Le Salon du Livre of Paris was hosted last week, from March 17th ‘till March 20th. It’s an annual, 4-days book fair during which you can assist to conferences and talks, meet authors, publishers and other people from the industry, discover new books and get your own books signed by their authors, assist to cooking demonstrations by chefs promoting their books (and taste the thing afterwards !), and generally just wander around the huge space filled with books, stands and more books.
Every year a different country is celebrated. They invite authors and publishers from this country and create a special, central corner just for them so that people can discover or know more about this country’s literary scene. This year was South Korea.
I mostly went so I could see James Dashner.
I only attended once, and it was two years ago. I really liked the experience, which was completely new for me, and I was hoping to go again. Except that last year’s program wasn’t terribly appetizing. I debated whether I would go this year, but I managed to select a couple of things I really wanted to see, knowing that I would only be able to spend an afternoon there.
First of all, you have to know that the place is just huge. You’re swamped on all sides by books and booths, so much so that you just don’t know where to look if you haven’t selected an itinerary yet (always have an itinerary – and a map !). The one thing I had forgotten since last time, though, or at least that my memory had slightly miscalculated, was the crowd. There were books everywhere, but mostly there were just a lot of people and every aisle got crowded pretty quickly. There was traffic in-between booths ! I heard a girl say, very justly, “You better not be agoraphobic !”, but honestly, even if you don’t mind crowds, you would have find it a bit too much. Word of advice : be patient, breathe, and keep calm.
Anyway, never you mind, I had a plan and I stuck to it, so I wasted less time !
First step – Clichés are persistent !
The Square Jeunesse (Youth Corner) is always filled with good stuff, and what’s even better is that it’s not only for kids ! This was a really interesting talk about gender clichés in children’s books (with authors, publishers and illustrators), why it’s terrible that it’s still an issue in 2016, and what we can do to prevent it and/or go beyond that.
I’m totally on the side of “girls and boys should do whatever the hell they want, with no concerns about ‘gender norms’”, so I was interested to know how people from the industry could tackle the problem and open the horizons of children and their parents.
The analysis was that, until a certain point in their lives, children don’t differentiate between what’s “girly” and what’s “boyish”, and mostly, they don’t care. They tend to be more open and accepting of what can still shock some adults : an illustrator went to a school to talk about her book, a little boy whose dad wants him to do wrestling, but who actually wants to take dance lessons. She said none of the kids thought it strange or worth mocking.
They talked about the divide between what’s accepted for a boy and what’s accepted for a girl : bookshops are more and more filled with books about badass princesses (so, what’s basically considered a “boy” trait), they’re still shy when it comes to boys with “girl” traits. Whether it’s with the toys they should play with, the activities they should do, or the way they should act. I think it’s pretty common knowledge that what’s feminine is always less accepted. It’s reduced, it’s lame, it’s humiliating … Breaking that barrier is work that can be done at home, with a kid’s education, but it can be helped with books, so here, the responsibility lies with authors and publishers : an editor was lightly raging about one of her author-illustrators, a woman, who had drawn and written a book in a very sexist way, without realizing it – the difference between the adjectives she was using for the boys and those for the girls, how, when she depicted a scene in her main character’s home, she put his mom in the kitchen and his dad on the couch reading the newspaper – and the author was horrified when it was pointed out to her. Which shows that the efforts should start by looking at how we act and think about those clichés, and make sure they stop being an automatic response.
Fortunately, they highlighted books that move in the right way, and there are more and more of them. It could be books like the ones mentioned above, books mentioning sexual diversity … They talked about a book with a character whose gender you can’t identify until you’re three quarters into the book. Until then, you only see the character as a human being, standing outside any gender niches, not answering to any particular gender clichés.
Second step – Dystopia, what is it ?
I wanted to see this talk because 1) it’s about dystopias and 2) James Dashner was there. The subject in itself was nothing new, they actually did it the first time I went to the Salon too, except it was with different authors. It’s funny to know that this genre isn’t just popular in the English-speaking literature, but it’s apparently also thriving with French books.
James Dashner, accompanied by a translator with a mustache, was invited alongside Clélie Avit and Victor Dixen (an asshole-ish guy with sunglasses indoors, I mean, I’m not judging but, come on !).
– When all of your flaws and all my flaws are laid out one by one –
There was a common acknowledgement that flawed characters are better. You don’t want to read about a perfect world in which everything goes right (they were all asked if, after writing dystopias, they’d be ready to write utopias. They all answered that it would be a challenge because, to make a story interesting, you have to bring conflict in some way and the utopia concept kind of goes against that) and the same way, you don’t want invisible, perfect characters. You want characters you can understand, characters who reflect a reality. James Dashner admitted that writing characters is his weakness, that he’s pretty good with coming up with new stories but that characters are something that he’s had to work on.
– Youth is revolutionary –
The huge majority of the dystopian genre is also part of the YA genre. Turns out, it’s not just authors jumping on a very successful bandwagon and giving readers what they like. Heavy sarcasm here, guys. Especially since I completely agree with what’s been said on the matter : teenagers, and young people in general, are smart. People don’t always give them the credit they’re due, but it’s important to know that they can change the world. They’ve changed the world throughout history, they’re doing it right now, and these books are just a symbolic way to reflect on what’s happening in the world.
– I get by with a little help from my friends –
As someone who’s studied dystopian classics and who reads recent YA dystopias, I must say that I’m really mad at not having noticed that before (at least, not in comparison) : “older” dystopias (I’m talking about 1984, Brand New World, & Co) always feature a single protagonist, an individual acting against the whole system ; YA dystopias, on the other hand, are always about a group of people taking on another, more privileged, more powerful group. It’s so symbolic of the way we view adulthood, when you have to take care of your own self, maybe putting yourself first, in opposition to the links, the bonds and relationships that you form during your teenage years.
– The Death Cure Journal –
James Dashner knows that readers are very passionate about the books and “certain characters who die”, they let him know on Twitter anytime there’s been a from the books. But, he says he’s happy with the movies, the music, the visuals, and the cast. He’d rather have fun, well-made movies, with a few changes but following the spirit of the books, than a crappy that follows everything as it happens in the book. Changes are okay. He feels like the movies have given a new opportunity to the readers to experience the story for the first time (“You only read a book once for the first time”), given them another chance to rediscover the story and its characters. He’s read the script and thinks it’s going to be a “spectacular movie”, closer to the book than the second movie was, and asks us not be “mad at the changes, it’s not my fault”.
When asked if the Kill Order will be adapted too, he says crossed fingers, that, since the previous movies have been successful, there’s a big chance that it could happen. But nothing has been said on the matter yet.
He also took the opportunity to give us some news about Dylan O’Brien’s health, as the talk happened the day after his accident. He reassured us and said that, although it was a serious accident, Dylan would be fine (“Maybe he’ll have a cool scar somewhere, like Harrison Ford”), and that the shooting of the Maze Runner’s next installment was put on hold while Dylan recovers.
Third step – Grand Tour
Then, I went on a very slow journey around the space. I cried a little on the inside about all the books being in French, and about me being such a snobbish reader (No, sir, I do not want any of your French books). Lots of pretty covers, though. The trend this year, compared to two years ago, was the increase in graphic novels and manga. They were also there a couple of years ago but their visibility definitely increased and incidentally, or as a consequence, so does their popularity.
A little conclusion, maybe. I liked this year’s edition, even though I had to make it short (last time, I attended three days out of four, assisted to a lot of cooking demonstrations, and roamed the space as much as I wanted). It was an amelioration compared to last year, so I hope they’re on a progressing slope and that next year’s Salon will be even better. If you’re in Paris mid-March next year and you’re curious about the French literary scene or want to see the few international authors who are invited, then I recommend.