When we moved to France in 1993 my main worry about living in a foreign country was not, as perhaps it should have been, the fact that I couldn’t speak French but what I was going to do about a decent supply of books. In London I was a six-books-a-week from the library girl as well as going into every charity shop I passed and haunting bookshops and I could see that book deprivation was going to be a serious problem
True, there was an English language bookshop in Bordeaux but it was for special occasions only as, not surprisingly, the books were marked up and in any case I read too much to be able to afford to buy all my books new. The Good Book Guide sent a catalogue (which you had to subscribe to at quite a hefty price) every two months which had a well thought out, varied but limited selection of books and postage had to be paid on top. Otherwise I always asked for books for birthdays and Christmas – my mother who was very glamorous was always wondering if I wouldn’t prefer a handbag or something nice to wear – and stocked up at charity shops whenever I went back to England. I’d practically give myself a hernia lugging a previously empty suitcase stuffed to the brim with paperbacks back on the train. It was fortunate that I’ve always enjoyed rereading books because I had to do a lot of it.
The internet transformed things of course, it became so easy to get books from Amazon France, The Book Depository and Awesome Books (which is probably single handedly responsible for the bookcase in my bedroom beginning to bow in the middle) and you get parcels in the post too.
But the internet can’t replace physically browsing amongst books, picking up an author you’ve never heard of before, dipping in for a page or so and seeing if you fancy going on, re-discovering a writer you’d half forgotten about and having the person next to you turn around and say about the book you’re looking at, ‘That’s wonderful,’ or ‘I have to warn you it’s so violent it made me feel ill,’ as happened this morning at the Phoenix Association Euro Book Sale. (here)
The Phoenix Association is a Dordogne based charity which helps to rehome dogs, cats and horses. Several years ago one of its members had the brilliant idea of a fundraiser with a second book sale of mainly English books, the twice yearly Phoenix book sale is now the largest of its kind in France and regularly raises over 10,000 euros. For a book junkie like myself it’s paradise, there’s a salle de fetes packed to the gills with boxes of all sorts of books, fiction and non-fiction, and overspill tables all around the outside with the books that people coming to the sale have brought with them to donate. And all the books cost a euro.
What’s not to like about all of that?
There’s no point going with a list of what to buy, there’s too much to look through and everything is donated so there’s no fixed stock, but that’s the joy of it. You never know what you’re going to find. The trick is to wander along picking up everything that looks interesting – and at a euro a book you can afford to – and if you’re lucky you’ll chance on something that you really want but hadn’t realised you did. This morning I managed to replace my copy of 84 Charing Cross Road which went on walkabout a long time ago. I havered over a pristine hardback of Michael Jenkins’ A House In Flanders which I wrote about last week and managed to restrain myself; no matter how beautiful it was we’ve got so many books we don’t need duplicates. I told Christine who was taking my money that it was a must read, the next time I looked her place was empty so I do hope she snaffled it.
My youngest daughter and I staggered out eventually when our carrier bags got too full to hold any more – in my defence half of my 32 books were for my husband, all her 29 were for herself. Though she has said I can borrow some.
And I won a bottle of wine in the tombola. What an ending to a really good morning.
Dinner’s going to be nice too.