For decades, French writer, editor, and publisher Roger Grenier has been enticing readers with compact, erudite books that draw elegant connections between the art of living and the work of art. Under Grenier’s wry gaze, clichés crumble, and offbeat anecdotes build to powerful insights.
With Palace of Books, he invites us to explore the domain of literature, its sweeping vistas and hidden recesses. Engaging such fundamental questions as why people feel the need to write, or what is involved in putting one’s self on the page, or how a writer knows she’s written her last sentence, Grenier marshals apposite passages from his favorite writers: Chekhov, Baudelaire, Proust, James, Kafka, Mansfield and many others. Those writers mingle companionably with tales from Grenier’s half-century as an editor and friend to countless legendary figures, including Albert Camus, Romain Gary, Milan Kundera, and Brassai,.
Grenier offers here a series of observations and quotations that feel as spontaneous as good conversation, yet carry the lasting insights of a lifetime of reading and thinking. Palace of Books is rich with pleasures and surprises, the perfect accompaniment to old literary favorites, and the perfect introduction to new ones.
To anyone as well- and widely-read as Grenier (The Difficulty of Being a Dog), the mind itself is a "palace of books," and Grenier opens the door to his in this wide-ranging, impressively erudite, deceptively slender volume. In the tradition of Montaigne's Essays, Grenier thumbs with confident ease through centuries of monumental art and literature as he meditates on crime stories; last words; waiting as the human condition; suicide as a philosophical act; love "with its secret altars hidden deep within the heart"; and the inscrutable private lives of authors. Flaubert, Faulkner, Conrad, Beckett, and Camus might share the same page or Sartre, Foucault, Barthes, and Descartes nestle in the same line as Grenier probes the questions that captivate him: the function of literature; the character of the short story; and the compulsion to write. While the answers have been offered before authors want to "show a psychological truth," fiction "allows us to seek and to find the truth about people and about the world" but the enjoyment is in the virtuoso movement of Grenier's thought. Kaplan's translation captures the wry humor and elegant poise of prose that, like a fine wine or expensive cigar, should be allowed to linger on the tongue.