Interview with Jamie Cox Robertson, Part 2 of 3

I hope you enjoyed the first segment of our interview with Jamie Cox Robertson, author of A Literary Paris (Adams Media, 2010), on yesterday’s post. Here, you’ll find a continuation of that conversation and learn about Jamie’s selection process when compiling the book and her choice to include southern writers in the collection.

There are so many authors and excerpts highlighted in this book. Why did you focus on these particular works?

It was hard to narrow down the selections. I had a lot of great books to choose from. I can easily list other authors I would have liked to have included, but I had a certain number of words to use and a deadline, so I mostly chose ones that I felt had resonated with me the most after reading again and again. I also wanted a variety of experiences in different areas of Paris as well as some set in the same areas at different times in history.

Do you have a favorite author among these? A favorite excerpt maybe?

Gosh, that’s hard. I suppose Hemingway’s Moveable Feast. I love the location he opens the book in and the fact that it is raining and that the rain is such a large part of the story in that first chapter.  I included all of Anna Gavalda’s short story Courting Rituals of the Saint Germain des Pres with the hopes that people will want to read her novels and other short stories from I Wish Someone Were Waiting for me Somewhere.  Of course David Sedaris has me in stitches, so does E.B. White. So I guess the answer is no, I can’t really choose.

Speaking of David Sedaris, as you know he’s from North Carolina and as editor of Southern Literary Review, I was most interested in your use of Mark Twain, once considered the father of southern literature until Faulkner came along, and Sedaris. What jumped out at me beyond the fact that they were both from the south was that they are both humorists.  What do you make of this?

Clearly both can tell a story and, like Sedaris, Twain could tell it as well as he could write it. They are similar to me and I would love to see someone, someone more scholarly than me perhaps, dive into this idea more. But at the end of the day, I chose them because I was familiar with their work, they took me to Paris in their own unique way and best of all, they made me laugh. It’s probably the toughest thing to do in writing—making people laugh. They both have a settling effect on their readers. Their words make readers feel comfortable with the idea of being in a strange place and I appreciate their ability to keep us from taking ourselves all too seriously.  We can miss out on a lot of fun when we travel if we aren’t willing to laugh at ourselves.

Why do you think Innocence Abroad was such a success among the laypeople in America?

Twain kept his readers interested by writing about what wasn’t in Paris. He mentioned things that farmers, grocers, and other rural Americans understood as a way of showing how different Paris was. At the same time he wrote about his encounters with people, reminding his readers back home that people are people everywhere you go. He poked fun at himself, and his words practically wink at us. We are his traveling buddies. Even still, Innocence Abroad is really funny and relatable for travelers.

Sedaris pokes fun at his life in Paris so much,  and I love the short story within Me Talk Pretty One Day that you use. I wonder though why you decided on that particular story since, well, he’s always in a movie theatre.

I couldn’t resist. It’s such a different take on life in Paris.  It’s such a fun piece and through it you learn a few differences about the typical American theater and the French. I would often go to the movies in Harvard Square with a friend of mine born and raised in Paris and I learned from her that frankly I should have been French when it came to movies.  I relate to Sedaris’ feelings about all the talking, eating, multi-tasking. It has me in stitches every time I read it.  It’s just a fresh look at two cultures.

Read the rest of our conversation in tomorrow’s post.

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