December 4, 2015

French Booksellers Association releases reading list meant to shed light on Paris attacks


slfFollowing the attacks in Paris on November 13, the French Booksellers Association (Syndicat de la Librairie Française, or SLF) has released a reading list designed to help people better understand the complex historical, political, and religious forces that have fueled recent extremist violence.

The Bookseller’s Barbara Casassus reports that the list was compiled by a group of book vendors, and is “aimed at booksellers, libraries, associations, the media and the general public.” According to Casassus, the attacks served to remind SLF that “booksellers are a central point for resources, meetings, exchange of views, freedom and expression of ideas and creation.”

It’s an idealistic stance that is further echoed in SLF’s introduction to the list, which cites a French translation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous line, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

The list of 40 adult titles and 13 children’s titles ranges broadly, covering such disciplines as the history and politics of the Middle East; terrorism, radicalization, and ISIS; Islam; and philosophy and psychoanalysis as they relate to religious extremism. Included are contemporary books, such as Syrian human rights activist Manna Haytham’s study of the Islamic State (Daech: L’état de barbarie, 2014) and Franco-Iranian sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar’s broad examination of Islamic radicalism (Radicalisation, 2014), as well as classic texts like Stefan Zweig’s Conscience contre violence, first published in 1936.

For children, SLF recommends Michaël Foessel’s book on why people fight over religion, Pourquoi les homes se disputent-ils à propos de Dieu?, as well as Melville House author Tahar Ben Jelloun’s introduction to Islam for young readers, L’Islam expliqué aux enfants (et à leurs parents).

While it is not immediately apparent what guidelines were followed in selecting the titles, it’s a bold step for a trade organization to promote contemplation and study in a time of tragedy. SLF’s proposal echoes those of such writers as Pankaj Mishra, who, in a recent n+1 article, evoked Susan Sontag’s controversial pronouncement after the September 11 attacks: “Let’s by all means grieve together, but let’s not be stupid together.”


Kait Howard is a publicist at Melville House.