Messieurs-Dames! Welcome to the perfectly new and merveilleux blog about the Powell's City of Books French aisle. The Red Room is home to a whole world of foreign-language books located on the deuxieme étage (second floor).
Allow me to introduce you to an entire bookstore within a bookstore in French located in aisles 817 and 818. We have hundreds and hundreds of beautiful French books from leather-bound tomes of the 1800s to slim 1970s paperbacks. You'll find a 1950s book by Simone de Beauvoir called Lettres à Sartre (Letters to Sartre) near an early '60s paperback called Balzac, Lui-Même (Balzac, Himself), as well as many of the best 2009 releases in fiction, history, grammar, and French audio. And let's not forget the latest band-dessinées, or graphic novels! Allons-y!
For this debut post, I would love to show you a cross-section of my personal faves, starting in literature. Feast your eyes on this DARLING five-volume set of Joseph Balsamo by Alexandre Dumas. Published in 1924 these sweet little volumes from Collection Nelson Editeur are tiny treasures each with its own beautifully illustrated cover. They have seen some wear and so are protected with mylar, but the pages are in decent shape and the set looks beautiful on the shelf.
Here is another old treasure, just put on the shelf yesterday. Derniers Essais de Literature et d'Esthetique by Oscar Wilde.
This is a leather-bound book published by Librairie Stock in 1913. The book is worn, but elegant with its softly sueded leather spine and curious purple block patterned boards. Very cool! Chouette! As a supplement to your Oscar Wilde collection we also have a nifty 1960s paperback edition of Madam Oscar Wilde.
Next up, let's turn to one of my favorite sections: childen's books.
Of course, here you'll find copies of classics like Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon) and Le Petit Prince, but did you know we also have Hortend Entend Un Zou! (Horton Hears a Who!), as well as Les Oeufs Verts Au Jambon (Green Eggs and Ham). We also have beautiful vintage children's French books such as this 1930s copy of Toutou Et Autres Bêtes. Très adorable, non?
Young-adult fiction is a growing market, even in the French aisle. You'll learn some pretty fun vocabulary in these books. I found that the word for "wand" in French is baguette magique!
Another of my favorite subsections is Miscellaneous Nonfiction which can mean almost anything under the sun. I'm always finding unexpected treasures in this section like Les Mains Parlent (The Hands Speak) — an early 1960s paperback on reading palms.
Today I found this beautiful book Le Livre de la Vierge (The Book of the Virgin) which was published in 1961 by Arts et Métiers Graphiques in Paris. It's a wonderful collection of 91 full-color prints of absolutely beautiful religious paintings accompanied by 77 poems from the 12th to 20th century. And dig that crazy cover. Love the red tear drop!
You might not have known that you needed a book about arms and armors, but you do now. Check out this cool book Armes et Armures by Vesey Norman. A 1964 hardback edition from Hachette, it has great black and white photos of suits of armor and very neat illustrated end papers.
I was intrigued by this pair of mineralogy books. First Belles Roches Beaux Cristaux (Beautiful Rocks, Beautiful Crystals) by M. Deribere, published in 1956, and then Le Monde Merveilleux Des Pierres Précieuses a l'État Natural (The Marvelous World of Precious Stones in their Natural State) by Pierre Bariand, published in 1979. Even though I'm no crystal expert, the large photos and interesting mid-century design, not to mention the information about rocks en Français, wins me over.
Now, we must jump to poetry because today I discovered two very mod hipster books from the Poètes d'Aujourd'hui series published by Pierre Seghers Editeur. These 1960s paperbacks have a cool, square design and great photos.
Number 82 is about the Senegalese poet Leopold Sedar Senghor who was the first African to sit on the Académie Française. He was also a professor, a senator, a mayor, and the co-creator of the fifth republic's constitution!
The next is about Aimé Césair, a Carribean writer who founded the literary review Tropiques and worked throughout his life against colonialism.
Moving along to art, I want to show off this fantastique 1954 copy of Folies Bergère by Paul Derval. This is a delightful paperback with its beautiful colorful cover. The large pages are of soft paper and are mounted with black and white photos of the legendary club and its star performers such as Josephine Baker and Maurice Chevalier. Holding this book is like holding history, with the essence of the era still seeped into the paper!
All of the beautiful, out-of-print used books at Powell's are like time capsules. From the paper that was used at the time, to the style of illustrations or photos, the typeface of the time, and the binding, all are completely unique and cannot be recreated. I find the used French books to be especially fascinating because a lot of them came from the faraway cultures of France, Africa, and Switzerland, and there are often traces of the previous owners — forgotten bookmarks made of Paris Metro tickets, restaurant receipts, even personal photos. It's a real privilege to appreciate them and share them with you!
Please come down to Powell's City of Books and visit aisles 817 and 818 of the Red Room. Nous espérons de faire votre connaisance!
Merci beaucoup! À bientôt!
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Diane Rios is an Oregon native with a love of the French and their culture. She plays music in Portland and is currently writing and illustrating a children's book called Dizzy's Dream. She has an 11-year-old daughter, a husband, two cranky old cats, and a sweet black lab. La vie en rose!
Books mentioned in this post