Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Books Campaign 2010: The Measure of Paris

On Wednesday, November 10, 2010, at 1:00 PM Eastern Time 200 bloggers will take a stand to support books printed on environmental paper by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 such books.

Launched in 2009 by Eco-Libris, this campaign is aiming to promote “green” books by reviewing 200 books printed on recycled paper or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using environmental paper, we want to raise the awareness of book buyers to this issue and encourage them to take it into consideration when purchasing books.

This year the campaign is supported by Indigo Books & Music, the largest book retailer in Canada, as part of its efforts to draw attention to the need for more environmental paper in book publishing.

The Measure of Paris / Stephen Scobie
Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, c2010.
xiv, 340 p.

I participated in the first year of the Green Books Campaign last year, coincidentally reading another book by the University of Alberta Press. They are committed to green publishing, with this year's book being printed on Enviro Paper, containing 100% post-consumer recycled fibres and is acid and chlorine free. Plus it feels really nice ;)

This book is part of the "Wayfarer" series, a Literary Travel series. Although I found the cover a bit dreary at first, it is a photo by Brassai and once you've read the book it fits quite well.

Stephen Scobie lived in Paris with his wife on two occasions for a number of years, and knows it well. This book evokes shades of literary Paris in an interesting mix of both personal and academic studies of the literary experience of Paris, primarily through the eyes of Canadian authors.

Beginning with the trope of "Paris perdu" he threads the reactions to the re-design of Paris by Baron Haussmann as well as the arrival of the Eiffel Tower with references to Walter Benjamin, Robert McAlmon, John Glassco, Mavis Gallant and many others, including the amusing anecdote that Guy de Maupassant would often dine in the restaurant at the base of the Eiffel Tower because it was the one place where he could not see it. Scobie concludes that Paris, like most cities, is constantly changing and growing and that the initial trope of "Paris perdu" is an old one and yet is continually renewed by the nostalgia of personal experience.

He follows this chapter up with an analysis of autobiographies of Paris life, including Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas; John Glassco's Memoirs of Montparnasse; Robert McAlmon's Being Geniuses Together (edited by Kay Boyle); and Gail Scott's My Paris. Of particular interest in this section is the fascinating topic of author/narrator appropriation.

There is also an intriguing section on the "flâneur" in the works of the above, as well as in Sheila Watson's works. The listing of street names while walking and observing, the idea of maps and metonymy, feed the creativity of these authors. Scobie covers many of the classic "Paris" authors like Stein, Hemingway, Djuna Barnes, as well as many Canadians (it is a Canadian book, after all). This focus on autobiography was quite a fascinating element, especially when he ties it in to his own personal autobiography. He discovers that a building in which he and his wife had lived had also housed the painter Paul-Émile Borduas, who had lived, painted and died there. He also reveals the serendipitous discovery that former Canadian Governor General Adrienne Clarkson had lived in the building prior to him.

Added to this is a couple of academic pieces on two writers, Lola Lemire Tostevin and Gerry Shikatani, followed by two short chapters, one about his first visit to Paris in 1970 and the second being excerpts from his 2002 journal of a later visit.

It is an excellent study, with over 20 pages of detailed notes, and a good bibliography and index. Once again, like the University of Alberta Press book I read for last year's Green Books Campaign, they have included on the publishing information page the names of the copyeditor, proofreader and indexer (Judy Dunlop - great index!) Recognition of all the publishing professionals involved is a wonderful thing to see and I really wish other publishers would follow suit with this respectful practice.

I'm glad I had a chance to participate in the Green Books Campaign again this year -- it is a great reminder that we can be green even in the littlest things like choosing a book to read. Take some time to go to their Campaign site and check out some of the other 204 books under review.


  1. I was lucky enough to go to Paris this summer. While I was there, I (can't say it any other way) fell in love with Paris. I will try to see if I can find a copy of this book.

    Here's the Green book I reviewed. Hope you will stop by.

  2. Stopping by from one of the other tour stops...sounds like a book that covers a great deal of culture and history...I haven't been to Paris, but I've always wanted to go to the Louvre.

  3. readerbuzz - lucky you! I would love to visit Paris

    serena - it was very dense with culture and so on...I've always wanted to see the Orangerie, myself.


Thanks for stopping by ~ I always enjoy hearing your comments so please feel free to leave some!