where we get our best ideas, and how to re-inspire your menus. I never had a recipe box with cards in the 1990s, I had binders with magazine clippings; the box seems to be an old American tradition replaced by Google, Pinterest and others… I still have my binders but I don’t open them anymore…

I tried one new show this week and it was a good surprise! A Matter of Degrees is a show about climate change but not a depressing one, which is something of an exception among gloomy news! I will certainly devour their back list of episodes.

The episode on quitting at A Slight change of plans with Maya Shankar made me think about how much positive value our Western culture puts on grit and perseverance, instead of quitting, which is a lot of times wiser and better in the long run. Maya Shankar’s guest Amy Duke, who spent some years earning money as a professional poker player, has a lot to teach us on when to fold.

Hannukah and Advent are both just around the corner, and there’s a good chance of snow this weekend (exceptional for November here). I wish you all a very nice weekend, enjoy your time off and keep warm and safe!

Toshiya Higashimoto, Theseus’ Ship

Original Title: テセウスの船 (10 volumes, 2017-2019)

How do (young) people do with manga series? As the release of each episode is spaced out across months and years, do they really remember all details from the previous episodes? Or do they go back and reread? Or do they wait until the series is completed to launch into the adventure? My son is an avid manga reader, but I’m just an occasional one, and I feel slightly frustrated when I can’t move to the next manga volume. Or is it part of the experience?

Ship of Theseus is a manga for adults, not because of its sexual content, but because of psychological violence and occasional graphic one. It deals with the repercussions of a terrible crime in a small rural village in Japan in 1989, 20 people have been poisoned at a school fair, among which many kids. The local policeman is arrested and condemned for the crime, even if he never ceased to proclaim his innocence from death row. The family of the policeman was shunned and went on to bear heavy consequences for the crime.

Twenty five years later, the policeman’s son, who was born while his father was already in prison, feels compelled to return to the village where it all started. But a weird mist sets, and the young man finds himself in 1989, just months before the crime.

The young man gets the chance to meet this father he never knew, to investigate and try to prevent the crime from ever happening. But as he meddles with the past, events start to change and his own destiny is impacted.

This series is 10 volumes long. I read volumes 1 to 3 in 2019, and then I donated the books as I didn’t particularly want to keep them at home (it’s very dark). Then a few months ago I noticed that my local library has them up to volume 7. But I couldn’t remember the complex web of suspicions and lies among the villagers and the subtle modifications of the past / present/ future, so I started over and had to wait in line to read the volumes in order. And now that’s I’m done with number 7, my patience has to stretch out to the max until I’ll get numbers 8 to 10 (but even sure if they’re all out yet in French, the librarian has no idea). What’s a girl to do?

The only sure thing is that Toshiya Higashimoto has me hooked, line and sinker. The story is so clever that I half expected it to be changed in subtle details when I returned the second time. If I need to wait several months again, will I return to the beginning once more?

Claire Keegan, Foster (2010)

I took this book at the library without having heard anything about it, just on the basis of the publisher (Sabine Wespieser, that published another Irish writer I loved, Nuala O’Faolain) and on the basis of the little “heart” sticker that librarians put on the cover of books they want to promote. Well, it was not a bad choice at all, on the contrary. What a great chance discovery! I didn’t know what the book was about, as the French title of this slight book is “Three lights”, and not “Foster”, which gives away a lot more.

The book is told by an unnamed young girl, probably around 8, who is sent away by her father to live with a couple for a while. She doesn’t know them, and she doesn’t know how long she’s going to stay there, probably until the birth of a sibling. The girl is used to a large family and little money, and to people not really caring for her (the father even forgets to give her bag in the boot of his car before leaving). She’s stunned to be suddenly the only child, at the center of the attention of the farmer and his wife. As much as the original title would have let me wonder, this is not another account of fostering misery. On the contrary. The story is set in rural Ireland in the 1980s, and we see the daily life through the girl’s eyes, understanding little at first, then grasping at some secrets that people keep. In the summer she spends with the Kinsellas, she will definitely grow up and bloom. She will learn many things, big and small.

This is an emotional book, very short (about 100 pages), but deep and so beautifully written. The translation is flawless. A lot is left unsaid but readers still perceive emotions and connections. I would compare it to Elizabeth Strout on tiptoe. For sure, I’ll be looking out for other books by Claire Keegan.

Magda Szabo, The Door (1987)

It’s really a shame that I can’t remember who recommended me this book (this recommendation came from more than one place, but whether it was a IRL friend or a book blogger, I really can’t say). It also came with the halo of the French Femina prize, which is sort a big deal. Which is the reason why I stuck with it for so long, despite my good resolutions to abandon books that don’t grab me. All those people must have seen something I don’t see… just yet… maybe?

In The Door, the narrator is a female writer who lives in a building with a caretaker, Emerence, who is very special. Emerence and the narrator develop a long-standing relationship over the course of twenty years, with many untold rules and promises, taboos and secrets. Emerence is the servant of the narrator, works tirelessly, but she also does everything as she pleases. She is also the center of the neighborhood, knowing everyone and their secrets, ruling over other servants and talking back to generals and policemen. Emerence seems to have no fear but she doesn’t allow anyone inside her own flat.

It’s a slow-paced book (although things escalate by the last quarter), and you can read many things between the lines, both historical and symbolic. The book was published in 1987 in Hungary, behind the Iron Curtain, so I couldn’t help but wonder how an officially socialist country like Hungary could have housekeepers. Also there are many references to church-going and religion and I was a bit lost. What was Szabo allowed to write and what was I meant to understand by omission? The little building and the neighborhood over which Emerence ruled seems so far from history and politics, except for references to World War 2. This is so different from the atmosphere of the dreary Democratic Germany!

The writing was good and the secrets that Emerence kept were powerful, but both Emerence and the narrator grated on my nerves, and I had little patience for their love-hate codependency relationship. That’s how I started the book in July and finished it in November. I’m quite glad I stuck until the end but I’m in no hurry to start another book by Madga Szabo.

Pod Review November 13-19

This week I was over-busy at work, but I still had some 4 hours by train to listen to as many podcasts as possible! Almost all of them were quite informative and lots of fun. Maintenance Phase is especially good, as is The Argument (by the New York Times), which helped me shake some of the gloom associated with the climate crisis. (Yes, I refuse to say “climate change” because using the right words is one of my tiny actions to raise the awareness of people around me – I want to continue educate myself through podcasts).

  • Radiolab Mixtape: Jack and Bing, about recording technologies and the ambiguities of editing: how much is an edited piece still true?
  • The Lazy Genius: #235 When you disagree on what matters: with loved ones
  • Sorta Awesome #356 Best meals for busy days!
  • RelationShit with Kamie Crawford: [new-to-me] Talking to your family about race with Dom Roberts. Some pretty deep things about racism and prejudices and family relationships and activism fatigue.
  • ICYMI The life hacks they don’t want you to know about. The hacks that are true, the ones that are false, or in-between, or just virally hilarious
  • Bad Women, Ripper retold: Episode 3 Polly walks out. Now we’re talking social history, and that was good!
  • Edit Your Life #247 The calming power of now. Which was inspiring, but I wasn’t really able to practice it this week
  • RelationShit with Kamie Crawford: Ultimatums with Nick Viall.
  • Slow Burn Season 6: Episode 1 The Tape [new season]
  • Slow Burn Season 6: Episode 2 No Justice
  • Edit Your Life: #249 Financial Literacy for Kids
  • 💙 NYT The Argument: Got Climate Doom? Here’s what you can do to actually make a difference. It answered my questions like: should I really deprive my kids of cheese to save the planet? It helped put the guilt and blame where it belongs and not fully on our small shoulders, and named a few ways to help when one can’t just join demonstrations.
  • Maintenance Phase: School lunches, P-hacking and the original “Pizzagate” – hilarious and informative debunking about pseudo-nutritional science. Lots of things that I’d heard and believed true… Smaller plates can’t make you thin, and life hacking is dangerous to believe.
  • Good Inside with Dr. Becky: What can i do when my child says “I can’t do it”. [new-to-me] Totally geared towards small kids, not for me.

I tried 2 new shows this week, but even if they were interesting, I probably wasn’t their target audience. Dr. Becky had a long interview in the New York Times, where I picked up the name of her podcast. And Relationshit was a recommendation of Girls Night’s In. I also started the new season of Slow Burn, centered on the 1992 LA riots. I vaguely remember the events taking place, but I had so many false memories or misunderstandings. The show made events and context click together. Did you learn anything surprising this week?

Nancy Kress, Fountain of Age (2008)

Fountain of Age is a SF novella, but in France short stories is not a popular genre, so the translated novella was published separately. I chose it because I am reluctant to invest a lot of time in a large SF novel (what if I don’t like it? what if I’m out of my depth? Evidently, even as a grown-up 40-something woman, I still have my issues when it comes to SF…). I chose it because the French publisher was the same as the great novella by Ken Liu: The Man Who Ended History. The publisher is Le Bélial, and they have all sorts of SF chunksters as well as a lot of novellas. My third criteria for this selection was that I wanted a female writer, especially after having been blown away by the creativity of Folding Beijing.

The story line couldn’t be more classical: an old man, feeling death coming soon, is looking for the love of his life, whom he met – and lost – in his youth. The old man is very rich and has his own family whom he’s not particularly close to. He has become rich by dubious means, and he has had problems with the law before, but that’s not unusual. The love of his life is a woman named Daria who has married someone else and has not seen him ever again. So, nothing particularly SF really.

The business venture, now, is not what you’d expect in a standard novel: Daria has had a sort of tumor, whose cells injected in other people let them remain young forever. And so Daria herself has disappeared from public view to become a sort of ethereal life-giving entity. Her husband has turned it into a controversial but extremely profitable business. So the meeting between the old man and Daria is not an easy endeavor.

I can’t say that the story blew me away, but it kept my interest throughout. I didn’t really enter into the future world described by Kress (I didn’t get much of a sense of place), nor did the biotechnologies interest me much. But I liked the character of the nasty old man, and particularly enjoyed his friendship with the gypsies. I will probably explore more titles in this collection of novellas, as I find it a good way to try new SF authors.