French authors offer to pay bookshops’ Covid lockdown fines

November 26, 2020
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A group of French authors has promised to pay fines imposed on the country’s bookshops that remain open in defiance of coronavirus lockdown rules.

The pledge was made by the bestselling writer Alexandre Jardin, who said authors were getting together to support booksellers during the crisis.

Under France’s lockdown rules, which are in force until at least 1 December, only essential shops and businesses can remain open. Bookshops are not deemed “essential”.

Jardin, who lost a close relative to coronavirus last month, said he was not taking the health threat lightly, but feared for the future of independent bookshops. “We will not let our bookshops close,” he told BFMTV. “We can’t be having the cops descending on them.”

Shops can sell books but only through online orders, which has been a challenge for smaller outlets. Supermarkets have been ordered to close their book aisles.

Jardin, the author of romance novels Le Zèbre and Fanfan, said the prize-winning writer Didier van Cauwelaert, whose novel Un Aller Simple won the Prix Goncourt in 1994, has offered to pay any fines imposed on bookshops in Cannes.

“I will pay the next bookshop and the next will be someone else,” Jardin said. “No state has the moral right to close bookshops.”

At the beginning of the lockdown more than two weeks ago, the Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, pleaded – unsuccessfully – for bookshops to be allowed to remain open and asked the public not to use Amazon. The call has been echoed by the former president François Hollande.

The literary critic François Busnel has announced he is launching a petition against bookshop closures, which he said was France depriving itself of its “best battalion to confront obscurantism”.

“As we saw right after the first lockdown (March-April), there are millions of people in this country who want to read, who need to read. To close bookstores is to condemn a whole section of the the cultural economy to falter and, in the case of some, to disappear,” Busnel told France 5.

In passing, he said the government was making a “huge gift to a company that starts with AMA and ends with Zon”.

The Académie Goncourt, which awards France’s most prestigious literary prize, postponed indefinitely this year’s ceremony, scheduled for 10 November, as a gesture of “solidarity” with bookshops.

Last week, a group of French authors and publishers took a cruise boat down the River Seine to “defend literature” and protest against the enforced bookshop closures. Police forced the vessel to dock and those onboard were asked to disperse.

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