Too early it’s too early I hate morning classes I should not teach them.
Lauren Elkin composed the diary entries in No. 91/92: A Parisian Bus Diary on her iPhone 5c from September 2014 to May 2015 as she was riding the bus to the university where she taught. It was a difficult and traumatic seven months that covered the Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher attacks as well as the loss of a pregnancy.
The 91 bus travels between Bastille and Gare Montparnasse; the 92 from Gare Montparnasse to Porte de Champerret.
As someone who has mostly lived in the same suburb/town in which I have worked, the daily commute is not something I have known. Unless you count the ritual of my daily walk to and from work. However Elkin’s book did make me feel somewhat nostalgic for the bus trips into a pre-Covid city that I used to do on my day off. Those trips when everyone was squashed in together, breathing the same fuggy air, smelling the same odours, overhearing conversations, watching the outside world slide by with all its familiar landmarks.
Those days are gone.
The handful of times I’ve been into the city over the past two years, we’ve been in masks, one person to a seat. Anyone who coughs or invades another persons space is glared at suspiciously. Everyone travels in their own little self-contained bubble, ear buds in, eyes on phones. I still like to gaze out the window as the city bus route takes me past and through the West Connex road project. I like to see what has changed. I try to imagine what it might look like when it’s finished and not a messy construction site. And I love the glimpses of Sydney Harbour as we cross bridges and skirt around bays and coves.
People watching is my other transport pleasure; something I share with Elkin. I’ve always enjoyed imagining personal histories, which is perhaps why I dislike the loud conversations so much. They take away the mystery.
Other people are an immense mystery. we cannot right-click on them and download their history. we do not know where they have been or where they’re going. but that they are going together, while companionably ignoring one another, seems of paramount importance.
I believe this is called community.
Elkin’s personal history is only revealed in snippets throughout No. 91/92, but her author bio on Goodreads states that she is:
Originally from New York (the suburbs, then the city), I moved to Paris in 1999, settling here for good in 2004; since then I’ve spent varying periods of time in London, Venice, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. Recently transplanted to the Right Bank after years on the Left, I now spend most of my time tramping around Belleville.
She is the UK translator of Simone de Beauvoir’s previously unpublished novel The Inseparables and is currently writing a biography on Gertrude Stein.
Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris (1974) was an obvious inspiration for Elkin (which she discussed in one entry), as this really is as simple and as complicated as notes jotted down whilst riding a bus in Paris. She includes observations about the clothes and hairstyles of others, the odd smells that a bus crushed with commuters takes on, bus etiquette, as well as the occasional view from the window. In various interviews and articles, Elkin also said she was conscious of Virginia Woolf, Zadie Smith and Annie Ernaux as she was taking her notes.
The book finishes with two separate reflections. One written on the 16th Nov 2015 reflecting on the extraordinary ordinary and the importance of daily encounters. The final epilogue was penned nostalgically on the 17th March 2021.
“I think there’s something really nice about remembering the ways that we used to live together,” she says. “It gives us something to look forward to – that there will be a time when we will share air with other people again, and smell their smelly smells again, and be annoyed by people all over again.”AnOther | 17 September 2021
No. 91/92: A Parisian Bus Diary wasn’t quite what I was looking for or hoping for, but it resonated nonetheless.
Tablo Tales is a new Melbourne-based imprint in the hands of Jemma Birrell. According to their website, Tablo Tales are “the only self-publishing platform that also offers traditional representation to authors.“ They currently have two books published – A Dream Life by Claire Messud and No. 91/92: A Parisian Bus Diary by Lauren Elkin – with a note saying more authors to be announced soon.
To me, a bus is a big machine for taking pictures, a miraculous tripod to which we attach an imaginary camera, a moving and dynamic tripod.Hervé Guibert | Ghost Image
De l’autobus, je regarde Paris. (From the bus, I watch Paris)Georges Perec | An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris
Title: No. 91/92: A Parisian Bus Diary Author: Lauren Elkin Cover Design: Alissa Dinallo ISBN: 9781649697639 Imprint: Tablo Tales of Tablo Publishing Published: 1st October 2021 Format: Hardback Pages: 128
|This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are our first storytellers.|
20 thoughts on “No. 91/92: A Parisian Bus Diary | Lauren Elkin”
I hadn’t heard of this but I love the sound of it – such a simple but interesting concept. I totally get the fascination with strangers in public too. Thanks for the excellent introduction to this one!
In the US, you can find this book at Semiotext(e) – https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/distribution/semiotexte
using the photograph at the back of my book on the cover instead.
LikeLiked by 1 person
That’s wonderful; thank you!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I think I’d enjoy a newspaper column of this, and that would be enough.
Yes, given it’s slim nature, it actually took me several days to read, as a little bit went a long way.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I must admit to feeling a little ambivalent about this, particularly as I had reservations about Flaneuse, her earlier book. I do feel it might be a little stretched…
I understand, I also failed to be enamoured of Flaneuse. Again, the idea was more interesting in the end than the execution. The book came with some great quotes & reviews though, so I always thought it was just me!
LikeLiked by 1 person
TBH I really struggled with it. I wanted to like it but ended up feeling there was to much about her own biography and to little about the concepts she was exploring, particularly as I did feel she came from a position of white privilege and was able to travel in a way that many women can’t. In the end it felt like a lost opportunity.
I’m intrigued by this and putting it on my wishlist straight away. But I love your memories of pre-covid times too; I agree, that being jam packed together breathing in the same air – it all seems so retro!
Publishing the book now certainly tapped into that nostalgic/retro feel we have for anything before March 2020.
It sounds like this one would be filed under my category of Would-Make-a-Better-Magazine-Article-Than-a-Book.
The lovely small hardback format of these books from Tablo Tales makes them feel different to a regular book. They are a reasonable price and basically sit in the palm of your hand as you read. Their design flags that they will not be a regular story, if you like, already.
What a great concept though. It sounds like she manages to make it just universal enough to draw in readers who don’t share her experience.
I think I found the two reflective pieces the most interesting in the end. Taking those daily observations made over five years ago and thinking about what has happened since, in the world and in her personal life, added the substance the notes themselves were missing.
An interesting concept (and a nice review) but this probably isn’t for me. I did, however, enjoy the pre-Covid memories. I had a daily commute for quite some time (metro, rather than bus; except for the view, however, they’re quite similar!) and well remember being squashed in with many others. Although people watching could be entertaining, what I really enjoyed was spying on what others were reading!.E-readers & phones, alas, largely put an end to that long before
My year in London in the 90’s saw me riding the tube a lot. At that time they had ‘poems of the underground’ on the walls of most of the carriages. It was a fun way to pass the time, I even wrote down some of them in my journal.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Poems on the underground!!! Oh, my dear Brona, I AM patriotic, in a distinctly low-key kind of way, but there ARE times when I envy others their different cultures. I can’t imagine anything similar anywhere in the U.S. (well, maybe San Francisco) . . . .
I can’t imagine anything like this on Australian trains either!!