In September, I sat down with French journalist Francois Busnel in his office in Paris. Surrounded by thousands of books, we talked about travels, writers and of course The United States. One year and half ago, Francois Busnel launched a magazine called America. America tells stories about The United States under Trump Presidency seen by brillant novelists. The magazine -with a sharp and very nice layout- is already a success. Here is my interview.
What is your background?
I am journalist and reporter. My passion is to travel, like you! The problem is that when I was traveling I was blaming myself that I wasn’t reading enough, and when I reading I would think that I was not traveling enough. I started as a reporter in Africa, then as a writer, I worked for French news magazine l’Express during 15 years in the cultural section. During that time, I met a lot of writers around the world. After that, I worked for channel radio France Inter for three years. I was responsible for a daily program, it was one and half hours of interviews of celebrities like Al Pacino, Scorsese, Spielberg. I also worked for Lire Magazine -a French magazine about literature and books- a monthly publication. Ten years ago, I launched La Grande Librairie on French TV channel France 5. I have always loved to work on multiple things at the same time. Travel and reading. The biggest falsehood of the modern world is that when we are children we have to choose. It is not true, I think we can do everything. I do everything print press, radio, TV and I make documentaries. I launched a magazine called America one and half years ago. Why a Magazine? because everyone told me it is impossible. Print press does not work anymore. I love challenges.
Why a magazine about The United States in France?
I love this idea of trimestrial magazine that give you time to really think about the subjects. America is like Haute Couture. It is an expensive magazine to produce. We sell it 19 euros when others are around 12 euros -which is expensive. We hire reporters for three month assignments and they do long articles with 60 000 words. This adds up to a lot of cost. We don’t have shareholders, it is only Eric Fottorino -former Editor in Chief of Le Monde for 25 years- and I. America works very well and we do not want any ads. I think that what is killing the press today is short articles and gossip articles. Why should anyone spend money to buy a magazine with that kind of content when we can find the same content free online. It is the same with Fashion.
What is the goal with America?
We want to offer articles that are long and deep, written by excellent novelists, which we think will appeal to our readers -an intellectual and curious group. Novelists write with their sensibility, which is different from the journalists. We don’t want to give any morals and judgements, we are not here to dictate anything, we are here to understand the situation. In America, we report what we see. We are not editorialist, we are not giving any opinions.
What are your favorite cities in The USA?
I will not surprise you if I tell you my favorite city is New York. I also love Minneapolis. It is like a Brooklyn of the North. After 9/11 people did not want to live in the big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago or New York, so smaller cities like Minneapolis became more popular, the quality of life is very nice in this city. I also love New Orleans for its mythology and its colorful history.
What are your favorites States?
Maine, Montana and Nebraska. I spent amazing times in the Nebraska fishing, admiring landscapes that you will never find anywhere else. Places like Valentine National Wild refuge.
Where your love for The United States comes from?
I love this country but its not enough, I would say I love it because firstly I don’t understand it. It is the biggest paradox in the world. This country is fascinating and repulsive. We were all rocked by American culture. Its cinema, music, clothes its way of life where “everything is bigger”. A bigger life. But this country also has all that we dislike: obesity, entertainment, the no culture, machismo and religious fundamentalism. It is the mosaic of this country I love above all. I don’t judge anything I just attest. This country which has been the country of future is at the same time the most retarded. Its fascinating. Everything can happen in this immense continent. Montana with its 1 million people is pretty the same size of Germany with its 80 million inhabitants. You can drive hours without passing anyone.
Secondly, whether you like or do not like the US you can not pretend this country does not exist. The USA with Donald Trump is the most feared country in the world. Donald Trump is like a character from a novel, it is fascinating, yet almost unreal. How did he arrive to the White House, how he is going to maintain his power, and how his decisions are going to impact the world. We want to follow Trump Presidency and want to report with stories by writers and novelists.
Do you think a TV show like La Grande Librairie is possible in the US?
Jim Harrison, James Ellroy and Paul Auster told me if one day the extreme right governs France, come to the US to make your tv show because we don’t have one. I think there should be a TV show like this in a country which is home to the most brilliant writers in the world. I don’t understand why a network did not produce one. There is also a public demand for it. We say often that Americans do not read it’s not really true. Its a cliche. I met a guy in a remote part of Illinois who was reading Dostoevski and Flaubert and knew the latest books of Philip Roth. I think there is totally a place for a tv show like this but it is not in the DNA of the country, it prefers mass entertainment.
Why do you think books perform better in France than in the US?
Perhaps people in France understand that reading is a pleasure not a duty. We were always told growing up that we needed to read, to cultivate ourselves. If you don’t read you are not improving yourself. One does not read to be chic either, books help us to find solutions to problems we face in daily life. We find answers to our biggest challenges in life: breakups, family problems, politics, metaphysical questions. Books are not only here to cultivate ourselves but to inspire us. People need beauty, I am looking for beauty. My work is not to be a journalist, my work is to be a searcher of beauty. I find books with beauty and I spread them like a flame to a large audience and this works very well.
Could you give me some book recommendations of American and French authors?
An absolute favorite L’insolite Evasion of Sebastien Wimer. Sublime. The story takes place in Colorado in the 60s. It is a book about a prison break out. Great writing.
Ill will of Dan Chaon – Big success last year and the book will be coming out in French this year: Une douce Lueur de Malveillance. It is a remarkable familial thriller about craziness. The book is also about American youth in 2018.
For French Authors, I will say Maylis de Kerangal, Un Monde a Portée de Main. A beautiful book about how to see the world around us and the quest of truth. Also the first book of Adeline Dieudonné La Vraie Vie. Very interesting.
What is your most your most beautiful memory from literature?
I would say my time with Jim Harrison, also Philip Roth and Tom Wolfe. Jim and I became true friends. I spend two weeks with him, fishing together on Yellowstone River and chatting during hours around bottles of red wine Chateauneuf du Pape in Montana. We laughed so much together. He was one of the funniest and America men I know. He represents America for me.
We could conclude our interview like this. America is the country of extreme and that’s why we love it. and Jim was like this. He was eating, drinking and could recount Renée Char Poetries like no one else in the world.