Parisian Literary Salon

creating community through reading and discussing literature

London Based Salons

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 12:49 pm on Sunday, October 10, 2010

1. November and December Choices
Full in the thick and wonderful study of Absalom Absalom and having just dived into a dynamic Beloved study, I notice November is sliding towards us- and with it a new series of Salons. Please let me know which of the following would be of interest to you, preferably by Tuesday October 12th so I can announce the schedule and start registration(use the ‘Contact Me’ page). I am offering Winter’s Tale and Glass Menagerie as these are plays being performed in London in the coming months. Salon participants have found that the study of a play in preparation for viewing to be extremely fulfilling; I will try to arrange a group viewing following the study.
For the following, please state which study you prefer and what your schedule preference is: Monday afternoon (1-3 PM) or Tuesday or Thursday evenings (8-10 PM); if more than one study is of interest and multiple times work for you, please let me know. Most Salons will commence the first week of November.
Winter’s Tale (3 week study)
Glass Menagerie (3 week study)
White Teeth (5 weeks)
King Lear (5 weeks) * see description under “What Might We Read”

The Tuesday afternoon core group has already narrowed their choices; there is still room in this group for a few more participants and a choice: Tuesday Afternoons 12:30-2:30 Faulkner’s Light in August or Ragtime/Jazz combined…

Paris Upcoming Salons November and December

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 12:42 pm on Sunday, October 10, 2010

Paris based Salon news

Yes, I know it has been quiet on the Paris Salon front…I have been reflecting hard on the purpose and future of the Paris- based Salon group as my work has intensified in London. I have found our work together challenging, enlightening, broadening if there is still the desire and interest and willingness to commit, then I will happily continue to offer Paris-based Salons. I am proposing a weekend intensive Salon for the last weekend of November: one offering is Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, the other is the indomitable King Lear (descriptions under ‘What Might We Read”). My friend Jonathon Ingram will facilitate a December Salon on Dead Souls- see his description below- and he would bring a wealth of Russian literature knowledge and passion to the study. You will need to register for these Salons and pay by euro cheque (45 euro for the five hour study) three weeks in advance so I know that there are enough participants to make it worth everyone’s energy and attention. To confirm your place in the Salon, 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…
November Salons

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

December Salons

Dead Souls Saturday December 11th 5-10 PM
The Great Gatsby or Beloved (Descriptions on the Salon website- VOTE NOW!!) Sunday December 12th 4-8:30 pm

December 11th
From Jon (I am including his description of Eugene Onegin as well as Dead Souls- if Dead Souls goes, we may try for a Salon double header of EO in 2011):
“First things first: there are a few Russian titles I could propose (so much to choose from!) First of all there’s Eugene Onegin by Aleksandr Pushkin. I insist on using the Nabokov translation (Princeton UP, 1991). As for the wonder of this book.. well, almost too much to summarize in less than a book of my own! In short, Pushkin is to Russian what Dante, for example, is to Italian: he was the first serious author to write in Russian rather than French, and had to invent much of the written language he used, just as Dante did for the Divine Comedy. Otherwise the text itself is one of the most intricately structured works I teach: a verse novel consisting of 8 chapters of roughly 50 sonnets each. But even that is oversimplifying as Pushkin invented an offshoot of the sonnet known still as the Onegin stanza. Goodness, makes me breathless even now to consider.

If not that, I’d be equally keen to speak about some of Gogol’s works. Dead Souls (Everyman, 2004) is his best known work and it’s on occasion just breathtaking, but it also sort of loses its steam toward the end, which is pretty sad. For me, his most brilliant work is a little story called “Evenings On A Farm Near Dikanka”, which can be found in The Complete Tales of N.G. Vol I (Chicago UP, 1985). In these cases, indeed in all cases of Russian literature, I really only trust Pevear & Volkonsky to translate without draining these wonderful texts of their soul. I’m not sure it’s a popular choice but in my opinion, Gogol is one of the greatest writers the world has produced. He writes in prose but with poetic flourishes such as repeated images, sometimes inverted, and wonderful sort of “false paths” that can trick his readers. His metaphors can drift into half-page digressions, yet he manages to weave this all together without taxing his readers too much. Wonderful!”

Fall Salon Schedule London 2010

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 1:40 pm on Wednesday, July 7, 2010

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them — if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.” - from
Catcher in the Rye

“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!”
Ulysses Salon participant, June 2010

Fall 2010 Literary Line Up
Starting the week of September 13th….
• Monday afternoons 1-3 PM King Lear
• Tuesday Afternoons 1-3 PM Absalom, Absalom *3 spaces remaining
• Tuesday Evenings 8-10 PM The Catcher in the Rye meets The Great Gatsby
Starting 7th of October:
• Thursday evenings 8-10 PM Beloved (Three week study)
*4 spaces remaining
*Descriptions for each of these works can be found under the “What Might We Read” section. I realize one of the hardest things for me to do for the Salon is to describe a book- to reduce it to a few pithy phrases makes me feel disrespectful of the work itself and the possible realms open for discussion in the Salon. That said, most of the following have been so reduced but realize however apt the description, the writing is what is transcendent- and the only way to grab hold of the writing is to read the book.
* Each of these is a six week study- so the final week is the 18th of October.
* Each Six-week Salon costs 75 pounds – this includes all copies, films and auxiliary materials.
* Three week study costs 45 pounds– this includes all copies, films and auxiliary materials.
* You do not need to have read the entire work before the study commences, but those who have found this approach useful, re-reading on the Salon schedule. I break the reading up into approximately equal weekly chunks and we discuss the designated section at the meeting.
* Opening notes and reading schedule will be sent out to you at the time of your inscription.
* Salons are limited to 10 participants-inscription is open now.
* To sign up for the Salon, email me your Salon choice and I will email you the inscriptions details: if this is your first Salon, you will need to send in a cheque for the Salon; if you have previously done a Salon, your emailed confirmation is sufficient.
* Someone has inquired into the possibility of doing more than one Salon for this series- anyone who is crazy/eager enough to do so will receive a discount on the two Salons.
* Salons will meet at my home in Kentish Town.
* Check out the participants comments section to get a broader understanding of the Salon.

Thanks all for your input—and please know that if the work you wanted is not offered now, keep asking. Dante, Woolf, more Shakespeare, Marilynne Robinson and Dostoevsky are all banging on the door….
Poem for Free—read it out loud, no matter where you are….
Variation on a Theme by Rilke by Denise Levertov

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me–a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic–or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.

See you in the pages….
July 7, 2010

June Update

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 8:05 am on Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The only thing is to walk then you’ll feel a different man. It’s not far. Lean on me. –L. Bloom, , p. 769.

I am packing my bag to head for Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday with some of the intrepid Joyceans. We have just finished a six month study of James Joyce’s Ulysses- and what a ride! What a group! I will post feedback from the participants next week…at the moment, the heaventree of stars hung with humid blue nightfruit sings in my head along with Love’s Old Sweet Song. We struggled with the cantering styles shifting, the aesthetic philosophy of Stephen, the ineluctable modality of the visible, the difference between transubstantiation and consubstantiation, but mostly found the book to be about intimate love, grief, parents and children and the lonely cry of the self. Would I do it again? You betcha.
Now I am putting together the fall Salon schedules for both Paris and London. Paris may include Jonathon Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredible Close with another big Russian novel to be studied with a visiting expert in November. The London group is deciding what life looks like after Joyce: Virginia Woolf, Faulkner or a something completely different-Shakespeare, post-modern- or post-modern Shakespeare? Check back here in a few weeks to see what we have decided.

Salons in April and May–Paris, London

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 2:53 pm on Friday, February 19, 2010

We are in the thick of the read in London with Ulysses and in Paris with The Brothers Karamazov. Watching the Olympics reminds me of the effort it takes to scale these works, to wrestle the words into ideas and themes that make sense in one’s own world view-and not without occasional and spectacular spills. Okay, we don’t get carved musculature-but you should see our minds after five chapters of Joyce!
Coming up in London:
• FRIDAY MAY 14th DATE CHANGE 6-10 PM A Portrait of a Lady by Henry James room for two more participants

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to discover Henry James- but there you are, some things are just worth waiting for…we had a wonderful Salon study of this work in Paris in November with considerations of gender roles, the negotiated space between self and other, the corruption or freedom offered by privilege, the challenge of looking at nationalities in generalizations (and the tempting ease to do so), the ways in which humans reveal themselves…these Salon intensives fill me with wonder: the meeting of the gathered minds and the provoking text is a powerful thing.
Ralph Waldo Emerson seems to echo in the lines and characters of Henry James, Isabel in particular.
“You think of me the child of my circumstances: I make my circumstance…I—this thought which is called I, –is the mould into which the world is poured like melted wax. The mould is invisible, but the world betrays the shape of the mould. You call it the power of circumstance, but it is the power of me. “ –from Emerson’s essay The Transcendentalist as quoted in New Essays on The Portrait of a Lady edit. By Joel Porte (Cambridge Univ. Press 1990).
Our study of PoA may include a consideration of this quote in light of Isabel’s life and choices: how much do we make ourselves? How does the world impose itself on the individual in the act of self-creation?
Looking forward to our work together—see you in the pages-

Coming up in Paris:
• Friday 22nd May 6-10 PM Beloved by Toni Morrison
• Saturday 23 rd May 5-10 PM Light in August by William Faulkner


Coming up in London:
Sunday 16th May 5-10 PM Beloved by Toni Morrison * see description under ‘What might we read’…

Looking forward to our work together—see you in the pages-

January 2010 London Salons

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 2:10 pm on Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Ulysses Salon
Parisian Literary Salon News January 12, 2010—London-based Salons

The big news is the start of our six-month study of Ulysses- see below for how, what and why. For those not interested in diving into Joyce madness(or Joyceans who are reading machines), I would like to offer some one-day intensives and possibly a few short Salons. I need some input for these; I have already had a request for Brothers Karamazov which would require two one-day Salon intensives- perhaps a month apart—and a request for a one-day A Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I would also like to offer a Beloved if there is interest in February; but would like input from those who would be interested in doing this as a one day or a five week study. Please send me your requests and schedule preferences (afternoon vs. evening studies).
I hope everyone had a lovely New Year and is enjoying lots of reading in this time of hibernation…
See you in the pages-


WHERE/WHEN: Meetings mostly in Kentish Town. Once a week from 26 January to the end of June (excluding school breaks), choose either Monday 1.30?3.30pm, Monday 8-10pm or Tuesday 8-10pm
COST £75 for each 5-week session- there will be four total 5 week series.
Email me (via the ‘contact me’ form on the website) to reserve your place and name your preferred meeting time.
Special offer: try the first meeting for free (space-dependant)
RECOMMENDED ANNOTATED EDITION Ulysses (£17.99, Penguin Classics student annotated edition)

A few thoughts about reading the big book..
“You should approach Joyce’s Ulysses as the illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Old Testament: with faith.” William Faulkner

The good news: reading Ulysses is fun. And I don’t mean in a frustrating, overly-analytical see-how much you know way- the language is amazing- even when I don’t understand it- perhaps especially when I don’t understand it- because meaning sneaks in through more than my critical faculty- meaning slides in through sound, through the lushness of the language- through the filmy and substantial images- and suddenly I find myself transported from a walk on a beach to a contemplation of the origins of man- thanks, James Joyce.

For more information, check out the Ulysses description under “What might we read”.

London Odyssey Salon for the Winter Holidays

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 1:49 pm on Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What better time to visit the Mediterranean- world of wine-dark sea, olives, gods & goddesses and the wily Odysseus?

Meet for four Wednesdays: 9 & 16 December, plus 6 & 13 January in Kentish Town.
Afternoon study: 1.30–?3.30pm. Evening study: 8–?10pm

COST £60 Special offer: try the first meeting for free (space dependent)
RECOMMENDED EDITION: The Odyssey (Robert Fagles translation; Penguin Classic- available at Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town)
Though it may be a bit of madness to start a Salon series in the holiday season, the study might offer a respite from the buzz of these busy days- and a means to dance into the New Year in lyric language. For those looking ahead to Ulysses starting in mid-January, a study of The Odyssey builds a strong ship for that journey. Here there be monsters, nymphs, love stories, betrayals, drinking, giants- climb aboard!
Here is a taste:
Sing to me of the man, O Muse, the man of twists and turns
Driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
Many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove—
The recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
The blind fools, they devoured the Cattle of the Sun
And the Sungod wiped from sight the day of their return.
Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
Start from where you will—sing for our time too.

*See you in the wine dark seas-

Paris Salons Updated Nov. 2009

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 8:33 pm on Thursday, November 5, 2009

November 29th- The Awakening by Kate Chopin ( see ‘What Might we read’ section for description) 3- 8 PM –One space remaining
• December 12th The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James 5-10 PM — One space remaining
• December 13th Absalom, Absalom by W. Faulkner –Six spaces remaining

Sign up now by using the ‘Contact me’ form on the website…next Paris Salon series will be offered at the end of January.

Parisian Literary Salon events Fall 09 London

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 12:49 pm on Monday, October 5, 2009

Below you will find highlights from the Salon newsletter- if you would like to subscribe (free) or you would like to see the complete newsletter, use the ‘contact me’ form…

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
–Pablo Picasso

1. News & Next Salons announced
2. Thoughts and Nudges for reading Joyce
3. A Poem : “Water Table” by Billy Collins
I can hardly believe we are finishing up the work of Hamlet this week. Our exploration of the nature of revenge, the agony of losing trust in those you love, the grappling for meaning in a life lived amongst the corrupt and the sheer beauty of the language requires even more attention than we have given the work- but we have looked hard and deeply into the interior world of Hamlet. This study brings me back to the real joy of the Salon: together we pace each other to read slowly, to bring what we do not understand individually to the conversation and gather responses of others, and hear someone else respond to a phrase or idea or connection that we might have missed. This all adds up to a most memorable reading experience- enlightening for the first-time reader of the work, and still startling and rewarding for those on their 12th read. Many thanks to all who taught and learned together this fall. Now, onto….
1. News & Next Salons announced
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce Oct 21st- 25th November
The Odyssey by Homer December 2nd- 16th with one longer meeting TBA
DETAILS: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Wednesday, 21st October 1st meeting (2nd meeting on Wednesday 4th November) continuing each Wednesday for five meetings. Evening study meets from 8-10 PM, mostly in Kentish Town, afternoon study meets between 1-3 PM, between Hampstead and Kentish Town. Cost is 75 £.

PLEASE let me know by Monday October 12th if you are planning on participating in this Salon. I will send you opening notes, details for registering and edition recommendations.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
A Portrait … attempts to enter in to the consciousness of a boy growing to young adulthood with an acute sense of the world around him. In the narrative, the writer attempts to collapse the boundary between reader and character consciousness: there is no authorial presence or exterior perspective and each section is written as though it springs directly from the thoughts of the boy at the time. This is why the opening feels like nursery rhyme then broken thought- but each image has weight and purpose. In fact, some have argued that the opening page contains the entire meaning of the rest of the book. But you have to read the whole thing for the layers to come through.

Fall Salons in Paris- some still to be decided- vote now!

Filed under: Upcoming Events — toby at 12:48 pm on Wednesday, September 30, 2009

October Parisian Salon in Paris Update
Parisian Literary Salon Study October 17th & 18th The Awakening (primary text) with The Yellow Wallpaper
PLEASE sign up by October 4th for either of these two offerings. The Saturday study is almost full- I will announce the location to those who have confirmed participation along with the opening notes and reading questions. Below you will find more reflections on Awakening along with some comments form contemporary reviews.
Upcoming Salons Sign up now- and vote your choices where there are decisions to be made….as soon as I have six votes for one work, I will announce that work as decided.

October 17th- The Awakening by Kate Chopin ( to include consideration of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman) 5-10 PM
• October 18th – The Awakening by Kate Chopin ( to include consideration of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman) 3-8 PM

• November 28th- Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf or The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James or Waterland by Graham Swift (current vote is leaning towards Portrait)

• December 12th The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James 5-10 PM
• December 13th Beloved by Toni Morrison or Absalom, Absalom by W. Faulkner

One day Salon COST: 45 euro includes copies and opening notes
Descriptions for some of these works can be found here on the website under ‘What might we read’. To sign up for a Salon, simply email me with the dates and books choice. If this is your first Salon, a deposit of 25 euro is required to secure your place- I will send you details regarding that in response to your email request.

The Awakening Opening thoughts
Part of the strength of this beautiful little book is that we are asked to consider Edna Pontellier’s ultimate choice not as a question of absolutes but as a consideration of human desires in conflict with the world it inhabits. The world of Pontellier is not absolutely oppressive, Pontellier is not without freedom, her treatment of her children (and the impact of her choice on them) can cast her in a nasty light. Chopin offers a feminist consideration that honors the idea of feminism as a complex assessment of the interaction between an individual and their particular society. The Creole world that Pontellier lives in is dynamic and sensual; Edna has the sympathy of at least two of the characters close to her. So we must move beyond the simple equation of a woman who has no choices, who lives in an oppressive world, taking her life in response. The Awakening offers a more complicated and therefore more authentic portrayal.
The writing is exquisite; Chopin manages to create the tension of seduction and the aesthetic world of Creole life in her words. This is not an overwhelming read (like some of our recent studies); therefore those that participate in this Salon may take the time to savor the work. The other reading, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is written right around the same time with some similar explorations- but offers a very different consideration of a woman in struggle with her world. Some have studied this previously; I think you will find as I have that there is never the same response to a strong work . Though our focus will be on The Awakening, Yellow Wallpaper will creep in.
Some quotes from Contemporary reviews of The Awakening:
“One cannot refrain from regret that so beautiful a style and so much refinement of taste has been spent by Miss Chopin on an essentially vulgar story…” –From ” Fiction” Literature, IV June 1899.
“Not because it is not bright with her (Kate Chopin) own peculiar charm of style, not because there is missing any touch of effect or lacking any beauty of description—but—well, it is one of those books of which we feel “cui bono?” (What’s the use?) It absorbs and interests, then makes one wonder, for the moment, with a little sick feeling, if all women are like the one, and that ins’t a pleasant reflection after you have thoroughly taken in this character study whose “awakening” gives title to Mrs. Chopin’s novel.
One would fain beg the gods, in pure cowardicefor sleep unending rather than to know what an ugly, cruel, loathsome monster Passion can be when, like a tiger, it slowly stretches to its graceful length and yawns and finally awakens…” –From The Mirror, IX May 1899.
“The purport of the story can hardly be described in language fit for publication…” –From the Providence Sunday Journal June 1899.
“There may be many opinions touching other aspects of Mrs. Chopin’s novel “The Awakening,” but all must concede its flawless art. …”The Awakening” is not for the young person…It is for seasoned souls, for those who have lived, who have ripened under the gracious or ungracious sun of experience and learned that realities do not show themselves on the outside of things…but treasured within the heart, hidden away, never to be known perhaps save when exposed by temptation or called out by occasions of great pith and moment. … –From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch May 20, 1899 pg. 4.

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