Parisian Literary Salon

creating community through reading and discussing literature

Participant Comments

Feedback Ulysses 2010
Very many thanks for last night’s marathon - and indeed for the last few months guidance through the intricacies and bewilderment of Ulysses. I know I would never have undertaken the journey by myself and your company and constant enthusiasm and insights (as well as those of the rest of my fellow ‘trekkers’) made the journey, which would have been unbearably lonely, not exactly easy but certainly worth continuing!

I cannot fathom that we are done. I think I will need to reread this final section to get a fuller appreciation; I need to check my own expectations at the door and let the language and the rhythm wash over me fully. …And it goes without saying a hundred thank yous to you for all that you do. I cannot tell you what it means to me being a part of the salon…

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I never would have read Ulysses but am very glad that I have. It was frustrating, moving, enigmatic, and uplifting — and that was just the first page. It — and the salon — were also a gift for me this year. Life has been challenging, to say the least, and the Salon was a pocket of time when everything else went away. It was a rare moment in which I was truly immersed in the here and now. And that doesn’t seem to happen much these days. You led the group with a deft hand — guiding but never directing. It’s a rare gift and one that you have in spades.

My experience of the Ulysses sessions is very positive. I would not have got this from reading it alone. (I had already tried and given up.) I appreciated the small size of the group and felt comfortable with the other members. We were all focused, it seemed to me, in much the same way, even if our views often differed - which, of course, was what was so challenging and stimulating. You, Toby, created a supportive environment for ideas to be exchanged and developed - it was a creative time, and I would often leave your house with a feeling of elation.

I liked the structure of the sessions. Fees? At first it seemed a lot to pay out - considering how many sessions there would be - but now I think that it was worth every penny!

What matters is that I have read, and hugely enjoyed reading, Ulysses. And I look forward to reading it again …

The Salon is a place for the meeting of minds- to connect, to agree and disagree and to use books as a means through which to ponder the various aspects of human existence and experience in all of its messy glory.
It’s the cornerstone of my intellectual world and it’s terrific fun as well!

Older feedback

“I wanted to tell you again how much I enjoyed the salon last week. It reminded me of how much I enjoy the intellectual stimulus of this sort of literary discussion. Reading itself so wonderful, but discussing it afterwards with other people really makes a difference in how I feel about and understand books.
Please do put me on the list. I can’t think of a better reason to come back to Paris than one of your intensive literary salons, and one on the Inferno would be all the more interesting! ”

“I found it absolutely incredible to participate in such stimulating discussions.”

I have taken Toby’s salons for the past few years. They are a fantastic experience in literacy. I’ve chosen the salons books I found too difficult to penetrate alone. However, I’d see them listed on The Greatest Books of All Time or some other list. Middlemarch. Bleak House. The Sound
and the Fury. To The Lighthouse.
I’ve now read these books and understand the book and why they are on these lists! Reading them in this group experience led by such an amazing facilitator has made a difference in my life and my writing. As an American in Paris for 20 years, the salons have been my most enjoyable endeavour. As the Michelin Guide points out for certain venues: WELL WORTH A DETOUR.”

“Toby Brothers leads her Literary Salon with brio. She enriches our study with her broad literary knowledge, her experience as a teacher and her understanding of different cultures gained through extensive travel. An adult, educated group is not always easy to manage! But Toby brings it all brilliantly with a careful blend of authority, originality and humility. Each reading with Toby constitutes a magnificent literary journey through some of the finest works of world literature. More than a coach and a moderator- and in the spirit of Dante’s Virgil: She is our guide. Subtle. Firm. Enthusiastic. Totally inspiring.”

Some recent feedback from Salon participants

….good to see you in action
(actually not far off the enthusiasm and analysis you deploy in civilian
life) — pleasurable to have a pleasant yet rigorous approach and share
ideas. I can see what’s drawn you to create then sustain these Salons!

I enjoyed very much attending this salon. The discussions were intense, enhancing the complexity and subtleties of her writing. The feelings of adolescence echoed in my memory. Thank you for having me discover a wonderful author…The main purpose for me is to hear people speaking in an elaborate way, and I was not disappointed.

Thank you Toby- You woke up my mind and helped me appreciate a great work of literature. Everyone brought insights to the table and the atmosphere supported questioning and exploration. Brilliant book choice- I had never heard of it before the Salon. Any book, any time- you just let me know.

The Salon was great fun for me. A bigger group than usual, so a bit more difficult to manage (?) but I didn’t feel that anyone got left out….

My brain is buzzing with thoughts and excitement thanks to our stimulating first meeting of the salon.
Thank you so, so much!

Fantastic day/night. Wonderful to get into LoGW (Lives of Girls & Women by Alice Munro) more and I thought everyone had great insights and thoughts on the book, which is so packed with goodies it would seriously take weeks to really do it justice….

I think sitting in a circle the way we did promoted a very good climate for everyone to participate.
Our efforts were rewarded.
Big Time.

Just before retiring wanted to say what a most enjoyable and knowledgeable evening it was indeed.
I believe Kentish Town has found a pearl which we shall jealously guard.

“I felt like I was back in a college literature seminar, with a great professor, a motivated and bright group of students, and a wonderful text. Although I have participated in many book discussion groups over the past 20 years, some of them wonderful, none of them have so successfully captured that spirit. The differences include the pace — reading one book slowly and carefully, and discussing it in depth over the course of a few weeks, rather than meeting once a month to discuss an entire book for a few hours. Also the fact that Toby is guiding the group and the discussion, with her knowledge of and love for the text, and her teaching experience. Although I would probably be more motivated to join a salon if the text interested me, I enjoyed this one so much that I would probably join even if she chose a book I wasn’t initially drawn to.”

“Discussions were extremely well guided while still very open (very difficult to achieve)…the atmosphere was relaxed and not at all intimidating even for those of us without literary analysis background…great group of people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences.”

“I am so looking forward to starting a new salon with you. Our meetings pouring over James Joyce and his incredible work were a high spot in my week, and I couldn’t wait for Tuesday to come around and be inspired by everyone’s comments and thoughts - and we had such fun as well!”

“Dear Toby, I want to tell you that you are doing a fantastic job with James Joyce. Such a pleasure to be wading through the intricacies of Proteus in your company and the company of the group last night.”

“Hi Toby, I ran for the bus on Monday night without thanking you for the reading group. You pulled together a wonderful group and your teaching added quite a lot to our discussion. Thank you, also, for the printed pieces that I took home.”

“[The group] moved easily among a variety of levels of reading and response–from questions of plot, character and setting, to themes, patterns, and larger observations about human experience. Clearly, the participants were well versed in the tools of literary analysis. I left the seminar with a renewed appreciation for Toby as an outstanding teacher and also of Toby as a poet - this came through in her attempts to instill in the participants an appreciation for the beauty of Morrison’s language, in the passion and eloquence with which she spoke, and also in the rhythm and the pacing of the course itself.”

“It has been a wonderful change of pace to read in this context — waking up long dormant parts of the mind…And I am happy to experience the freedom that comes when one trusts that one is safe and well-guided.”

“I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed yesterday’s salon. The book selection was an excellent choice, and, thanks to your thoughtful questions and the interesting opinions offered by the other participants, I have been considering the text from a number of different perspectives. I really enjoyed meeting the other members as well - I even ran into the Irish women at Trocadero. I’m looking forward to seeing you at the next salon!”

“I would like to do the Sound and the Fury after we finish Joyce if anyone else is interested. Well done on all your work , Toby and the way you keep us all together and the ambiance you create. You are very inspiring and flexible…which is what we need.”

“Toby, - I was also struck by the fact that de Beauvoir and Sartre defined freedom in a way very strongly related to sexuality but they were very trapped and unfree (is that a word?) in other ways because of that same choice. Freedom for me is bravery to do and think what I think is “right” without caring too much about society’s opinion of my choices but not ignoring how those choices impact my immediate family and intimate friends. I loved the reading - it really challenged me in many ways and that idea of what it means to be free would be an interesting topic in the future . . . . As always, the Salons and your caring leadership inspired me.”