After 2014’s Universal Bureau of Copyrights, publisher BookThug and translator Oana Avasilichioaei return with another novel from Bertrand Laverdure. Readopolis came out in French (as Lectodôme) in 2008, and is very much of its time: characters don’t text but they email, and it’s kind of a big deal; they are blasé about life in late capitalism (and hilarious on such topics as working at convenience stores), yet passionate enough about literature and ideas to approach a sense of absurd meaning. Best of all, the quartet of characters have space enough not not only to toss around abstract ideas but but also to take on truly human shape. A more substantial and more realist work than Universal Bureau, Readopolis concocts a humour tinged with pathos that at times makes us laugh ruefully and feelingly.

Our protagonist, a publisher’s reader, lives an unremarkable life remarkably described in this patchwork of monologues and historical plaques and novels within novels and stream of consciousness and emails and dialogue stitched together and buttoned and zippered into an otherworldly garment that somehow feels not cumbersome but airy. Enjoy. ≈




from Readopolis

by Bertrand Laverdure
≈ translated by Oana Avasilichioaei



I’m resting. Dozing off. Doing nothing, just resting. All I want is to lie in bed, arms out like a cross, left cheek on the pillow, legs and chest flat on the mattress. I haven’t read anything today and won’t read anything before one in the afternoon. I am a reader—what publishing houses call “a member of the editorial board.”

Yet there is no editorial board, no summit meeting, no secret gathering to formulate impartial, obvious decisions, ones that are democratic and positive. I am a reader because I have my own view of literature; what it should be; what buttons to sew on a novel’s sleeves; what zippers to place throughout a narrative; the ideal length of writers’ detestable pipe dreams.

My plight is to rule over the ghosts haunting the world of letters. Deep down, I will always be Hercules standing before the Augean Stables. I devote myself to a soldier’s anonymous life. I am sent to the front of others’ words, the unbearable, lachrymose bundles of Monsieur Patenaude and Madame Lefebre, Monsieur Hogarteen and Madame Willoska. The unbelievable heap of manuscripts pollutes my consciousness.

Who wouldn’t slam into the first wall they see, having realized the sheer madness of human beings, their disrespectful desire to impose all their misfortunes and opinions on us? If it were up to me, I would decree a law against abominable books.

In fact, I abhor all these smooth talkers, these idolaters of the freedom of expression. Ok fine, I get it, people need to express themselves, rejoice, appease their egos, pour out their bitterness, recount their troubles, but then they get it into their heads to publish this mother of vinegar, this thick syrup—no, I say! Asinine nonsense. Kill off the whole lot of blowhards, wipe these battalions of human expression off the face of the earth.

I’m resting.

I won’t say that I recant, lose my head, sometimes have regrets. But I’m weary, I feel my calm slipping away.

I read because others’ torments are part of my labour. I read because the harshest truths and the most ordinary dramas—not to mention extravagant desires—emerge between the clumsy lines of the worst fictions.

Authenticity rests in the clumsiness of writers.

I move only because the earth is round. I lose my temper only because talent is everywhere; it is spherical, omnipotent, unstoppable, flimsy, murky.

What do we learn from reading a good book, a book that affects and moves us? What do we learn, exactly? How does this experience enrich us, help us transcend our daily worries?

Books are archives of our restlessness. We live in the era of Pax Americana, a unidirectional democracy imposed as a universal cure. We will use banal terms to write about it in studies read by beings with laser-corrected myopia. We will introduce nuances, avoid making generalizations, cookie-cutter judgements, reductive pronouncements. But we will reach the same conclusion: violence rules the world.

I’ve been a member of an editorial board for almost six years. I read and read and read, convincing myself that this is a natural extension of my scholarly abilities.

For now, my fridge is half empty but my determination remains intact.

Because I want to be a knight of nihilism, someone withdrawn from the world, I found a lousy second job that lets me feel sorry for myself.

Three days a week, I work in a Couche-Tard convenience store so I can honour my obligations as tenant and my small pleasures as cultural consumer.

I am an ideologue, and literature suits this shortcoming perfectly. Literature feeds it and encourages it, disseminates it and indulges it.

≈ ≈ ≈

Every reader has an inner commentator who is thrilled to decipher like some fragile material the void that stands between the reader and the words. Champollion is the grandmaster of readers, the admiral.

We erroneously give readers of publishing houses a key role. Honestly, defending this rumour only promotes misinformation.

Language is a code, and literature uses the cogwheels of this code to shape the space-time that choreographs humankind. The first inventors of language are writers, then come the stylists and historians.

Literature, that same old tune, that scuffed and ancient leather bag, still exists, and it is never more present than among its enemies: human indifference, ignorance, and laziness.

I live at 3270 East Sherbrooke Street, apartment 4. I don’t read without taking breaks.

Walking is my second vocation. I walk north, south, northeast, southeast, northwest, southwest.

What I seek is a sense of continuity, the effect of a long take. A successful walk is one where I become a spectator, a spy.

My penchant for spying leads me to notice commemorative plaques, posters, torn paper stuck to poles, abandoned newspapers, and recycling bins overflowing with sullied books, pages filled with words.

This tablet commemorates those in the service
of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company who
at the call of the king and the country,
endured hardship, faced danger and finally
passed out of sight of men by the path of duty
and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives
that others might live in freedom,
let those who come after see to it
that their names be not forgotten

Right next to the former Angus Shops, a brass plaque is affixed to the brick building that now houses CECI (Centre for International Studies and Cooperation). The plaque, more like a bas-relief sculpture, depicts tanks, battleships, planes and cannons, elongated through the effect of perspective, accompanied by cavalry and infantry, captains and commanders. The plaque honours the memory of the CPR workers who lost their lives in World War I.

This plaque is a book. It contains the key lessons we should take from life.

Its presence is no longer noticed; no one stops to contemplate its message. Yet, in just a few lines, we can already read the nonexistence of the French-Canadian CPR workers who gave up their innocence for the nation. Not one French word on the plaque.

A unilingual English memorandum, fiercely royalist. The law of economics applied then and still applies now. There is no imperialist grandeur without omission.

This passage now: “endured hardship, faced danger and finally / passed out of sight of men by the path of duty / and self-sacrifice […]”

Does this not sum up what it means to live among humans?

Now forget a writer’s intuition. These lines transcend the brute toil of soldiers, the terse mechanics of orders.

But what exactly do we know about the path of duty and self-sacrifice? We know that it leads to the frontier that conceals us from the sight of others.

If I do not see you, do you still exist?

I was there to catch others’ looks, to telescope their field of vision. I surveyed life with consequential glasses, offering others their tickets to presence. Over time, I started taking notes of the inscriptions I found on my walks, collecting the torn bits of newspaper, trampled brochures, or letters abandoned in the wet grass.

Every morning comes with its harvest of words. Easy pickings every time.

Today, I came home with an entire plaque, a text commemorating the men who sacrificed themselves for the nation. These spoils were enough.

≈ ≈ ≈

Four manuscripts await me on the table.

I ignore them.

The main joy of reading is being idle. We listen to music with no purpose in mind. We occupy time.

Manuscripts are bottles dropped from a sinking ship. They are patient entities.

Authors are definitely not.

Sometimes, the naïveté is touching. Someone in Saint-Rémi or the Town of Mount Royal is waiting. They wait for me. They know that public proceedings have been initiated. Having received their acknowledgement letter, they wait. Solitary or sociable, indifferent or sick, they wait. I listen to their heartbeat, pick up a page, read one line, casually leaf through the manuscript. I look over the cover letter. Read three pages in the middle and two from the end.

The publishing house gives me two weeks to read four 19 manuscripts, assigning me a quota of pages, always the same, based on what I can do, never more than 150,000 words. A normal human being who lives to the age of eighty-four, well trained, with sound command of the French language and average curiosity represents approximately forty-two thousand pages of confessions and diaries. If everyone in the world were to become literate, most tree species would go extinct.

If it were as easy to educate as it is to subjugate, we would have less difficulty imposing goodwill.

I am not particularly keen on reading for the nth time a botched historical novel or a detestable true story dripping with so many of the usual homilies that it doesn’t hold water.

I’ve lost count of the horror stories or self-help books, the memoirs and fantastical ravings. Don’t take me for a cynic. A novel has no good subject per se. Everything is allowed, everything is acceptable. Let’s say it is more a matter of vocation, general knowledge, and practice. In a few paragraphs, I can identify the ignorant and the deranged, the diligent and the dedicated. Everyone has written at least one poem or short story in their life.

Despite my irritation, I believe it is important to take the time to congratulate every person who has completed one or several short stories, a novel or an essay. Regardless of what happens to these manuscripts, a sensitive explorer stands before you. Don’t mock him. Through a curious effect of perspective, he is more alive than you. He is an unveiler, and he has you at gunpoint. He will leave a testament more honest than any notarized inheritance. At worst, he is a feeble fool, at best, an agitated witness, perhaps even a writer.

≈ ≈ ≈

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the Marie-Reine-du-Monde Cathedral. As I said, I like to be idle, to stroll. Reading is a profession marked by pauses. Please be patient.
I use the period, the colon, the comma. I have only three friends who are not put off by my profound desire for solitude: Pascal, Courrège, and Maldonne. Pascal refuses to have anything to do with me, Courrège still writes from time to time, and Maldonne hasn’t talked to me since I put a stop to our sexual relations.

Two or three times a week, I feel the need to speak and hear a response, to touch the people I know, to become an empty glass that is filled by the water of the world.
Yesterday, I didn’t feel this urgent need. I was completely alone. I had been reading Perec’s Je suis né, and Georges had infected me with his asceticism, his diligent passion for solitude.

I drift in and out of books, and respect the state in which they leave me. It’s not that I am impressionable. After all, I am a reader by profession. I get paid to assess the real and the sustaining. I accept that books change me, but I don’t impose the same on you. To each their disposition, to each their innocence and function. In thirty-four years of reading, I have never tried to ascertain my colleagues’ level of engagement, make sure the book had been read, the material understood. Much freer than a film spectator, less constrained, technologically speaking, than a web user, the reader is first and foremost a connoisseur of the tactile, a sensualist and artist, a master of slowness. The reader’s workforce is made up of contemplation, photocopying (like photosynthesis for plants), the length, heft and shedding of complexity’s leaves. So I was alone on the steps of the cathedral. The guide’s tiny office was deserted. Only an elderly woman stood smoking nearby.

I didn’t make the sign of the cross, and it fitted the mood.

Georges Delfosse had painted all the wall paintings adorning the cathedral. Another era spoke to me. Reading the same book several times over alters our state. Especially if it is a self-help book, a contemplative poetry collection, a fantasy novel that interprets a way of life. I understand them much more than they think I do. I am one of them. I believe in them.

I looked for a brochure and found one. There was no guide; the brochure would do.

≈ ≈ ≈

The Couche-Tard next to the Joliette subway stop, my evening job. But it is not quite right to say that it is adjacent to it; I always had the impression that it was embedded in the subway stop, joined to it by an imperceptible connective tissue.

A chrome yellow glow, yellow bricks, harsh lighting. These were my surroundings.

With the usual discomfort, I had donned the large Town & Country navy-blue shirt, made in Canada, 65% polyester and 35% cotton. The stylized Vittorio Fiorucci owl, a winking red bird, hovered above the store’s name embroidered on the shirt. The whole ensemble was supposed to reassure customers of my good intentions and professionalism. Or in any case, lend me the authority to serve them.

A circus beast, like all logo beasts, the winking red owl didn’t threaten anyone. It instilled a kind of complicit relationship that I would develop with the customers of the convenience 1. the four aces 22 readopolis store. I was complicit in their cravings, malnourishment, fleeting pleasures, their poverty, rage, and small obsessions.

In the 1970s, the Office québécois de la langue française, the province’s very own version of the Académie française, was dismayed by the multitude of words used to describe the corner store—including anglicisms such as magasin d’accommodation, from “accommodation store” […]. So the Office recommended that the term dépanneur be used instead. Unlike similar attempts in France (in 1987, the French government promoted the term bazarette, but it never caught on), dépanneur quickly integrated itself into the local parlance of both languages, bridging the widening cultural divide of the time. English-speaking Montrealers are the only Canadians who buy beer at “the dep.”

From an article by Christopher DeWolf published in Maisonneuve 7, February 2004, p. 12–13.

Why has this type of store prospered to such an extent; why has it infiltrated our lives, our literature, overrun our urban environments? In Montreal, there are more deps than mail boxes!

I’ll try to explain. In the early sixties, the distribution systems of soft drink companies and food conglomerates surged. Shopping malls grew like mushrooms in fields everywhere, became warehouses, dispersed wherever the taxpayers—the middle class—lived. In poorer neighbourhoods and even in more affluent ones, it was undoubtedly judged that being too far from these food service centres hindered modern procurement, a life now governed and fed by a pleasant prosperity.

In an epoch when stores were closed on Sundays in Quebec and were not open twenty-four hours, most people developed the need to acquire their comfort foods, basic necessities, cigarettes, beer, and soft drinks within walking distance from their homes. The shopping mall was conceived in relation to the car, its ability to transport things over long distances, and the oil companies that were overjoyed by this windfall. While the convenience store was conceived for walkers.

Shopping mall = driving a car
Convenience store = walking

In accordance with market logic, deps reproduced the sales systems of shopping malls, but on a smaller scale. The owners of these new SMEs had understood that they needed to offer their walking customers the best-selling foodstuffs, the canned goods in fashion, and everything that would please the kids, most of whom were initiated into their first monetary exchanges in these small shopping schools. In supermarkets, it was necessary to create bagging stations and offer home delivery. In convenience stores, people only bought a few products at a time, so baggers lost their usefulness, yet owners quickly gave in to the temptation to imitate the delivery service of supermarkets.

Most supermarkets were first established in these small commercial villages set up along highways. The concept of the supermarket permanently united retail trade and food distribution. An oil and car driven world, a disposable world. A world in which a packaged chicken has an expiration date, as does a shirt at Zellers (since fashion follows the cycle of the seasons).

Everything for sale is perishable because the absolute is not commercial.

In some cases, we find comfort in the perishable because it resembles the absolute. We’ll always find cans of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup on the shelves; in most Zellers, Glad garbage bags, Vim cleaning products, J Cloth, Ajax and bath towels, Drano, La Parisienne bleach, and Spic and Span. The world of home cleaning and food storage rightly fights, by any means possible, against the endless onslaught of decline, clutter, and dust. A benevolent coating to appease our commonplace interiors, our accustomed stomachs, and our fantasy of imperishable food. I protect my life against stains and refuse. I fight for a clean conscience. I am North-American to the core.

Refuse is the beginning of death; the eternal preservation of food, one of our Edenic dreams. ≈






by Bertrand Laverdure

trans. Oana Avasilichioaei

BookThug, 2017