Last night, I went to the Café Royal in London with my cousin to listen to a talk by the author and blogger Emma Beddington.
Emma lives in Brussels at the moment, and she writes a really popular (and hilarious!) blog about life in Belgium. You can read it here at Belgian Waffling.
She was there yesterday to speak about her new book We’ll Always Have Paris, which is a memoir of the year she spent in Paris with her family.
My Mum had read a review of the book and, well aware of my mild obsession with anything French, recommended it to me.
I’ll be reviewing Emma’s book soon on here. Before then, if you’d like to have a taster of what it’s about, you can read more here on Emma’s website and read the first five chapters for free here on The Pool website.
The talk with Emma last night was part of the Books that Built Me events organised and hosted by Helen Brocklebank.
To sweeten the deal even further as we settled down for a discussion about literature and France, every guest was given a glass of champagne and a goodie bag with a copy of Emma’s book, a bar of Prestat chocolate and a Tatler subscription.
On her website, Helen describes these talks as a ‘literary Desert Island Discs‘, where she interviews authors about their favourite books.
It’s a fantastic idea, and I’m ashamed to say that I only came across it really recently.
Over the next few months, Helen’s got a great line-up of writers like Rachel Johnson (sister of Boris and author of Notting Hell) and Jojo Moyes, whose book Me Before You has been made into a film. You can watch the trailer here.
Yesterday, Emma’s talk brought in lots of different topics from identity and nationality to language and literature.
She also spoke to Helen about her memoir and the authors who inspired her. Given her love of France, there was a good mix of French and English writers – some very well-known, some less so.
After hearing her recommendations, I’ve now got a long summer reading list to work my way through. She mentioned the Jeeves and Wooster stories by PG Wodehouse, and the American comedian David Sedaris, who wrote the collection of essays Me Talk Pretty One Day.
Simone de Beauvoir’s writing, which I studied briefly in my final year of uni, was also touched upon. I’d read an extract from Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex), which looks at the history and condition of women from ancient times to the mid-twentieth century.
Emma mentioned Mémoires d’une fille bien rangée (translated as Memoirs of a dutiful daughter), which I’ve wanted to read for a while.
Émile Zola was also a hot topic last night. He’s one of Emma’s favourite writers and also one of mine.
Most of his books feature passion, sex, death and rivalry in some form or another, which makes for some very exciting and modern storylines – especially considering that he’s a nineteenth century author.
Emma spoke about La Bête Humaine, which I’ve bought but have yet to read. The book is part of Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series, which tells the story of members of the Rougon-Macquart family over several years.
It focuses on Jacques Lantier, a train driver working between Paris and Normandy. He develops an almost sexual connection with the train that he drives – which, unsurprisingly, has a feminine nickname – and uses this obsession to control his murderous desires.
I first read Thérèse Raquin, also by Zola, before going to uni. The main character is unhappily married to her cousin, who’s a bit of a drip, and plots with her lover to kill him. As you can see, passion, sex and murder crop up again!
While my friends were grappling with physics questions and poring over medical textbooks, I was tucked up in bed with a hot chocolate next to me, eager to find out what Zola had in store for his characters in the mines of northern France.
In case you were wondering, murder, sex and love all make an appearance again here. (Please don’t sue me for plot spoilers. I’m a penniless graduate).
Some of Emma’s other choices were Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis, a series of comic stories about a cockroach and cat who befriend each other, and Patrick McGuinness’s Other People’s Countries: A Journey into Memory.
I’ve never read anything by Patrick McGuinness, but after hearing an extract of the novel yesterday, I’ve resolved to change this. Half-Belgian on his mother’s side, his witty and lyrical writing reveals the more hidden side of a country that is (arguably) most famous for giving the world chips, chocolate and Jacques Brel.
I had a really lovely evening last night, and would definitely recommend that you go along to one of the Books that Built Me events coming up. If you couldn’t get a ticket for last night’s talk, there are podcasts of previous talks that you can listen to here.
Did you go to the talk last night, or have you been to any other Books that Built Me events? If you went last night or have been to them before, it would be great to hear from you 🙂
Have you read any of the books mentioned in this post? Let me know what you thought of them or if you’re planning to read them!