Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Guest Post: Best Little Bookshop in Provence, France

As a little break from the series of posts I've been writing, about the Island Fiction series, I thought I'd offer a guest post by UK publisher/writer Nick Gillard. He says Le Bleuet bookshop "...bucks all the trends. It really is the exception that proves the rule. But it works! And just shows anything is possible. Remarkable place." With the population of Provence at around 4.5million this makes me wonder why we couldn't support something so culturally rich in at least one of our islands. Or are there some? Know of a genuinely Caribbean bookshop with a sincere passion for reading and selling Caribbean children's books? Tell us about it! (See below for Nick's post about Le Bleuet.)
Unapologetically French

Librairie ‘Le Bleuet’, Banon, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France.
Nick Gillard

If you were planning to open a bookshop these days I suspect even the new ‘business-friendly’ banks might raise an eyebrow or two. Certainly, you would be considered ‘high risk’ (i.e., don’t touch this with a barge pole) to locate the new shop in a small rural hilltop village, miles away from the nearest bourgeois metropolis. Surely that could never work? Well, yes it could actually. Bien sûr. A big MAIS OUIS in fact. For just off the main square of the beautiful Provencal village of Banon (perched 32 km north-east of Apt) lies Le Bleuet (or ‘The Cornflower’ to you and me) and it’s considered one of the best, not to mention successful, bookshops in Europe.

In fact, in the current bookselling climate of revolutionary change, it takes some time to absorb just how miraculous that last sentence really is. Banon is rightly famous for its goat’s cheese, charcuterie and alpine tranquillity but could it really sustain a four-storey bookstoreselling every type and genre of book imaginable?Parisian owner and former carpenter Joël Gattefosse has proved the impossible, building up his store from a small stationery shop (opening up in 1990) to a megalibrairie stocking over 190,000 titles and growing.  And when I say build, he has even applied his carpentry skills to the fixtures and fittings including his charming trademark tower of carved wooden books that stand proudly if not defiantly at the entrance. This bookshop really is a browser’s heaven/haven. 

The range is staggering and it would be quite easy to lose an entire afternoon here and still feel that much had been missed. There is a need to return. No real surprise then that bibliophiles, authors (Peter Mayle has held book signings here) and print pilgrims alike travel from afar to pay homage. As Gattefosse has been quoted as saying: "Whether a client buys Kafka in a cheap, paperback edition or in a deluxe edition, (what's important to me is that) s/he reads Kafka. I buy as many books as Ican... I don't care if a book has to stay in the shelves for three years (before it sells).” And indeed it seems the secret of his undoubted success lies not only in his highly sophisticated stock management system as much as in his simple love of books and book selling. 

Certainly, no visit to Provence can now be considered complete without a trip to this remarkable literary oasis. Indeed, the drive to Banon itself is reward enough. 

So booksellers around the world please take note. The whole ethos of Le Bleueut shows us that location doesn’t matter. If it’s good people will come. And in this day and age, that’s as useful a business mantra as any world weary Dragon could muster. Vive le difference! Vive le Livre!

Above All -

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