Sunday, May 4, 2008

Book covers (or how not to sell me a book)

Compare the two covers for Graham Robb's recent book The Discovery of France

Hardcover above, paperback below.

The hardback made me think of merchant bankers who have just bought a farmhouse in Provence, who need a weighty historical coffee-table title to casually place in the lounge of their latest addition to the real estate portfolio. The paperback looks like it is designed to appeal to the same people who like jokey travel literature of the type invented by Bill Bryson, but more recently exemplified by authors like Pete McCarthy and Tim Moore.

Surprisingly, I don't fall into either of those categories. But having read a bit more about Graham's book (and watching him talk and read from it at Guardian Books) it sounds great. His discussion on the ebb and flow of the influence of Paris on the rest of the country and the process by which regional influences have reasserted themselves on the national psyche, sounds particularly interesting.

Also he mentions the Landes de Gasciogne shepherds (one can be seen on the cover of the paperback, bottom left) who, in my opinion, have always been unfairly neglected in English-language histories and studies of France. Because of the marshy shrublands where they grazed their sheep they used stilts to keep track of their flocks and watch out for strays. They also had an ingenious third-leg which allowed them to rest without having to remove their stilts – as shown by Claude Viseux's statue on the outskirts of Mont de Marsan.

I remember a particularly surreal French Orienteering Championships where, if I recall correctly, the prizes were presented by shepherds on stilts ...

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