In Defense of Bookstores

 Librairie Compagnie, Paris

Librairie Compagnie, Paris

One of the great pleasures of living in Paris is the bookstores. The one I drop into regularly is Compagnie, on the rue des Ecoles, opposite the Sorbonne. I can spend hours browsing among the tables on the main floor or downstairs. Just skimming the covers of the books with my fingers--a laying on of hands--feels good. I never walk by Compagnie without slowing down to window shop. And I buy a lot of books. This is something I don't do in California, in part because there aren't many bookstores I can walk to, and the one I can walk to sells baseball caps and mugs in addition to books, making feel like a pharmacy that has pushed the drugs to the back corner and filled the rest of the store with pop and Halloween decorations.

Besides it is simpler and cheaper to buy books from Amazon. So I do. But I don't in France, where a law prohibits discounting books, because France and a few other European countries, such as Germany, think a literary culture is worth protecting. And I concur.

Laws prohibiting discounts on books won't be enacted in the US--they would be unAmerican, un-free market. You would think, though, that a movement might be started in Ireland and the UK, with their long literary traditions. Surely these countries don't want to turn into nations of malls and chain stores. Such a movement might also be possible in other parts of Europe where such laws don't already exist. The present climate of anger with Amazon would be a good starting point.