In France, the closing of bookstores does not pass; Belgium spared

In France, the closing of bookstores does not pass; Belgium spared

The Librairie des Abbesses, in Montmartre, participates in the event “Rekindle the fires of our bookstores” to protest against the closure of book shops in France.

Share November 2, 2020 2:19 p.m. Share In France, bookstores are not closing; Belgium spared Joëlle Garrus Agence France-Presse Julien Girault Agence France-Presse PARIS – At the heart of the supermarket, two shelves are covered in red: this is the book section of this supermarket in a popular suburb of Paris.

“I find the decision to close supermarket book shelves stupid. This deprives the confined of culture, “protests Sylvie Lagrange, an assiduous of the media library of the Kremlin-Bicêtre, south of Paris, where she went” to refuel “Wednesday, just before the announcement of a new confinement a month in France.

“And that does not help small businesses which, for their part, can really enforce barrier gestures,” she points out.

After having closed bookstores and libraries for this reconfinement which came into force on Friday, the government, for the sake of “fairness” vis-à-vis booksellers, has also banned the sale of books in supermarkets and specialized food.

Because contrary to the choice made for example in Belgium and Switzerland, in France, the book was labeled “non-essential”.

The decision came as a shock in a country that prides itself on a culture and love of books, backed by literary prizes, dedicated television shows and a public network of 16,000 reading points.

“Politicians praised the idea that France was a nation with a literary exception and that it was sort of the eldest daughter of reading and bookstores. Suddenly, we realize that all this was just wind, ”lamented the writer Sylvain Tesson.

In France, the closing of bookstores does not pass; Belgium spared

“Politicians praised the idea that France was a nation with a literary exception and that it was sort of the eldest daughter of reading and bookstores. Suddenly, we realize that all this was just wind, ”lamented the writer Sylvain Tesson. Photo AFP, Stéphane de Sakutin

Since Friday, anger has been roaring: petition to President Macron, booksellers tempted by disobedience, calls to boycott Amazon or Fnac, the French heavyweight in the distribution of cultural goods (where cultural departments have finally been closed).

Until the postponement of several literary prizes, including the famous Goncourt, so as not to “benefit other sales platforms”, explained the general delegate of the Académie Goncourt Françoise Rossinot.

“Culture is essential, it is a mistake to sacrifice it”, also estimated the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, announcing “a common initiative”, with other cities, for the reopening of bookstores.

Economic issues

For this sector struggling with sites like Amazon or Fnac, the blow is severe: during the confinement of two months in the spring, booksellers saw their turnover collapse on average by 95%, a drop quickly dammed as soon as they reopened in May, proving the appetite of the French for the book.

Last week, they were also numerous to rush into the library. “In five opening hours, Thursday, we made 8,000 loans, while since the deconfinement, we were struggling to find our audience and we made 8,000 loans per week”, says Hélène Brochard, director of the media library of Villeneuve d'Ascq (North).

“There are millions of people in this country, and we saw it just after the first confinement, who want to read, who need to read. To close bookstores is to condemn a whole section of the cultural economy, no doubt to falter, for some to disappear, ”said journalist François Busnel, who presents a popular literary television show, La grande librairie .

The petition he launched for the reopening of bookstores (156,000 signatures on Monday 2 p.m.) was signed by writers like Erik Orsenna or Delphine du Vigan, actors, publishers …

“I understand booksellers. They have economic challenges that we don't have in the library, ”comments Hélène Brochard.

“I am more flabbergasted by the response” of the government when it decides to “remove everything”, depriving certain customers of the possibility of buying in supermarkets.

“It's incredible ; that makes the book a completely prohibited product! And then there are people who will never go to a bookstore … ”she emphasizes. Nor will they turn to the remote control device before retrieving the book from the store door, which is used by many independent bookstores.

“If we want to broaden the debate, it is the place of culture on which we can wonder. Certainly, there is a serious health situation and the need to protect the staff of bookstores and libraries. But the message sent is catastrophic, ”sighs Ms. Brochard.

an “essential good”

Belgium, which is strengthening its confinement for six weeks, has instead decided to keep its bookstores open, considering the book among the “essential goods”: in Brussels, booksellers and readers on Monday praised the essential use of literature in the face of “anxiety Of the pandemic.

While Belgium drastically tightened its restrictions on Monday, the Tropismes bookstore was one of the few stores in the Galeries Royales – an elegant covered passage in downtown Brussels – to attract a constant flow of customers, contrasting with the neighboring chocolatiers deserted by the tourists.

Unlike France, the government of Alexander De Croo has classified bookstores among businesses that can “remain open to the public as long as they mainly offer essential goods”.

“We believe it is essential to develop attention (…) to the mental health of all Belgians. Culture has a huge role to play, ”Deputy Prime Minister Georges Gilkinet told the daily Le Soir .

Brussels booksellers, who had to lower the curtain for two months in the spring, say they are satisfied, recalling having adopted “all possible health precautions”.

“In the same way that DIY stores were kept open, it seemed just as obvious to open what allows“ tinkering ”with words and thought”, laughs Marc El Khadem, specialist in the science department. human in Tropismes.

“The book corresponds to a manifest need in a period of anguish, of uncertainties, which refers each to his own mortality, to the precariousness of existence,” he told AFP.

Among the readership, “there is a desire for reflection more than for evasion”, with a marked appetite for essays and philosophy (the Stoics in particular), he observes. “The book represents the link with a tradition, the promise of a future, the inscription in a long time.”

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