An article in the New York Times called “The French Still Flock to Bookstores” explores why, at a time when independent bookstores struggle in other parts of the world, they still flourish in France.
Reading the article transported me to a café in Paris where, by the way, I have never been. I could hear accordion music playing softly in the background as I read. And the topic of the article, the French romance with books, fit the theme.
I can’t help but feel a certain nostalgia and romance for what appears to be a dying breed, the written word on the page. I’ll admit that I have succumbed to the lure of the e-book for its convenience, especially when travelling; the ability to carry an entire library, which is lighter than a magazine, certainly has its appeal, but there is nothing like a book.
Just the smell of books, be they in the library or in a used book store or even brand new – there is something both hopeful and weighty about that smell. What will this book tell me? Will I be transported to another land? Or learn something new about places I inhabit every day? Books provide us with a cheap form of escape from daily life.
This article is about a love affair with books, and really, where better to have a love affair than Paris? But it also explains the practical reasons that bookstores still thrive in France.
The French government has taken a special interest in preserving bookstores, providing grants to bookstore owners and subsidies for shopkeepers.
Most importantly, perhaps, they passed a law to prohibit electronic books from being sold dramatically below the publisher’s list price. This has likely done more to prop up bookstores than anything.
My heart and my mind appear to be at war on this particular subject. In my heart, I am delighted to read that there is at least one place in the world where I can still wander from bookstore to bookstore in search of hidden treasures and ideas yet to be shared. I would buy a ticket to Paris today to do just that.
On a pragmatic level, however, I understand that e-books help reduce the environmental impact of books, as long as people don’t constantly upgrade their e-readers and create more electronic waste. If someone can tell me that physical books are more green than e-books, I would gladly change my perspective on this.
One green alternative is the model described in the article where once a month, on weekends, in Rue de Martyrs south of Montmartre, people bring old books and are welcome to take away books for free as long as they do not sell them.
Baltimore has a thriving organization called The Book Thing that allows people to do this every weekend. It was in the basement of an old Baltimore row house, but outgrew that space and had to find a bigger location. Who knew Baltimore was so chic?!
What do you think? How do you feel about the French government’s active role in preserving bookstores? What do you see as the future of books? If you are considering writing a book, or already have, did you print hard copies or just an e-book? Do you think that old bookstores will survive, but that they will become like vintage record stores or do you think there will always be a market for books? What will this mean for libraries?
I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.