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My experience at the Comédie du Livre

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From May 5 to 14, 2023, the 38th Comédie du Livre (recently renamed Comédie du Livre – 10 jours en mai) took place in Montpellier, in the south of France. I was lucky enough to take part in the Salon des Libraires (booksellers’ fair) from May 11 to 14 as a book ambassador. Here’s a glimpse of my experience.

The Comédie du Livre – 10 jours en mai (ten days in May) is a literary event held over two weekends. This year, the first weekend focused on children’s literature, as well as literature for teenagers, and took place at the Domaine d’O in the north of the city. The typical Salon des Libraires took place for the first time in its history on the Promenade du Peyrou, also known as the “Peyrou Gardens,” in the town center. It brought together large and small bookshops, regional publishing houses, radio stands, multimedia libraries and, above all, national and international authors. Several meetings also took place in various locations around the city, such as museums and private mansions, and sometimes even in surrounding towns and villages. This event, held for the 38th time, is also part of the Montpellier Metropole’s bid to be named European Capital of Culture in 2028.

As for me, I took part in the second weekend’s activities. Our role as ambassadors was mainly to accompany a number of authors, from their arrival at the train station or airport, through their hotel stay, meetings and signings, to their departure. We were also having shifts at the SNCF train station to welcome authors and provide information to passers-by, at the “conviviality” area on the Promenade du Peyrou, where professionals could take a break while enjoying a drink and a cake, and at the public reception desk to guide the public.

My experience as a book ambassador

Thursday May 11

Even though the event has already started the previous weekend, I wake up and get ready to pick up my first author. The appointment is set for 11.03am, the train’s arrival time, under the station clock. With my blue ambassador t-shirt, green jacket and orange bag, there is no way Anthony Passeron, first-time novelist, can miss me. I meet the first of the four authors I’ll be accompanying over the weekend. I don’t know his name or the theme of his novel; all I know is that half an hour after meeting him, I have to take him to the place where his first meeting takes place. This meeting, organized in partnership with the University of Montpellier, will enable me not only to discover an author and his work, but also a man who opens the doors to his family history. His novel, Les Enfants Endormis, talks on the one hand about the scientific research carried out to detect and combat AIDS, and on the other about the impact AIDS had on his family of shopkeepers in the hinterlands of Nice. I don’t hesitate for a second before buying his book and telling him how much this meeting made me want to read it even more. As a bonus, I even get a dedication and encouragements for my projects. He thanks me profusely for my help and, not wanting to monopolize me, tells me that I don’t need to worry about the rest of the weekend, as he will manage on his own. What he doesn’t know is that despite my nervousness about the days ahead, his kindness confirms that I’m right where I need to be and that my internship is off to the best possible start.

Now that my schedule of the day is finished, I volunteer to help out with some small logistical tasks. I add stickers to the authors’ bags, I go back and forth between the office and the Peyrou gardens to distribute necklaces and badges in the different tents that will welcome the booksellers and authors.

Friday May 12

This day, I have to pick up not one, but two authors at the train station. Thanks to a chauffeur, I pick up Swiss author Blaise Hofmann in the morning and accompany him to his hotel. Once again, I meet a beautiful person, smiling and funny (despite the rain that has come to spoil the festivities). He, too, thanks me and assures me that he will be fine on his own.

I quickly eat a sandwich I bought in the morning, as I don’t have time to go to our dedicated restaurant, and take up my shift at the site’s conviviality area, where I’ll be serving coffee and juice to the present professionals.

Once my shift is over, I head back to the train station and have the pleasure of meeting Isabelle Sorente and her publisher’s bookshop and events manager. As I drop them off at the hotel, they suggest I meet them that evening in the lobby, so that together we can attend the “Habiter le Monde” (Living in the World) prize-giving ceremony (which she unfortunately didn’t win) to be held at the Musée Fabre. We go there together and I even meet another young author and first-time novelist, Téo Lacaze, who is published by the same publishing house. We chat a little together, but it’s mainly later in the evening, at a small aperitif organized to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the L’Opuscule bookshop, and at the cocktail party hosted by the mayor, that I have the chance to talk to them about my projects and that they give me some advice.

This night, I go to bed happy and grateful for these multiple encounters.

Saturday May 13

Today is a busy day. After working in the SNCF train station and going back and forth to buy and sign my authors’ books, I pick up my last author of the weekend, Spanish author Javier Cercas. Another brilliant encounter, despite my lack of knowledge of Spanish literature.
In the afternoon, I accompany Isabelle Sorente to a meeting also attended by Blaise Hofmann. They both talk about their latest books,
L’Instruction for Isabelle Sorente, and Faire paysan for Blaise Hofmann. The meeting focuses on the theme of nature and animals, which brings them together even if their styles and the stories they tell are very different.

I then take Isabelle Sorente back to the station, happy to have met her but sad to have to leave her so soon. That being said, I don’t have time to linger and have to go and take up my shift at the conviviality area, where I’m supposed to meet up with other ambassadors who have become friends.

In the late afternoon, I attend the first meeting of the weekend with Javier Cercas, who has come to talk about the final volume of his trilogy begun with “Terra Alta.” His near-perfect French, the themes he tackles and his humour convince me to read his trilogy.

My newly-met friends and I take a well-deserved break and go for a drink on a bar’s terrace before, for some of us, heading off to one of the main evenings of the event, a karaoke night. There, four authors, including Blaise Hofmann, have prepared short texts which they read on stage to a background of piano and French variety songs. With several members of the Comédie du Livre organization and ambassadors present and brave enough to take to the stage, we lightheartedly sing Jean Jacques Goldman’s song Quand la musique est bonne.

After such a long but incredible day, it’s time to head home to be in shape for the last day of the weekend.

Sunday May 14

This day is much less busy, but just as enjoyable. I attend my second meeting with Javier Cercas, this time over breakfast and, above all, in his native language. A good way to improve my Spanish. In the afternoon, I finish off with a tour of the stands and a final shift before celebrating the end of this superb weekend with friends.

Despite the accumulated fatigue and the nostalgia of knowing that this event is coming to an end, I come out of this experience with lots of beautiful memories and encounters, and above all with a nice little collection of autographed books, with messages as personal as they are kind.

 

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