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Brooks Roddan on Renate Stendhal 

 

Renate Stendhal has written a completely original book--a memoir of a time in her life when sexuality was almost everything--Kiss Me Again, Paris. 

It's a book a reader can walk around and admire from all sides, cover, back-cover, and spine, and as its publisher I do walk around it over and over, each time happy with how well-made Renate's book is, how good it feels in my hands. You'd think a publisher of books would have this feeling more often, but honestly this feeling is not always the case, rare enough, I can tell you as a publisher, that when it is felt the feeling is sublime.

Because the book business requires books, even books of the imagination as Renate Stendhal's new book is, to have classifications, Renate chose to classify the book as, a memoir. And I guess it is a memoir, those words are right below the title, Kiss Me Again, Paris, on the front cover. And on the back cover is some descriptive copy that would tend to back up that claim:

"From Paris's famous opera house to its gossip-rich salons, Kiss Me Again, Paris celebrates youth at the end of the 1970s, when women were in fashion, and every woman, gay or straight, fell in love with women. Illustrated with more than one hundred vintage photographs by the author."

The photos are black & white, all from Ms. Stendhal's personal collection, and are by themselves worth the price of the book if you ask me; I'm thinking here most particularly of the panoramic of Paris from the vantage point of the Eiffel Tower taken by the author's father in 1935, and the other quieter photo montages and snapshot masterpieces. I can't think of another book where image & text commingle so seductively to recreate both time and place; Sebald comes to mind I suppose, but even that's too convenient a comparison, since I've honestly never seen a book like Kiss Me Again, Paris, either as a publisher or a writer. There's a Cultural Glossary in the back of the book, providing a chapter-by-chapter gloss on references Ms. Stendhal makes in her text, that's also worth the price of admission, far more practical, for instance, than Flaubert's Dictionary of Received Ideas that the great Frenchman appended to the end of what would be his final novel, Bouvard and Pecuchet.

I told a friend who asked the other day, what are you up to, that my small press had just published a book about Paris in the 1970s. She seemed to get the drift, but to amplify I added, it's a book that drinks a bit and still smokes cigarettes for the fun of it.

The writer Thomas Fuller has contributed a blurb--another book business requirement it seems is to have as many blurbs as possible on the back cover of a book--that reads, "Meret Oppenhein, friend and mentor to Ms. Stendhal, would certainly admire this book, and pass it on to others so others could make their own art from it. It's the Fur Teacup of memoir."

As to the spirit of Kiss Me Again, Paris, Fuller may be on to something, though I think his words tend to bring the book down to earth with a trifle too much gravity. Renate Stendhal's real achievement is singular: not only does she write very well about one of the most exciting times in recent history, lived in one of the world's great cities, she's written the most ambitious kind of book a writer can write--an honest memoir. And what's more, she's enough of an artist to have made her memoir read also as a real mystery.