October 29, 2014
French culture minister admits “no time for books”
by Nick Davies
A government official in France has come under fire this week, following the admission that she hasn’t had time to read any books for the past two years. Tony Todd writes for international news site France 24 that Fleur Pellerin, the country’s Culture Minister (ed. note: We miss you, Aurélie Filippetti!) said during a television interview with Canal+ on Sunday that she simply hasn’t had time to do any reading since taking the job.
Pellerin had spoken highly French author Patrick Modiano when he was named the winner of the Nobel Prize earlier this month, saying that his win demonstrated the “influence and vitality of French literature in the eyes of the world.” But when pressed during the Canal+ interview, she admitted, “I haven’t had time to read anything in the last two years except for a lot of notes, legislative texts and news wires.”
Her comment has understandably been met with some amount of shock and disappointment. Tahar Ben Jelloun, a jury member for France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt and future Melville House author, described Pellerin’s reading habits (or lack thereof) as “shameful,” adding, “It is a culture minister’s political duty to delve into literature. It is not possible that she hasn’t read a single Modiano novel. It is lamentable, but then we live in an era when culture is not taken seriously at all.”
Others have been a bit more lenient, praising Pellerin for her honesty. French news website LePoint.fr says, “We should welcome her frankness in telling us that a minister’s schedule leaves little place for the calm needed to enjoy reading… In not mugging up on notes about the author, she spared us from a lie.”
The prevailing (and correct) sentiment, though, is that while honesty is all well and good, it’s distressing that a minister of culture has essentially eschewed a huge part of her country’s culture since taking that post. Commentator Claude Askolovitch remarked in an essay for the Huffington Post this week that Pellerin’s admission was “barbarian,” and that “if you can be a culture minister without reading books, what we are reduced to [culturally] are technicalities and budgets… Nothing will uplift us, the soul is an illusion and all the great works are reduced to less than the minutes of a cabinet meeting.”
Askolovitch has called for Pellerin to resign her post.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.