Just Whom Is Bruce Springsteen Trying to Impress?
I had the unusual experience this week of feeling sorry for a very chic, very thin Frenchwoman. That would be Fleur Pellerin, France’s minister of culture, who was asked in a television interview to name her favorite book by Patrick Modiano, the Frenchman who just won the Nobel Prize for literature. This put the French minister of culture in a highly awkward position, as she was unable to name any of the works of the highly celebrated M. Modiano, seeing as she’s never read anything he’s written. (She had, however, she noted, much enjoyed a recent luncheon with him.)
Mme. Minister then compounded her sin by admitting that she hadn’t read a book of fiction in years: “I read a lot of notes, a lot of legal texts, the news, A.F.P. stories, but I read very little,” she said in the interview, according to the New York Times.
Whereupon French social media exploded, and writer Claude Askolovitch promptly called Mme. Minister “barbaric” on the French site of the Huffington Post, demanding that she resign.
I feel her pain. I used to read for fun. But I can tell you the last fiction book I read—it was The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, three years ago. I absolutely loved it. And I haven’t picked up a novel since. When the fuck am I supposed to read novels? On weekends, when there’s yardwork and housework and Eagles games? Via books on tape when I’m driving the Schuylkill Expressway at rush hour? (That sounds relaxing.) And now the holidays are coming, and I’ll have even less time.
If Fleur’s anything like me, she reads all the time — newspapers, magazines, the contents of websites, comments on Philly.com, links from Twitter, emails galore. I’ll bet you the French snobs sneering at their highly uncultured minister of culture don’t read nearly as much as she does. It’s just that books are hard to carve out time for (and books by Modiano, described by the Times as “moody and concise fictional works set in Paris during World War II,” especially so. Fleur is 41. World War II ended nearly 28 years before she was born.). Shouldn’t she be lauded for prioritizing business over pleasure? My God, the woman’s reading stories from Agence France-Presse! (Recent headline: ENDANGERED CARPATHIAN PONIES ARE MAKING A COMEBACK IN POLAND.) Not to mention legal texts, which are packed with phrases like “absque hoc” and “uno flatu” and “nudum pactum”(!).
Besides, interview questions about “What books are you reading” are always just veiled opportunities to be judge-y. I’ll bet you 100 euros that if Mme. Minister had smoothly said, “Why, my favorite of M. Modiano’s books is La place de l’étoile,” those same online vultures would be shouting, “Sacré bleu! La place de létoile is as a pile of steaming monkey excrement compared to Des inconnues!” There really is no pleasing people like that.
I should know. I just read this interview with Bruce Springsteen about his favorite novels. And even though I haven’t read a work of fiction in years, his choices made me sneer. Moby-Dick? Who you trying to impress, yo? Anna Karenina? C’mon, Boss, get real! This is Sandy! Remember Asbury Park, the Fourth of July? The fireworks? Don’t you Anna Karenina me. And if you’re really inviting Tolstoy to your dinner with three famous people either living or dead, I’m taking you off the list for mine. Whatever happened to Born in the U.S.A.?
Follow @SandyHingston on Twitter.