Monday, April 23, 2018

My final presentation in France - book blogs are good

If you find yourself in France for an extended period, a couple of months, even, you are crazy not to track down and join the local branch of the Acceuil des Villes Françaises, the AVF.  The organization is for people new to the city, the members a fascinating mix of French and non-French.  Many of the French members are themselves new not just to the city but to France, having lived abroad for many years.

The benefits: meeting people, parties, practicing French, food, French, wine, French, parties.  The members are self-selected to be the friendliest people in France, and the most welcoming to outsiders.  They are also saintly in their patience, as I will demonstrate here.

Last week I gave a half-hour presentation on book blogs to an AVF audience, about a dozen people.  In French, a language I do not really know.  My French is a lot better than it was in September.  This was not a final presentation in a French course, but it sure felt like it.

An AVF member had organized a series of talks on “Passions,” meaning true amateurism, hobbies taken seriously.  Material for a blog, right?  Using myself as a case study, I showed what a blog is, how it works, and why it is useful, without putting much emphasis on literature as such.  The blog is an all-purpose form.

With no internet connection, I could not play around with the blog but had to screenshot every relevant item in advance.

So: screenshots, half-hour, general interest, and French-in-progress.  Those were the constraints.  That suggests the level of the talk.  I doubt I said anything that would surprise anybody.

I defined some terms.  I deployed the Samuel Johnson quote about how only blockheads write for free.  If I were writing for the blog, I would just drop in the word “blockhead” and assume every possible reader knew the Johnson quote already.  I used Wuthering Expectations to show some bloggy features, especially the comments and commenters.

I emphasized two things, really, first, the community or interactive side of blogs, the mysterious process by which actual humans who know a lot wander by and help me, and second, the remarkable international diversity of bloggers and blog readers.  I showed some examples, maybe even your blog!  Who can say.  Whatever arguments I might have against social media, the global connections among people with shared passions have worked as advertised.

I ended the talk with a bit of French-flattering English-bashing, all true, I am afraid, arguing that book blogs have had a special role in countering Anglophone insularity and connecting the small number of English-reading people interested in non-English literature, in so-called “literature in translation,” and have had a real, expansive influence on publishers, translators, and readers.  And how we need those books.

Before the talk, I asked for advice on Twitter – many thanks to everyone who contributed.  Some hint of every suggestion was somewhere in the talk.  Ma femme gave a short, illustrated talk on beautiful libraries before my section, which surely helped put the audience on a good mood.  And there was, as always, wine, and snacks, and pastry.  I guess there were worse things than enduring my talk.  Still, what kindness.  Endless thanks to the Lyon AVF, international branch.

16 comments:

  1. It sounds like it went well, L'Amateur dans Lyon (Tom)! And what a plus to follow your wife's talk on beautiful libraries. (Hello to her, by the way!)

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  2. Yes! Much good will was generated in the first half of the talk.

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  3. Wow, that sounds great! And very brave of you. I would rather do almost anything than try to give a talk in French.

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  4. I had to swallow hard. It is for my own good, I told myself.

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  5. It certainly sucks that I wasn't able to be in France for this event. Bravo et félicitations!

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  6. Surely there is video footage - we can do some crowdsourced translating for the subtitles/subtleties...

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  7. Well done - pleased to hear it went well!

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  8. Ha ha ha video footage, no.

    Thanks for all of the kind words, though.

    When I return home I will surely write about the, mmm, struggle that is French.

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  9. Luckily I know better than to let Johnson's pronouncements define me or what I do. Otherwise I'd be like a dog walking on his hind legs.

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  10. Johnson defines me pretty well. This blog is a folly.

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  11. From one blockhead to another, I commend you on your conversational French derring-do. I don't even enjoy public speaking in English, so the extended presentations in my language classes were almost always the most dreaded parts of my semester (well, for both me and my "audience" probably). Bravo to you for not being timide putting your newfangled language chops to the test and thanks for sharing the info about your talk and the AVF (what a great way to welcome newcomers to a city!).

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  12. The AVF is something else. As is often the case, the French have the quality-of-life sorts of things figured out.

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  13. I enjoyed your comments about The International Book Blog Community

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  14. It's remarkable, isn't it? Utopian technology, in this respect, anyways.

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  15. I've been terrible about leaving comments lately, but I have so enjoyed your posts from France. The AVF sounds like a wonderful organization - and I second the comments commending you on your speech! I'm not so bothered by speaking in public, but attempting to speak in another language is another matter altogether, public or otherwise.

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  16. Thank you! Speaking in another language is for the birds, as they say in my language, but it was a necessary pain.

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