Remembering France Gall (1947-2018)

Related imageAlthough this blog is about literature, music is also an important part of my life. I listen to quite a lot of older musicians, and I sing in a church choir. For six years, I played hand bells in four different positions. Music brings me a lot of joy.

So it was with great sadness that I learned today of the death of one of my favorite French singers: France Gall.

I listened to France Gall’s albums throughout high school and undergrad. The lyrics of her songs introduced me to so much French vocabulary. I particularly loved the jazzy pop sound of her later music.

Her introduction to the music scene was as a teenage pop icon in the 1960s. She won a Eurovision competition for the song “Poupée de Cire, poupée de son”. Although the acclaimed singer Serge Gainsbourg wrote much of her earlier music, he also exploited her youth and naivete for his personal gain.

Later, she left Gainsbourg for Michel Berger. Berger was already an established singer and song-writer, having written music for Françoise Hardy and Véronique Sanson. But he soon became not only France’s song-writer but her husband as well. The song “Declaration d’amour” (1976) was composed by Michel Berger in her honor.

France Gall may have begun as a “Lolita” pop icon, but she soon became a mature, critically-acclaimed singer. My favorite performance available online was one of her last. In 1997, France Gall gave an acoustic performance of her greatest hits. “Elle a, Elle l’a”, about American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, is my favorite song on the Concert Privé album. She is accompanied by some famous jazz musicians.

I can’t stop listening to France Gall’s albums on Spotify. Her music had such an influence on my French education. Although she stopped performing in 2000, I always hoped that she would return for a few small concerts. Michel Berger passed away five months after I was born in 1992, and their daughter Pauline died in 1997. Although I will miss France Gall, she is now with the people she loved.

I still remember the lyrics of most of her songs. My dad was forced to listen to her albums on repeat during long car trips. She was a true class act!

If you are a fan of France Gall’s music, what’s your favorite song? 


2018 Reading and Blogging Resolutions

Photography of Flower Beside Coffee on Top of BookAt the end of 2016, I set myself 5 blogging-related goals:

1) Write short reflection posts
2) Read 5 books that have been published since 2000.
3) Read more books relevant to current events.
4) Read Les Misérables in French.
5) Get more involved in the book-blogging community

I definitely met my first goal in November when I blogged every day. I wrote many reflection posts that sparked some interesting discussions.

I also met my second goal of reading 5 books published since 2000. My favorite nonfiction published in the past 17 years was Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life (2007) by Robert B. Reich. For fiction, I enjoyed My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (one of my favorite books of 2017).

For my third goal, I read a book on the Civil Rights movement that felt particularly relevant today: Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr. I also read a piece of war journalism: The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches From Syria by Janine Di Giovanni (very disturbing but incredibly important).

I did not meet my fourth goal of reading Les Misérables. I’m OK with that. I didn’t really have the time to tackle a thousand-page book.

It’s really the fifth goal that I feel I neglected in the past year. I didn’t really participate in the book blogging community. I am much more involved in the booktube community. I regret not participating in the Classics Club Spins or any of the group reads. The book blogging world introduced me to Moby-Dick, one of my all-time favorite books.

2018 Goals

1) Successfully complete at least one Classics Spin book.

In 2018, I would like to participate more in the Classics Club community. To be honest, I don’t really care much for my Classics book list. Reading from lists reminds me of school. Still, I have many unread classics on my shelves that I would like to get to sooner than later. So in 2018, the classics I include in the lists I create for the Classics Spins will all come from my already-owned TBR pile. But I will participate in at least one Classics Spin in 2018 because it is a good way to get back into the community.

2) Participate in the “Reading the Bible as Literature” event hosted by Adam @ Roof Beam Reader

Since reading The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter (my third favorite book of 2017) I’ve wanted to read the Bible as literature. I am accustomed to reading the Bible from a spiritual perspective, but I tend to overlook the narrative structures of the different stories. I look forward to discovering an aspect of the Bible that I have never noticed before. But the Catholic Bible is considerably longer than Protestant Bibles. It would be hard to read the entire thing in one year. Therefore, I will stick to Adam’s schedule and avoid the Deuterocanon.

3) Read 5 Challenge (a.k.a. Reduce My TBR)

In general, I want to reduce my TBR in 2018. To achieve that goal, I have created the “Read 5 Challenge”. I must read 5 books I own (print or electronic) before I am allowed to buy one new book. There are a few exceptions. I am allowed to continue buying a Harry Potter book a month, since I have already begun rereading the series as an adult (I’ve never owned the books and I don’t want to buy the entire box set). I am also allowed to buy books assigned for school, but assigned books cannot be considered as one of the 5 books. I have to read 5 books that I purchased for pleasure-reading. The books have to come from my non-school TBR. There is no limit to the number of books I’m allowed to borrow from the library. But any book that I own (even a free book) counts as a purchased book. Gifted free books are acceptable if I receive them unsolicited. Finally, I will continue to request books off of NetGalley. While NetGalley books don’t count for this challenge, they do count for the next goal I am setting for myself in 2018.

4) Reach 85% status on NetGalley by December 31, 2018.  

I need to review more of the books I request from NetGalley. 85% seems like a reasonable goal. I would like to review half of those books on my blog and half of them on my BookTube channel. I might repeat reviews in both places if the book is exceptionally good, but I usually avoid repeating content.

5) Post at least twice a week.

I am not going to set a word count, but a solo picture doesn’t count. Blogging is writing, and I want to write more in 2018.

What are your plans for 2018?


Review of Coco (film)

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Yesterday, I watched Coco at a local movie theater. Because I hardly ever watch television, I didn’t even know there was a new Pixar movie until my brothers told me.

Coco follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel into the Land of the Dead. The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that, as the name suggests, celebrates the dead. On that day, living family members put up photos of the deceased. Multiple generations of Miguel’s family are represented on the family altar, but his great great grandfather is deliberately missing. This great great grandfather left Miguel’s great great grandmother to pursue his musical career. He eventually became a national sensation. Everyone loved the great great grandfather. Everyone, that is, except the great great grandmother who banished music from her family’s life as a result of her husband’s betrayal. She raised her daughter as a single parent and started a successful shoe business that Miguel’s parents continue to operate. Although Miguel loves music, his entire family has continued the tradition of banning music from the household. In his quest to become a musician, Miguel finds himself in the Land of the Dead. He seeks a blessing from his musical great great grandfather, so that he can return to the Land of the Living and fulfill his dreams.

Although the film follows Miguel, Coco is the name of the great great granddaughter. This relative is suffering from Alzheimer’s. She no longer recognizes her daughter. But she continues to ask about her father. She awaits his return.

The title of the film is very apt because the story is really about the women in Miguel’s family. They are the creators and the enforcers of the anti-music tradition. A woman started the family shoe business that saved her and her daughter from poverty.

But while the women are powerful characters, more time could have been given to their stories. I was impressed by the great great grandmother’s resilience and accomplishments. I sympathized with her anger. Single mothers don’t get much representation in Disney or Pixar films. I would have liked more backstory for the women.

The end is satisfactory, if a bit rushed. At 1 hour and 49 minutes, Coco is a fairly short film. But despite its length, Miguel’s friends and enemies are three dimensional characters. This is not a black-and-white universe. The viewer understands the villain’s motives, and appearances are deceptive. The bad guy doesn’t “look” evil. In children’s films, the villain often has a disfigurement, but Coco avoids any such ableism. For more on villains and disfigurement, watch this video. The film is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Despite my criticism concerning the amount of time spent on the women’s stories, the film does emphasize their influence on Miguel’s identity. I did not have an issue with the representation of Mexican culture in Coco. The animation is also quite impressive. I would love to rewatch the film at some point. Multiple plot twists add to the film’s thematic complexity. Families are messy and so is Miguel’s. I know that this film is being compared to Moana (2016), but I think Coco is far superior.

If you’ve seen Coco, what did you think of the film?


University Press Week (Nov. 6-11)

This week is University Press Week. I am a huge champion of university presses and the books they publish. In a society increasingly hostile to education, one way you can fight back is to support university presses dedicated to the acquisition and sharing of knowledge!

UP Week includes a blog tour: http://www.aaupnet.org/events-a-conferences/university-press-week/university-press-week-2017/2017-blog-tour#Wednesday

You can keep up with news related to UP Week on #upweek. For tips related to academic publishing, I recommend @PrincetonUPress and their #AskanEditor series.


What’s New

I started my blog 4 years ago. At the time, I almost exclusively read Victorian literature. Exploring Classics was an appropriate name for my blog because I hardly ever tried a modern book. A lot has changed since 2013. I’m no longer a teenager. My blog name, url, and design need to reflect my current reading tastes. Because I read more modern fiction than I did when I started blogging, I have chosen a new name for my blog. Of course, I will continue to review mostly English and French classics (it is my comfort zone after all), but I will also review other great works. My old Modern Corner section was growing at an exponential rate. Exploring Literature is a more appropriate name for my blog. The new url is https://litexplore.wordpress.com/. If you are already following my blog, you don’t need to do anything. You should continue to receive new posts.

Finally, I am on YouTube as well. I post different content on my booktube channel (The Medieval Reader) than I do on this blog. There are things I can talk about more easily on YouTube than on WordPress, and vice versa. I’ve discovered in recent weeks that I enjoy writing discussion and reflection posts. So in addition to reviewing fiction, I will continue to make these more personal posts. Surprisingly, being on YouTube has encouraged me to make more (not less) blog posts. I appreciate the blogosphere even more than ever. You are some of the most thoughtful people on the web. I enjoy the conversations we have here. 🙂

Thank you to everyone who follows and comments!


Personal Canon

Note: These are the books that have had a lasting impact on me. The ones numbered 1, 2, and 3 are my three favorite books in descending order. After the third book, the rest of the books are in no particular order. This list is pretty specific. I consider everything I read that’s any good (4 or 5 stars) as important for my personal and/or intellectual development, and therefore a part of my personal canon. These are the best of the best.

1) Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
2) Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
3) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman (both) by Harper Lee
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate) by Alain Fournier
Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Journal d’un Curé de Campagne (The Diary of a Country Priest) by Georges Bernanos
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
Don Quixote by Cervantes
Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw
My Antonià by Willa Cather
Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière
Le Petit Nicolas a Des Ennuis (Little Nicolas Gets in Trouble) by René Goscinny (the first French stories I ever read)
La Tristesse du Cerf-Volant by Françoise Mallet-Joris (the first French novel I ever read by myself. I read it on my own time. There’s no better way to learn a language. It’s also a great piece of literary fiction)

Spiritual (You knew that would be a category)
Ecclesiastes and the Gospel of John in the Bible
Confessions by Saint Augustine
Revelation of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich
The Life of Antony by Athanasius of Alexandria
Works of Love by Kierkegaard

Studies (Also mostly related to religion)
The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter
Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown (excellent biography)
Sacred Violence by Jill N. Claster (best study on the crusades)