Books need to be read!

Photo Mike Alexander

France, as in many other countries, it has become quite common for villages and towns to place boxes at convenient places so that people can freely exchange books. In this country, you will often find them just off the cobbled squares that lie at the heart of most small towns. Boxes is perhaps a little of an overly simplistic description.

The French love to recycle and I have seen book boxes created out of old clocks, rabbit houses and even a boat.

Photo Mike Alexander

As someone who spent years shipping boxes of books from one side of the world to another on each of my many moves, I think this is a wonderful idea. After unpacking stacks of books for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me that nearly all of my books were unlikely to get a second reading and I had been putting them through the pain and discomfort of travelling for sentimental reasons rather than practical ones. Some might even suggest that I kept them because I was just too mean to throw them away. The book boxes offered me an opportunity to give these books a second life.

I have come to the conclusion that books are a little like beauty queens. They need lots of attention or they wither and wrinkle.

Some years ago I converted to having most of my books on an e-reader. For my money, these devices are the most important technical advance mankind has ever made. Now, I always have some reading matter easily available. My biggest fear in life is to find myself trapped at an airport or railway station with nothing to read thus being forced to stare at electronic billboards for hours on end. I appreciate that the issue of e-readers is a contentious one. Many people are vehemently opposed to the concept and insist that they will only read from a ‘real book’. This has always puzzled me a little. When I ask these loyal supporters of the traditional book why they are so attached to them, I get one of two answers; they like either the feel or the smell.

Surely the answer to that is to just keep two books, one for sniffing and one for fondling.

You can then augment the space in your house by getting rid of your library and instead, keep an entire collection electronically.

Photo Mike Alexander

Many of the French book boxes reside in converted telephone booths. For younger readers, these are glass boxes that one used to enter and inside one would find a telephone which, for a small fee, you could pay to use. I doubt my daughter will have ever entered one and she certainly would have little use for the old fashioned pay phone inside. Mind you, she wouldn’t have much use for the books in one of these conversions either. Perhaps if they contained vintage clothing things would be different. All those years I spent perched on the end of her bed reading her Doctor Dog and Winnie the Pooh appear to have been a waste of time. She never caught the reading bug I tried so hard to infect her with. I often wonder if I had spent that time paging through clothing catalogues with her whether she might have turned out to be more of a reader.

There will always be some books that I am unable to give away for one reason or another but I have freed nearly all of them now. As I stack them into the various book boxes, I always wish them well and gently hum a few bars of Born Free. Hopefully, they will find loving homes and their new owners will receive as much pleasure from them as I once did.

France based freelance writer with a passion for the environment and quirky cultural history.

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