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Great idea from a French town; would it work in UK?

Posted on 12 August 2013 | 11:08am

When the Daily Telegraph asked me a while back to do a piece for their travel pages on my favourite town, I chose Vaison-la-Romaine in France.

Having been back there for the Tour de France a couple of weeks ago, I found yet another reason to like it. Now it may be that this is an idea that has been tried and tested all over the world, but it was new to me; namely that all around the town, on walls, on park benches, on window sills, lay lots of books.

Each book had a sticker on it ‘Bibliotheque Municipale … Merci de m’emporter.’ And then, as there are plenty of tourists around, the inevitable global language (Mitterrand must be turning in his grave) ‘Take Me Away.’ I can’t imagine the local booksellers are too happy, or indeed publishers who will be wanting to sell new books, rather than see would be customers walking into town and walking out with an armful of freebies. But I couldn’t help thinking if it was in Britain, someone would just round them up for the next car boot sale.

But it was a great thing to see people just wandering around, looking at books, sometimes taking them with them. I took a few, including a novel I am absolutely loving, by an Italian writer, Alberto Moravia, translated into French as Le Mepris, which was also made into a film by Jean Luc Goddard.

Martin McGuinness uses a crack – some people call it Derry, some people call it Londonderry, but after we’ve been the City of Culture, it’ll be known as legendary. Get some books out there, Martin.

– Talking of books, and talking of Martin McG, my ‘Irish diaries’ will be published at the end of October, complete with essays from TB and Bertie Ahern, and my next novel, My Name Is (cover on front page of site) is out next month. So on second thoughts, perhaps UK and Irish towns should wait a while before embracing this excellent French scheme, and we should meanwhile encourage people to buy new books, not old ones. But Vaison is a lovely town, and the library giveaway a lovely idea.


  • Shinsei1967

    Various village red telephone boxes have been converted into Book Exchanges. I’ve seen a few in Suffolk alone. Here’s one in Ufford ( System actually seems to work.

    It was also trialled in London a few years ago. Books with stickers left on cafe or pub tables. Only seemed to last a few months though. I suspect (as you suggested) the books just ended up back at people’s houses.

    Cambridge tried a similar “borrow and leave for someone else” scheme with “cheap” bicycles a few years ago. The bicycles all disappeared within days.

  • reaguns

    Oh, Irish diaries sounds interesting. I’ve got the other diaries but not really got into them yet, I would get into that one straight away.

  • KDouglas

    Come on AC – you’re a graduate of the French language. Only one ‘d’ in Godard, I think.

    Are we getting anything from you on the latest media assault on Labour, or is that a bit last year?

  • Dave Simons

    This blog provides a good excuse to recommend some books. How about Joe Moran’s ‘On Roads’ and ‘Queueing for Beginners’. He’s influenced by Mass Observation – the former book includes everything from Twyford Down protests to motorways as wildlife sanctuaries (ask any kestrel), while the latter book follows the changes in a routine day from waking to sleeping, usually still involving ‘the queue’. Full of insights and very entertaining!
    ‘Books in public places’ was tried in Sheffield recently, with what results who knows? I don’t think you can beat old-fashioned secondhand bookshops and I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago to see them surviving in Charing Cross Road.

    • Michele

      I like the sound of ‘Queuing ….’

      Did you catch the programme a few weeks ago about the Parisian bookshop where the staff are mostly international backpackers staying for a few weeks and sleeping on the floor while working for free? Vegry Fgrench eh? đŸ™‚

  • Ehtch

    Been to La France various parts on several past times, but for some reason the Bordeaux region holds a fascination for me. The Gironde peninsula in Aguitaine. Maybe it is the Eleanor Aquitaine factor, that I like to think might be a factor, grandmother maybe named after, or the welsh traders from my old hometown of Carmarthen that used to go up Gironde past the Medoc and up Garonne to there maybe.

    Carmarthen old as per, Alastair, in English version of song,

  • Ehtch

    Daughter’s grandmother comes from Derry, her dad was a barber down the harbour – Williams.

    Daughter still living and working in Oz as I mentioned on a previous occasion Alastair – her latest photo her, with a coconut in her hand, up in north Queensland, taking hapless Brits and Asians scuba diving these days, to see fishies and coral and no doubt scary sharks,

    Her grandmas relative, Bride Gallagher singing, cousin I think, who looks exactly like her late brilliant grandma,

  • Michele

    This is a great ‘club’ to introduce people (especially kids) to :
    I hope the packs left around are never deemed rubbish by street cleaners!

    I used to read much more than now, long periods abroad alone and long commutes when at home all allowed it and remember being so taken out of myself one morning that I did a long loud cuss during a Knut Hamsun novel……

    I’m presently looking at a pile of about 50 books sitting unread and some gorgeous ‘picture books’ and really can’t imagine what attracts anyone to their electronic versions.