Posts tagged ‘books’

A Few November Highlights from Paris…and Essoyes!

The real reason for my visit to Paris this month was to see and support my friend Edith de Belleville, who was the speaker at Adrian Leeds‘s monthly Après-Midi gathering. Edith is a licensed tour guide in Paris, a lawyer, and the author of two wonderful books, Belles et Rebelles and Parisian Life: Adventures in the City of Light. If you can read French, you should read both of them, they’re wonderful. I keep hoping Belles et Rebelles will be translated into English, it’s too good to stay in just one language, DO YOU HEAR THAT, PUBLISHERS? But also (to be clear), Parisian Life is already in English: Edith wrote it in English (another feather in her cap). So you should all buy it. 🙂

You can learn more about Edith in this interview I did with her for Bonjour Paris. if you are a subscriber. She is a very smart, lively, funny, interesting woman! (If you’re not a subscriber to Bonjour Paris, and if you’re a serious Parisophile, you might want to subscribe. Lots of great articles, Zoom talks, etc. available there!)

Then I got lucky: Adrian invited me to come for the weekend before Après-Midi to just “hang out” and have fun in Paris with her. (She didn’t have to twist my arm about that…)

You don’t hang out with Adrian in Paris (or anywhere, as far as I can gather) without eating a lot of really good food. This woman believes in eating at least two full meals a day, which is kind of a novelty for me; and a culinary adventure whenever I stay with her in Paris. Whenever she asks me what I want to eat for dinner, my main requirements are generally the same: “Not too expensive. Not too fancy. Not too far away (so we can walk there).” I like to keep it simple! And she always has great suggestions. Here are just a few of the culinary pleasures I enjoyed in those few days in Paris.

Then I got even luckier. My son’s girlfriend, Diane de Vignemont, is a historian, and she was recently involved in putting together an exhibition at the Musée de l’Armée at les Invalides. She invited me to attend the opening for this exhibit, which happened to fall on my last night in Paris. This was very exciting indeed, and it was really fun to see her in this professional context. (Though I’ve actually been able to see that before in my last couple of classes for Politics and Prose bookstore, which were focused on France under the Occupation, during which Diane was kind enough to visit via Zoom, and share her expertise with my students. She is, in a word, amazing!)

The exhibition, which focused on the years of the Algerian War, and De Gaulle’s role in it, was beautifully mounted and very interesting indeed. One of the things Diane was involved in was arranging for the loan of a beautiful Calder mobile called “France Forever.” (Can you see the Cross of Lorraine in it?)

Of course it would not be a trip to Paris without a visit to The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore (Here’s another interesting interview to read on Bonjour Paris, this one is with Penelope Fletcher, the wonderful bookseller who runs the store. See what I mean about subscribing? 🙂 ) Adrian and I went there on Saturday afternoon, and I was delighted that my son and Diane were able to meet us there too. With an armload of new books, some of which I will use in future classes, I left the store very happy indeed.

Well, anyway. This is really only a sampling of what I was lucky to experience in Paris this time in just a few days: there was more! Sometimes when I am in Paris I really don’t “do much” at all, I just wander around, walking, sitting in cafés or parks, reading, writing, and eating only one full meal a day. That is fine with me too! But I have to say, this time was pretty fun, thanks so much, Adrian! (and Diane, and Phineas, and Penelope–for just being there–at The Red Wheelbarrow!)

A few days later, in Essoyes (and all around France), Armistice Day was being celebrated. This is a very important–and moving–national commemoration of the day that brought peace (temporarily! 😦 ) at last to war-ravaged Europe in 1918. Here are a few photos from that day here in Essoyes.

Let’s hope that today’s fragile peace in Europe can be maintained, and the forces of hate and tyranny pushed back. We can’t afford to keep fighting like this all the time. We have big problems to solve together!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the US and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You. Her memoir, A Long Way from Iowa, will be published in early 2023.

November 19, 2022 at 9:12 am Leave a comment

Demystifying the French: A Panel Discussion on Zoom

The event is over now, but you can still watch it. Here’s the link!

August 14, 2021 at 2:16 pm Leave a comment

Book Review: Stone Soup for a Sustainable World: Life-Changing Stories of Young Heroes

There is a traditional folktale about a hungry traveler who goes from house to house in an impoverished village, looking for something to eat. No one can offer him anything, because none of them have enough food to feed themselves. The clever, and very enterprising, traveler persists: “Don’t you have anything you could give me?” he asks at each house. “A carrot? A part of an onion?” He explains that he has a magic stone that will form the basis of a fine, nourishing soup. All he needs is a few ingredients to add to the pot.

Eventually, using the meager contributions he gathers from each of the villagers, he does succeed in creating a fine, nourishing soup, and he is able to feed not only himself, but the villagers as well. It turns out that the “magic” stone was not really needed: the only “magic” that was needed was the villagers putting together their resources, whatever they could manage to spare, in order to come up with enough for everyone to eat.

That, and their belief in the power of collaborative action in the face of human need.

This is the folktale on which the 1998 book, Stone Soup for the World: Life-Changing Stories of Everyday Heroes was based. That book featured 100 stories of “everyday heroes” from around the world who, through their individual contributions, were making the world a better place.

This week a follow-up book is being released. Stone Soup for a Sustainable World: Life-Changing Stories of Young Heroes has a similar format to the previous book, with two slight differences: this time the heroes being featured are all young people. And the focus of their efforts is on dealing with the climate emergency the people of this planet–that is, all of us–are facing.

Their stories are inspiring, not only because of the enthusiasm and optimism these young heroes possess, but also because of the astonishing creativity and energy they have brought to their efforts, and the successful innovations and projects they have already introduced into our world–which is in desperate need of just this kind of energy and just these kinds of projects. Their efforts offer promising solutions to a wide variety of the global problems we are facing, from deforestation to plastic waste in the oceans, from threatened biodiversity to endangered species.

A 13-year old boy in the United Arab Emirates has created an award-winning prototype for a robot that can clean up plastic waste in the ocean. A young entrepreneur in Barcelona has created a successful business making fashionable eyewear out of plastic waste retrieved from the ocean. A young woman in Mumbai started out by turning a public scrapyard in her neighborhood into an urban garden, and has gone on to become a researcher/educator about the importance of protecting native plants. These are just three of the encouraging, inspiring, and ultimately very hopeful stories included in these pages. There are 97 more!

Young climate activists in countries around the world, including the U.S., are also featured, and their energy and commitment to solving the massive problems they’ve been handed by older generations is matched only by their refusal to waste any time being angry about it, and just simply get down to work. That, in a way, is one of the most impressive things about them in the view of this baby-boomer, who feels pretty bad that we haven’t done a better job of caring for our earth, and that we’ve handed it to them in such sorry shape.

But there’s no time to dwell on that: the youth today are here. And they’re smart, and committed, and determined to turn things around. All they need from us is for us to stop wasting time, and help them–before it really is too late.

Marianne Larned is the powerful “force of nature” behind this collection of inspiring stories. After publishing Stone Soup for the World in 1998 she created the Stone Soup Leadership Institute, which has been nurturing youth leaders from around the world, and providing educators and others who work with youth with a variety of excellent educational materials, and youth leadership summits in order to provide both educators and youth with the tools, inspiration, and support they need to indeed make our world a better place.

If I haven’t convinced you that you should really buy this book, and read it, and tell all your friends to do so also, maybe you’ll listen to some of these young heroes tell you why you should. It’s two minutes well worth your time: trust me on this, and watch them here. I dare you not to be inspired!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

June 14, 2021 at 9:43 pm Leave a comment

How You (Yes, You!) Can Help Writers


  1. Buy books if you can afford to. If you have “too many books”… (But is there really such a thing? Most writers, and even many readers, don’t really think so…Too few bookshelves, certainly. But too many books? Ridiculous!). But anyway, if you think you have too many books, well then, buy them, read them, then give them to friends, or better yet to the library or other places that accept used books–hospitals? prisons? schools?
  2. Buy new books if you can afford to. The reason for this is that if you buy used books, the only entity to make any money is whomever is selling the book. The publisher gets nothing: the author gets nothing. This makes it hard for authors and publishers to stay alive! So do what you can. If you really need to buy used books (and believe me, I understand if you do) you can still write reviews, and that will help authors and publishers.
  3. Review books on Amazon or GoodReads. I think it is absolutely wonderful that we no longer have to rely only on professional book reviewers to tell us about books. Most people don’t know HOW MUCH these reviews help writers: they help A LOT! And they are so easy to do. Having said that, I think it’s only right that if we’re going to be influencing people’s decisions about whether or not to buy (or read) a book we should be fair about it. Here is a post I wrote about how to be fair when writing a review. (I explain how easy it is also, in that same post.)
  4. Buy from indie bookstores, in person or online. My own personal favorite indies are the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore in Paris, and BonjourBooksDC and Politics and Prose in the Washington DC area. But there are wonderful indie bookstores pretty much everywhere, and they need our support! If you’re not near a store, you can buy books online from many indies: and even if your local indie doesn’t sell online, you can support indie bookstores by purchasing books online from IndieBound or Bookshop.org.

And now just two please-don’ts:

  1. Please don’t ask your writer friends if you can have free copies of their books (!) They need their friends and family members to BUY their books, and then tell all their friends about the book, and write reviews of their books, and give their friends gifts of the book, and…like that. (You can trust me on this. They really do!! Writing books is not such an easy way to make a living: indeed, this is a huge understatement.)
  2. Please don’t go to indie bookstores to browse and then buy the books online from you-know-who. How do you think the indie booksellers are going to pay the rent on that lovely space they are providing for you, where you can hang out and spend time with other booklovers, and go to cool book events, if you don’t buy books from them? Hmm? I mean, really. Think it through! This post spells out some of the many reasons why it’s good to support indie bookstores.

Well, anyway, I hope as you consider your holiday shopping this year, you will consider doing some of the above. It’s been a hard year, especially for small businesses, including indie bookstores. So I trust you will do what you can to help them out. They deserve it!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

November 15, 2020 at 1:12 pm 4 comments

How to Write a Fair (and Helpful) Book Review on Amazon (or anywhere)

One of the most helpful things readers can do to help writers (and publishers, and everyone else who creates and produces books) is to write reviews on Amazon, GoodReads, and elsewhere. And it is so easy to do!

Continue Reading October 6, 2020 at 12:01 pm 4 comments

An Interview with the Author of Sense the Vibration: Hidden Stories

Sense the Vibration: Hidden Stories is a collection of five short stories set in an imaginary town. These stories provide a glimpse into the lives of women in cultures where prevailing social customs as well as legal restrictions keep them trapped in very limiting roles. The author of these stories grew up in such a culture, and has chosen to publish them under a pseudonym to protect her family from prejudice and ostracism. She answered my questions about her book via email. Here is our exchange. Janet Hulstrand

Janet: What made you want to write this book? Who did you most want to reach through these stories?

Seraphina: The purpose of my stories is to bring attention to the plight of women who are living the restricted lives described in them, as well as to urge men to respect women as equals.  These stories reflect what some women and children experience in extremely backward, paternalistic societies in many parts of the world. It is also a plea to parents to educate their daughters, and abandon outmoded and cruel traditions.

Janet: What was most challenging about writing these stories? What was most rewarding or satisfying?

Seraphina: The biggest challenge was to not sound depressing. Accordingly, I avoided dwelling on women who did not, or could not, summon up the courage to struggle against unreasonable strictures, but who actually were subdued or crushed by them.  The rewarding part was writing about women who bravely challenged the old-fashioned customs to better their lives. These women are inspiring.

Janet: What do you hope your readers will learn from reading these stories? Is there any particular awareness you would like them to gain?  Are there any actions you’d like them to take?

Seraphina: Certainly, the hope is that readers will become aware of these cruel conditions in many parts of the world, and provide sympathy and resources to support the resistance these women are putting up against centuries-old male dominance. There are many resources one can support, for example charities that support shelters for abused women,  or law practices that specialize in defending abused women pro bono.

I also hope that men will read these stories with an open mind.    

Janet Hulstrand
 is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “
A Long Way from Iowa.”

 

August 21, 2020 at 6:05 am Leave a comment

Interview with Renée-Michele Payne, Author of Every Time We Say Goodbye

Suzanne and Jean, a handsome young couple, meet and fall in love in the vibrant artistic atmosphere of Nancy in 1928. They marry and move to Paris, which is for Suzanne a dream come true. But their marriage is far from trouble-free, and even before war comes to Europe, much of their time is spent apart. The story of their love affair, which is enduringly passionate, but ultimately tragic, is played out on an international stage from Paris to Tangiers, Morocco, Spain, and various locations in France, as well as prison camps in Germany and escape routes through the Netherlands and Belgium.

A novel inspired by a true story,“Every Time We Say Goodbye” is a compelling story of sacrifice, love, and suffering, rich in period detail. Ultimately it is a story of phenomenal courage, of fierce devotion to country and freedom, of the resiliency and endurance of love. It is also about the devastating and persistent intergenerational wounds of war. I recently interviewed the author, Renée-Michele Payne, about the background of her book, and the process of writing it, via email. Here is our conversation. Janet Hulstrand

Janet: What inspired you want to write this story? And how long did it take you? 

Renee: I worked on this book for about 20 years. In 1997, my mother and I were at a department store in the Washington area, when she noticed an elderly woman sitting in a chair at the counter of the beauty salon. My mother approached her, and called out her name. The woman looked up at her, and said: “Forgive me. It was the circumstances.” They cried together for a moment before the woman was called away, for her appointment for a facial.

That was the woman on whom the character of Suzanne is based.

Ever since I learned the details about the couple who was the inspiration for the characters in my novel, I have wanted to write their story. I wanted to solve the mysteries that surrounded them: about the choices they made, their successes and failures, and how the tragedy of the Second World War changed their future together.

The young writer that the character of Jean is based upon had received many positive reviews for his first book, which was a collection of poetic musings. He was asked to write critiques of new publications for many well-known literary journals. An artist painted his portrait, Henri Martinie snapped his photo. The book was translated into Italian, and it was reviewed in the United States, in the Saturday Review. Yet, in spite of an announcement of new works to come, he published nothing after 1930, two years after his early success. Why? What could have happened? I wanted to know.

Another reason I wanted to tell his story was my reaction to what one of the critics had written: that the young writer had to be great, or be nothing. In a factual account I read of a prison escape that “Jean” had helped to engineer, a version of which is detailed in the novel, one of the freed prisoners called him “a pure hero,” the kind of man with whom the Resistance would do miracles to free the country from the jaws of the occupiers and their collaborators. That line brought me to tears. I didn’t want the legacy of such a man to be “nothing.”

At first I was hoping to write a biography, but there were too many gaps that were impossible to fill in through my research, so I decided to use what I already knew, and was able to find out, as the framework for a fictional story, and imagine the details.

The character of Suzanne presented another mystery. As in the book, she changed her identity during the war, and cut off communication with her family. I remember her as a shadowy figure, appearing and disappearing in our lives. My mother loved her, and would tell me stories about her. I mourned her absence from my life. I wanted to know why she had made the choices she did. Was it a result of the trauma of the war? Or was it due to a character flaw? Whenever my mother met someone from her past, they would ask about “Suzanne.” She was clearly someone to be remembered.

I changed the characters’ names for reasons of privacy. I never met the model for Jean, as he was killed before I was born, but the stories I heard about him were the impetus for my research. At the beginning, I knew little about his role in the Resistance, or where he had lost his life. I formed the character not only from the stories I had heard about him, but from the countless queries I sent out, and the research I did.

Unfortunately, most of his family had already passed, and the distant cousins I managed to find knew nothing about him. I was able to obtain a copy of his book, and I was excited to see that it was dedicated to a friend. I began buying multiple copies of his books, and learning about his circle of friends from the dedications he had written in them.

I learned about the place where he had died from the Center for Jewish Documentation in Paris. That also gave me his birthdate. When I received that information, he became alive for me. As in the novel, he was a young writer, born in Paris to a Jewish family originally from the Alsace-Lorraine region. He was the youngest ever to receive a doctorate in letters from the University of Caen, in 1924, at the age of 21, a fact that was reported in several newspapers at that time. His book of poetic musings was published in 1928. In 1930, he married a young Jewish woman from Morocco. She began to study mathematics and physics, and later she worked in a laboratory in Paris.

When the war broke out, Jean joined the fight. He was captured and sent to a prison camp in Germany, from which he escaped. He then joined the Resistance. It was after D-Day, but still in June of 1944 that he was arrested and executed. Suzanne did not learn of the location of his death until a few months later. He was buried initially in the cemetery of the town where the execution took place. Sometime later his body was moved, but I have been unable to find the location of his final resting place.

Janet: What was the hardest thing about writing it? The saddest? The most rewarding? 

Renee: The hardest part of writing the novel was the creation of believable three-dimensional characters who would spark and maintain the interest of readers. The saddest part was learning about the traumas and tragedies that befell them at the hands of the Nazis. The most rewarding part was learning each new detail, receiving each new document with another clue, and meeting members of the French Resistance. I also was able to visit the town where Jean and the other résistants were executed, and made a good friend in the president of the local veterans’ association there. My family and I were welcomed to a special ceremony to commemorate V-E day, the day the Nazis were expelled from Europe. That indeed was very special, and rewarding. The president of the veterans’ association was a retired baker. Every year after our visit, he sent us a box of homemade chocolates. I was privileged to know him and his family, and I was touched when his wife called me to tell me of his passing. He was a great man, and a hero of the Resistance.


Janet Hulstrand
 is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “
A Long Way from Iowa.”

August 5, 2020 at 6:52 am Leave a comment

Interview with Karen Schur-Narula, Author

An interview with the author of “Fatherland,” an exquisitely written, deeply compelling novel set in Germany under the Third Reich…

Continue Reading June 9, 2017 at 4:04 pm Leave a comment

Interview with Siffy and Tor Torkildson, editors of “The Walkabout Chronicles”

“The Walkabout Chronicles: Epic Journeys By Foot” is an illustrated collection of 35 essays about walking. The writers include scientists and archeologists, artists, explorers, and “ordinary people who do extraordinary things…”

Continue Reading November 29, 2016 at 11:01 am 2 comments

Q&A with David Downie, author of “Paris: City of Night”

An interview with David Downie, author of “Paris: City of Night,” “Paris Paris: Journey into the City of Light,” “Paris to the Pyrenees” and more….

Continue Reading November 19, 2016 at 8:22 am 1 comment

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