Recommended Reading: Antoine Laurain’s “The President’s Hat”

president's hat

I was a judge for the first Indies Introduce debut author program last fall.  The American Booksellers Association  had been selecting the best in children’s Middle Grade and Young Adult publishing for several seasons through their New Voices program, wherein children’s book sellers across the country read a slew of books and pick their favorites.  As the New Voices program gained in popularity, the ABA decided to give it a shot with grown-ups.

My fellow indie workers and I – owners, buyers, and frontline booksellers from all corners of America and everywhere in between – slogged through a lot of books that would be published in fall 2013.  None of them were bad, thankfully, but there were books that stood out.  For a variety of reasons, these titles woke the jaded palates of booksellers who see dozens of new titles each day.  Once we’d narrowed the field a bit, we had to chose the final ten fiction titles we would promote.

Some of those conference calls got heated.  A few people had a tough time separating personal favorites from books that we, as a bookselling community, should select as new writers worthy of our support.  Not me, because I’m awesome at objectivity, but other booksellers.*

Then there was The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain.  Laurain started as a screenwriter.  After writing and directing a couple of little seen but critically acclaimed shorts in the late nineties, a full-length feature never materialized.  After nearly a decade, he published Ailleurs Si J’Y SuisFume et Tue, and Carrefour de Nostalgies in quick succession.  His fourth novel, Le Chapeau de Mitterand, became The President’s Hat when it immigrated to the states.

This was the guy we were considering calling a Debut Author; why not just call it the France sucks, USA #1 award?

The thing was, we really, really wanted to pick his book.  Maybe a writer like Laurain is not who we had in mind when the program started, but. . . it was his first book in English.  That counts, right?  Sure it does.  Let’s make it a rule; a title can be considered for the Indies Introduce debut author program when it’s the first one he or she has written in English.

Read this slim, light-hearted book, and you will know why it charmed us, why we had to broaden our understanding of “debut” in an attempt to give its profile a little boost.  If Amélie wrote Ray Bradbury’s Wonderful Ice Cream Suit**, the result would be sibling to The President’s Hat.

* for my pick that didn’t make the top ten, click here
** Originally titled The Magic White Suit, the complete PDF is at that link.  Another reason to love the internet.
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3 thoughts on “Recommended Reading: Antoine Laurain’s “The President’s Hat”

  1. Ah, you said the magic words; Ray Bradbury, my favorite writer guy in the whole world.
    Mix his name in with Antoine Laurain’s The President’s Hat, add the fact that The Magic White Suit is a wonderful short story, while Amelie and The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit were both wonderful films, and by the mystical power of association, I’d be a fool not to seek out this gem and give it a read! (right?) 🙂

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    • I think you’d enjoy it. To be clear, Ray Bradbury is one of the greats.

      “There on the dummy in the center of the room was the phosphorescence, the miraculously white-fired ghost with the incredible lapels, the precise stitching, the neat buttonholes. Standing with the white illumination of the suit upon his cheeks, Martinez suddenly felt he was in church. White! White! It was white as the whitest vanilla ice cream, as the bottled milk in tenement halls at dawn. White as a winter cloud all alone in the moonlit sky late at night.”

      French Antoine Laurain has made a companion piece, a black hat, that belongs in the same wardrobe.

      I was at an author lunch at BEA a few years back, one of those ballroom events with 10-12 people at a table and one of them is an author (I sat with Lee Child). At the end of the lunch, the MC called off each author’s name so we could all give a polite round of applause. Most of us didn’t even know Ray Bradbury was at BEA – he had to be 90 years old – much less in the room.

      When the MC called his name, a collective gasp went up, and the polite applause became a thunder. Hundreds of booksellers, editors, writers and publishers gave him a standing ovation, pushing up on our toes, trying to get a glimpse of the great man. How quickly business as usual turned into fan boy gushing. I kind of wish I’d pushed through the crowd which instantly formed around him, just to shake his hand.

      I could’ve thanked him for The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes (going back to that battered collection of mass markets on my father’s shelf). I could’ve thanked him for being a favorite of my 7th grade English teacher so we got to dissect some amazing short stories instead of Red Badge of Courage or whatever. I could’ve thanked him for Ray Bradbury Theater.

      At the same time, I also hate crowds, and pushing my way through them, and can’t imagine it would have been any different than any meeting of someone you admire. Even if the person is as gracious as you want them to be, there’s no way to express what their work has meant to you. If I was a different person, I could say I met Ray Bradbury. Instead, I can only say I was in the presence of greatness.

      But, of course, you get that same sense just reading his stories.

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  2. Ah, to be in the presence of greatness indeed.
    I’ve been a Bradbury fan since I was a kid and got him mixed up with Star Trek’s Gene Roddenberry! Imagine my surprise when I found Bradbury’s book, The October Country in the local library and discovered how different the two creators really were! (As a confirmed geek, I hold both equally in high regard…I think it’s a nerd law or something) It wasn’t long after that, I then saw Something Wicked This Way Comes and started watching Ray Bradbury Theater and was hooked!
    Up to that point I was certain Rod Serling held the honor of best televised speculative fiction spinner, but Ray Bradbury Theater could definitely hold its own against The Twilight Zone.
    And boy, did I tear my local library up looking for more; Tomorrow Midnight, The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles…but for some reason, to this day I’ve not read his most famous: Fahrenheit 451.
    That’s a great story you have there, a treasure. I’ve encountered just a few of my idols in a personal manner. Most of the time it’s not as grand as you initially envision. But if just being in their presence leaves one with a feeling as amazing as yours, with all the fond memories and appreciation, well, that’s priceless, isn’t it?
    Thanks for a great reply. 🙂

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