Parisian Literary Salon

creating community through reading and discussing literature


Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 9:20 pm on Monday, December 5, 2011

Apologies for any confusion…all Literary Salon News–both London and Paris based, will now be located on the new site…take a look and let me know what you think…and what you read…and what you question…

September/October in London

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 3:48 pm on Thursday, July 14, 2011

Parisian Literary Salon to become London Literary Salon
Quick news and September/October schedule

14 July 2011

Happy Bastille Day to all…hope to see you at this evening’s celebrations at Bankside and Borough Market. We had a thoughtful conversation this week on James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”, about the mutable nature of our ideas around lightness and darkness and how this might be connected to the racial insights Baldwin suggests. Here is a snippet from the story—really, it is worth spending some time reading…

Then Creole stepped forward to remind them that what they were playing was the blues. He hit something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself, and the music deepened, apprehension began to beat the air. Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about. They were not about anything very new. He and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death in order to find new ways to make us listen. For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.
-“Sonny’s Blues”, James Baldwin (found in Going to Meet the Man, 1965

The amazing LJ Filotrani is in the process of remaking the Salon website…and among other exciting features, the name of the Salons will finally catch up to our work here—so get ready for the launch of the London Literary Salon website. In the meantime, I have had many requests for a rough September schedule so here are the current proposals and time slots. You are welcome to sign up now—previous Salon members may do so simply with an email registering your participation (please understand this does represent a commitment) and then may pay at the first meeting. First time participants are asked to pay a deposit to guarantee their registration: email me and I will send along details.

September/October Proposals:
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf starts week of September 12; runs for five weeks: £70
o Monday afternoons 12:30- 2:30
o Tuesday Evenings 8-10 PM
Paradiso by Dante starts week of September 12; runs for five weeks: £70
o Thursday afternoons 1-3 PM (celebratory dinner to be scheduled in October)
Frankenstein INTENSIVE one session Friday September 9th : £40
Midnights Children Three sessions: Thursday evenings Sept. 22, 29 October 6 7:30-10 PM £60
Young Writers’ Workshop for writers 12-16 years old: Wednesdays 4:30-6 PM runs five weeks: £70
Measure for Measure Intensive Sunday October 9th & October 16th 7-10 PM £50

Details for most of these can be found in the ‘What we Might Read’ section
of the website.
Please let me know if you have any questions about the Salon structure or timing or logistics…use the ‘Contact Me’ form on this site. We are headed for Joyce’s Ulysses in January 2012: in preparation we will study the Odyssey in October followed by a quick Hamlet (can’t you soliliquize a bit faster?) and a dip into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. That should keep us out of trouble.

I hope where ever you are over the summer holidays you have an opportunities for reflection, reading and adventure. I look forward with great excitement to our work in September!

June & July London Salons

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 12:15 pm on Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 20, 2011

1. Petit Salons June & July: Poetry and Short Stories

2. Other Salon events and community news

3. Musings and a poem

1. Petit Salons: A dash of poetry, a gorgeous story

June & July Short Offers
Thursday June 30th: Walt Whitman selection
Thursday July 7th: Emily Dickinson selection
Tuesday July 12th: “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

Afternoon (1-3 PM) and evening (8-10) sessions proposed for each date….cost per study is 15 pounds. You may do one or all of the offerings—once you have registered (please state afternoon or evening preference or flexible), I will send along opening notes and copies of the poems or work to be studied. Dive in! The reading in preparation is very manageable- but I do need to know if there are minimum of five participants at least five days before the study. Email me to register…

Yes, it is the midsummer madness but for those not currently studying Dante’s Paradisio in the Salon, a dip into an inspiring poet or a riveting short story might be the perfect word-filled respite. These short Salons are a wonderful opportunity for those who have wanted to try a Salon or are short on time so find it difficult to commit to the longer studies. Even in the Petite Salons, we discover a fresh perspective through the group immersion in a complex read. In reflection of the shrugs and awful rhythms of the world around us, I celebrate the Salon conversations for the space they offer to celebrate the beauty of living: from the words on the page to the resonances in our lives.

2. Other Salon news and events

· The Young Writers Workshop met for the final time on Sunday and I was impressed and motivated by the rich work produced…and the interesting conversations about the role of the writer and the purpose of a story. Think we will continue our work in September….

· THANKS to all who participated in the Doodle poll for the Salon September offerings—LJ did the work of researching theatrical offerings and so Measure for Measure will also be offered in September to prepare for a viewing of the RSC production in November. If you have not voted in the poll:

· Salon friend Ben (who is always up to SOMETHING!) has some lively events coming up—Simon Armitage TONIGHT on poetry and illustration:

· then Tea Revives the World : “a site-specific performance experiment, in four parts, inspired in part by the piers of Greenwich and The Cutty Sark, the tea-clipper ship that traded tea all over the globe. Set against the riverside and the shifting Thames shoreline, the performance involves movement, sculptural costume and water. “ :

3. Musings and a poem

There are those moments in your life when you feel as though you are free-falling, and each morning you wake up and need to piece yourself back together again…when life does not go according to plan (whose plan? Why did I think I could plan?) or changes occur that remind you how tenuous are the structures of the life you hold carefully, like a bird’s skull found in the woods, in your palms. This can be terrifying, but through the shards there is always a new view, an unexpected happening. The causes of this foundation shaking are many: a move, a job change, the discovery you are living with an adolescent, a loss of a loved one, a significant upheaval—and suddenly you feel stark and vulnerable. In these moments, I turn to the writers I love and suddenly something I have glossed over calls out anew—staggers me with beauty and connection. We may struggle, but we do not struggle alone—someone else, somewhere has scratched out words to the feeling.

This searching ordeal. It has been an unusually fatiguing day, a chapter of accidents. –L. Bloom, p. 631, Ulysses by James Joyce

Possibly perceiving an expression of dubiosity on their faces, the globetrotter went on adhering to his adventures. –L. Bloom, p. 725, Ulysses by James Joyce

Throw Yourself Like a Seed

Miguel de Unamuno

Shake off this sadness, and recover your spirit
sluggish you will never see the wheel of fate
that brushes your heel as it turns going by,
the man who wants to live is the man in whom life is abundant.

Now you are only giving food to that final pain
which is slowly winding you in the nets of death,
but to live is to work, and the only thing which lasts
is the work; start then, turn to the work.

Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field,
don’t turn your face for that would be to turn it to death,
and do not let the past weigh down your motion.

Leave what’s alive in the furrow, what’s dead in yourself,
for life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds;
from your work you will be able one day to gather yourself.

March in London

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 11:08 pm on Saturday, March 19, 2011

Parisian Literary Salon News

March 13, 2011

Spring struggles in; everywhere there are bursts and smatterings of energy and light—made more poignant as the buds are still shy, the air still biting.

Here is a former student of mine reminiscing:
The best part of winter in London is the morning when the candy-colored crocuses suddenly all pop out of the snow, and they look so incongruous and fragile, like they really think spring is going to come, and you shake your head and laugh bitterly because you’re thirteen and everything’s all dramatic.
(C. Harvey, 02.2011)

Even as I worry those buds have broken the surface too soon, they feed my hope. Believing in that energy, I am offering a variety of studies starting mid-March through May…hope you are able to join the dance.
1. March/April Short Story Salons
2. Frankenstein March 25th (Five Hour intensive)
3. The Divine Comedy continues…Purgatory (two spaces available) April 26th
4. Midnight’s Children starts May 5th (five week Salon; Thursday evenings)
5. Children’s Creative Writing Workshop (Start date and times TBA)

*To register for any of these, simply email me your choice and I will respond with registration details and opening notes.

Short Story Salons:
The many vacations and interruptions of March and April offer a good opportunity to consider the short story in its own unique form. This Salon does not require a long commitment; you may choose to do all or only a few of the listings. This study is ideal for those who would like to try the Salon…though quite a few of the Dante explorers may join us as we take a rest from our difficult journey through the Divine Comedy. The Salon is confirmed once six participants have signed up; each study is limited to nine participants (I will post updates on the Salon website—but sign up early to avoid disappointment!)


· Each Salon costs 17 pounds per individual meeting (if you sign up for five, the cost is a reduced 60 pounds)

· Evening studies meet from 8-10 PM, afternoon studies meet from 12:30-2:30 PM

· Although most Salons list two works, I will always choose depth rather than breadth of coverage; in other words: we may get to both or may find one story requires our full attention. Either way, you will have considered two rich works…

· Most of the studies will meet in our regular Kentish Town space

· Most of the short stories are available on line or in anthologies. For a small fee (postage + copying) I will provide copies if needed.

This Salon will provide ideas about how to enter the short story, find your footing and how to use the tools provided by the writer to immerse yourself in this precise and complete world. We will look carefully at the creation of voice, tone, perspective and setting in the micro world of short fiction. Frank O’Conner suggests ‘…there is in the short story at its most characteristic something we do not find in the novel—an intense awareness of human loneliness’. I am interested to consider this proposal in our studies…is this true? Or is there something else that gathers this precise form into itself—something beyond the size and shape that makes the world of the short story unique?
Week One: “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

21 March Evening

24 March Afternoon

Week Two: “The Dead” by James Joyce, “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver

29 March Evening

28 March afternoon

Week Three: A selection from Runaway by Alice Munro and MUD by Michele Roberts

11 April Afternoon

13 April Evening

Week Four: “Revelation” by Flannery O’ Connor and a Chekov—probably “The Misery”

19 April Afternoon

20 April Evening

Week 5: “A Distant Episode‘” by Paul Bowles and “The Liar” by Tobias Wolff
27 April Afternoon

27 April Evening

Paris Literary Salon weekend in Paris April 8th-10th

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 5:51 pm on Thursday, February 10, 2011

APRIL 2011 SALONS announced

Friday APRIL 8th, 6:30-9:30 pm Poetry (Petite Salon)
Saturday 9th, 5-10 pm Frankenstein (recommended edition: Norton Critical)
Sunday 10th, 3-8 pm Between the Acts (recommended edition: Oxford World Classics)

The Paris Salons run for a wonderfully intensive five hour stretch (with a necessary pot-luck meal break half way through). Although this format may feel intimidating, those who have participated find the conversation gallops along and we take the book in one big and satisfying gulp. The study is a dynamic weave of participant questions and responses, readings of significant passages and consideration of the themes and genres that the book illuminates. We often find we access significant aspects of human relationships through the course of our study—and everyone’s experience illuminates this understanding. Each five hour Salon costs 45 euro—to confirm your participation, send me an email with your participation request and I will send the details for payment, opening notes and Salon location… NOW is also a good time to send your requests for future Salons.

Thanks to all who participated in the doodle poll; the MAY study will include Nabokov and The Odyssey. I have just launched the London based Divine Comedy study: 20 readers and a long, twisted journey ahead but the shades of the Paris study help me light the way. I was energized and inspired by the recent Paris studies of The Odyssey and White Teeth—great reads, lively minds and wonderful food: life should always be so scrumptious.

Salon Descriptions:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly There is renewed interest Shelly’s gothic? Feminist? Science fiction? classic. The National Theatre in London is offering a production of this book that peels back the layers of the block-headed, bolted monster and gets down to Mary Shelly’s original concern: what is the relationship between the created and the creator? Edward Mendelson offers “Frankenstein is the story of childbirth as it would be if it had been invented by someone who wanted power more than love.” The form of the story also draws the reader into the entangled and unlimited relationship between the Creature and its creator as we move through narrators to get to the frozen final confrontation.

Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf Woolf’s lyric prose and gorgeous vision combine to consider the sense of exhaustion that punctuated the Modernist period leading up to WW II. Edward Mendelson describes the book: “Everything comes to an end in Between the Acts, and then, as the book itself comes to an end, something unknowable begins.” The book includes a pageant composed of imaginary episodes from 1000 years of English history, and a close examination of the intricacies of village life in England in the days leading up to WW II. As always, it is Woolf’s penetrating consideration of intimate relationships and the places where language fails—but something else transcends—that lift this work from “the doom of sudden death hanging over us” as one of her characters describes.

3 Poems - A Petite Salon I am considering works by Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and perhaps Sylvia Plath or Joseph Brodsky–thinking about what poets might sing together. A three hour intensive study (cost reduced- 25 euro) that would allow us to get our hands around a few works…I will email the poems in the coming weeks.

Parisian Literary Salon London Updates February 8, 2011

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 11:01 am on Thursday, February 10, 2011


Final week for registration…London Salons start next week

Inferno by Dante (Mark Musa translation recommended-available at Owl Book shop and Daunt books)

Tuesday Evenings 8-10 PM one space remaining
Thursday Afternoon: 12:30-2:30 PM FULL

Midnight’s Children

Wednesday Evenings 8-10 PM Six spaces remaining

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly (Short Salon—see details below)

Mid-march to be announced

*To register—email me with the Salon and times you would like to participate in and I will send you the opening notes and further details.

Inferno and Midnight’s Children will run for five weeks. If there are a majority of absences on a particular week, we will add an extra meeting. Five week Salons cost 65 pounds which includes all supplementary materials. Participants are not expected to have read the book previously; the reading schedule works out to between 50-70 pages per week of reading.

As I prepare opening notes for Dante’s Inferno, I am reading about the medieval world view and how our idea of the human being has evolved. Dante offers a wonderful road into these deep and dense queries as his Divine Comedy is his attempt to construct an intellectual universe based on the visions of his faith. Several interested participants have wondered how the study of the Inferno might be approached if one is not formally religious. I am finding, as I did in the previous Paris-based study of this work, that the pilgrim’s exploration of his moral and spiritual universe—and the fantastic images that result—provide the reader a map for their own inquiry.

Dante fought the Church—his banishment form his beloved Florence was in part a result of his criticism of Pope Boniface and the political party he supported. His creation of the realms of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise were his attempt to bring his intellect and faith in alignment; a struggle humans have been inspired by since Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Although I will provide background on the historical moment of Dante’s Florentine world and the political and ecclesiastical struggles that tore at his home, these are background to the very human pursuit: to understand the human soul. Although Dante’s terms are Christian, I do not think this desire is limited to the Christian realm. As always, the Salon conversation is enriched with a variety of perspectives, those who hold a formal faith as well as those who hold a formal questioning, along with those whose inquiry is loose and fluid and lifelong. We have so few spaces to share diverse views in religious ideas or spiritual traditions; I propose the study of a great work that engages a vigorous questioning of a formal belief offers that space.

Can you make the leap from this to Midnight’s Children? But of course: Rushdie is also playing in the world of multiple perspectives on the Truth and modern India, as the seething site of most of the world’s religions, offers a place to smash the icons and practices together and see what remains. For Rushdie, this is done with terrible humor and characters who will remain with the reader long after the final pickles have been jarred.

Both of these texts are enriched with historical notes and some understanding of the philosophies or belief systems that the writer and protagonist are engaging. I will provide some basic and accessible notes and point you towards more through essays and books along the way. For each Salon, I am aware that each of us may have time for only a brush with, say, the ideas of Virgil or Aquinas, or the fundamentals of Hinduism. Often in the Salon there is a participant who can offer more insights; and beyond the time frame of the Salon participants often find themselves continuing to read and explore these ideas. So do not be intimidated: think of the Salon study as opening up these other realms of knowledge.

And then there’s Frankenstein. Starting mid-April, the National Theatre is offering a production of this book that peels back the layers of the block-headed, bolted monster and gets down to Mary Shelly’s original concern: what is the relationship between the created and the creator? Here is a review in the Independent of the upcoming production: . The recent Salons offered in conjunction with an upcoming dramatic performance have been very popular. One participant offered: “I understood so much more of the performance because of the work we had done before I viewed it…instead of the evening being just entertaining, the vision of the work and the ideas that it raised have stayed in my thoughts…”.

I am proposing a short Salon (the book itself is not long and the writing is quite accessible) to start in early March and run for three sessions. Please let me know if you are interested and if you prefer an afternoon or evening Salon; alternatively, we could do a one night intensive on a Friday or Sunday—please let me know if that is more feasible.

January 2011-Looking Ahead

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 2:19 pm on Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Jar of Honey
By Jacob Polley

You hold it like a lit bulb,
a pound of light,
and swivel the stunned glow
around the fat glass sides:

it’s the sun, all flesh and no bones
but for the floating knuckle
of honeycomb
attesting to the nature of the struggle.

Love how this pithy piece uses a luminous jar of honey- so mundane and regular- to remind us how so much around us reflects the struggle of existence- and the miraculous fruits of that struggle.

Currently in London there are three Salons running with dynamic conversations around family, power, inheritance, and the immateriality of love. King Lear as always provides a tormented arena from which we see how one’s actions and choices result in consequences that must be lived through–what kind of unaccommodated man will emerge from the storm? White Teeth by Zadie Smith gives us room to consider contemporary British society and analyze the proposal of a truly multicultural world. Her humor and irreverence break down the discomfort around issues of race and tragic histories–will the pieces fall towards a hopeful or apocalyptic vision?
Next weekend, on the 28th and 29th of January, I will be in Paris for two Salons: Friday the 28th we will consider The Odyssey; Saturday the 29th we will study White Teeth. There is a space or two remaining in both Salons; please email me NOW if you would like to join and I will send along the opening notes and details for meeting and payment.

It is time to look ahead in both London and Paris. The next Salon series will start in London mid-February. Dante’s Divine Comedy is one proposal; other Salons to be scheduled include Midnight’s Children, a Virginia Woolf or old friend Faulkner work. EMAIL me now with your requests and schedule (afternoon or evening) preferences. I will be announcing the next Paris Salons for March; I also welcome your input!
See you in the pages…

December Update Paris & London based Salons

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 4:36 pm on Monday, November 8, 2010

December Salons
In London
* The Glass Menagerie Thursday Evenings December 2nd- 16th two places available

In Paris

* Dead Souls Saturday December 11th 5-10 PM FULL *Everyman’s Library edition (trans. Richard Pevear, Larissa Volkhonsky)

* White Teeth by Zadie Smith Sunday December 12th 5:30-10 pm two places available

January Salons in London

*Each of the following runs for five weeks starting the first week of January; cost is 60 £ (includes supplemental materials). To register, send an email to and I will send you the details to confirm your participation. These Salons are filling up so please confirm your participation soon. I am also looking ahead…Ulysses is going to wait until 2012 but The Divine Commedia? Or Faulkner? Woolf? Dickens? Please send your requests for future Salons.

KING LEAR by William Shakespeare Tuesdays 1-3 PM FULL
KING LEAR by William Shakespeare Tuesdays 8-10PM
White Teeth by Zadie Smith Thursdays 8-10 PM

Paris based Salons November and December

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 3:14 pm on Thursday, November 4, 2010

“To think that we have at our disposal the biggest thing in the universe and that it is language. What one can do with language is infinite.” Helene Cixous, French Philosopher/Feminist

“Listen. Put on morning. Waken into falling light.”

- W.S. Graham, Scottish poet

As I finish two wonderful Salons here in London, I am freshly aware how the language and experiences of the characters in these works we study help us to understand our own existence: provide a broader canvas for our individual struggles and disappointments, our victories and fears. Each Salon brings together a diverse and fresh group of participants in the face of a book that calls us to the deep parts of ourselves. As we work towards a complex understanding of the text, my own relationships, ideas, history and perspectives sharpen. Studying Absalom, Absalom and Beloved in London brought the voices of Paris participants from previous Salons into the room as the London group added to the work we had done in the past.

There are fewer Salons in Paris and these are in the intensive five-hour format—but each of these studies has proven to be inspiring with that concentration of energy. NOW is the time to sign up for the coming Salons. The cost is 45 euro for the five hour study (includes axillary materials). The King Lear study in particular will give you a through understanding of this play for future performances. As a Salon member wrote last week:

“Just saw an amazing Russian production (we are celebrating Russia all over the place here in Paris) of Hamlet which had me sobbing at the end. As I walked out of the theatre I thought to myself, “I never would have been to enjoy this to the extent I did without the work I did with Toby.”

November Salons

* King Lear Friday November 26th 6-10:30 PM: five places available
* White Teeth by Zadie Smith Sunday November 28 4-8:30 pm two places available

December Salons

* Dead Souls Saturday December 11th 5-10 PM two places available *Everyman’s Library edition (trans. Richard Pevear, Larissa Volkhonsky)

* Beloved Sunday December 12th 4-8:30 pm six places available

Descriptions for the books can be found on the website under “What might we read”…

To register for these Salons and pay by euro cheque (45 euro for the five hour study), send me an email confirming your participation and I will send you further details and the address to which to post the cheque. I look forward to our exuberant work together…

And for those interested, here is the link for my October publication in the Nth position on-line magazine (better for surfing then the news these days…)

I welcome and would love to share other literary news and publication from Salon members…keep it coming!

London Salons- Sign up NOW

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 1:24 pm on Thursday, October 21, 2010

I am thinking in sound bites today as we gallop towards the end of our studies of Absalom, Absalom and Beloved. I am amazed how these two works overlap in the huge and murky waters of shame and love as well as sharing similar historical context and therefore the dynamic relationship between history and self-hood. Both works also grapple with the limits of language to express our most powerful experiences. For the next series, there is room for more in the White Teeth and Ragtime/Jazz Salons, but only a few spaces remaining in the Glass Menagerie and Winter’s Tale studies. These two are being offered at the same time as local productions of the plays; Salon participants have found viewing the plays after our studies to be immensely satisfying. IN the words of a Salon participant: “Just saw an amazing Russian production (we are celebrating Russia all over the place here in Paris) of Hamlet which had me sobbing at the end.As I walked out of the theatre I thought to myself, ‘I never would have been to enjoy this to the extent I did without the work I did with Toby.’ So I’m on my knees. Thank you…”

If you have never tried a Salon but are curious, now is a great moment to jump in. The works we are considering in the coming studies are accessible and will provoke some wonderful discussions around language, power, love, ambition, music and self-sacrifice.
To register, send me an email (using “contact me” form on website)stating Salon choice and time- if this is your first Salon, I will ask you to send me a cheque to confirm your registration. An email confirmation is sufficient for those who have previously done Salons.
· Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow combined with Jazz by Toni Morrison Tuesday Afternoons 12:30-2:30 * Seven sessions starting November 2nd- 14 December. Cost 85 pounds
· White Teeth by Zadie Smith Tuesday Evenings Six sessions starting November 2nd- 7th December. Cost 75 pounds
· The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare Thursday Evenings four sessions starting November 4th- 25th November. Cost 55 pounds
· The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams three sessions starting December 2nd- 16th December. Cost 45 pounds

See you in the pages…..

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