In the pantheon of New Year’s resolutions, “read more” certainly ranks highly. Fortunately, as the inspired founders of The FBC Paris, a new bilingual feminist book club, are proving, reading need not be a solitary activity.
Currently rounding off a successful first year, The FBC (Feminist Book Club) was founded in 2018 by journalist Camille Lingre and advertising specialist Louise Binns as “a true passion project.” Louise, a Brit who has called Paris home for nine years and Camille, a lifelong Parisienne, met while working at a Paris communications agency, and while they bonded over reading, they pledged to collaborate. Jump to summer 2018 and after what Binns dubs as several “informal meetings in the Marais,” their project has gained shape as a progressive book club boasting regular members, a honed manifesto, a newsletter, and (excitingly) an invitation to gather at literary landmark Shakespeare and Company.
Yet, while they’re happy to chat enthusiastically about their historic Shakespeare and Company digs and its “sense of community,” what becomes clear is that their new Left Bank meeting spot offers far more than bragging rights. Sure, the bookstore is centrally located and English-language friendly, but it’s Shakespeare and Company’s long feminist legacy that truly galvanizes them. “I love that (owner) Sylvia today has brought it into the 21st century, continuing the true spirit of the bookshop,” Binns explains.
As FBC harnesses Instagram to promote their intersectional credo, it could easily be argued that they are the ones upholding the progressive tradition established by such expat literary luminaries as Sylvia Beach and Gertrude Stein over a century ago. The FBC’s ethos says it all: “We read to exist and we read to resist. We want to shed a light on feminism which is representative and inclusive by reading, listening and discovering.” In a nutshell: “We really want to diversify the conversation,” says Louise. “It’s about being inclusive and getting as many people we can get at the table.”
“Our first book at Shakespeare and Company was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, which talks about growing up in Nigeria. It’s a lovely alternative to those English-language books we’re used to here. Like ‘How to raise your kids the French way’… We’re not just reading from the white feminist perspective,” adds Louise. As such, the club offers Paris-based Francophiles and bilingual readers a space to explore stories that differ from that tired-yet-popular slew of book club picks that narrowly focus on the nostalgia-soaked experiences of white, English-speaking women navigating Paris one macaron at a time.
Linguistically, the group offers something special too: the chance for participants to express themselves on weighty topics in a judgment-free zone. Because while the group primarily chats in English, most members are accustomed to straddling two languages. For Camille, who had previously found the atmosphere at many French-language feminist book clubs conversation-curbing, the value these bilingual conversations bring to the table is priceless. “Words are key, the words you use define your vision,” she states. Indeed, to pass muster, the books they discuss must be available in both French and English. “We have certain criteria: not too long, translated and relevant,” says Louise. “And, we try to mix novels and essays,” Camille adds, “with books which tackle voices that have been silenced in some way… It’s about pushing people out of their comfort zone while creating a safe space to discuss topics and have constructive conversations.”
Given then that the pair’s watchword is inclusivity, it will come as no surprise that 2019 will see the launch of an FBC Podcast. The twice-monthly format will cover book club reads alongside deeper-dives into issues via interviews with activists, journalists, writers and academics. So, no matter whether you’re in Paris or New York, call yourself a book worm or un rat de bibliothèque, you can expect plenty of reading inspiration ahead.
Where to Shop
Camille: “Violette, a feminist bookstore. They have every book you might need. Mostly in French, but not only. Otherwise, I like Les Mots à la Bouche. It’s very LBGTQ oriented, so you can find a lot of great stuff on gay rights, feminism, and for children.”
Louise: “I’m going to go with the obvious Shakespeare and Company because I love the fact that it was a woman, Sylvia Beach, who started it. I feel very proud and lucky that we get to meet there. The second is Galignani, on rue de Rivoli. Apparently, it was the first bookshop on the continent. I really love it because they always have the types of books I want in stock, they know their stuff. Plus, if you get a book there, the Jardin des Tuileries is just opposite.”
Where to Read
Louise: “Let’s be honest, we mostly read in our apartments. But, I really love this café on rue de Charonne called Pause Café (41 rue de Charonne). We meet a lot in the Marais, in Café de la Poste. There are lots of cozy coffee shops around there, like Fragments café which is great. We also just found a new bookstore with a café space. It’s called Ici and it’s near Grands Boulevards.”
Camille: “At the Swedish Institute in Paris, there’s a lovely calm garden where you can lay on the grass and there are tables. My other favorite place is a small café and fantastic restaurant called Le Temps des Cerises. It’s just filled with people in the neighborhood who go there for their coffee. I love the ambiance.”
Who to Read
Camille: “Violette Leduc, she wrote Therese and Isabelle, which in France is the book many girls read as their introduction to feminism. I love Mona Chollet. Beauté Fatale is a life-changing book. It’s not available in translation yet unfortunately. Also, Françoise Héritier, the French anthropologist. La Plus Belle Histoire des Femmes inspired me to explore more feminist writing.”
Louise: “For me, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth is one of my favorite books, it’s one that I’ve gone back to and got more out of. I could read Virginia Woolf all day every day. I also have recently discovered Nell Dunn who was writing in the 1960s. I really love her book Talking to Women. Otherwise, Chimamanda Nzgozi Adichie is one of the contemporary authors I really love.”
FBC Paris meets on the third Sunday of the month at Shakespeare and Company. To get involved, receive their newsletter, reading list and podcast information, sign up via the link on their Instagram bio.