France: Fines of Bookshops Open Despite Virus Restrictions to be Paid by Authors

Paris, Nov 15 (AFP/APP): One of France’s best-known authors, Alexandre Jardin, vowed Sunday that writers would bail out rebel bookshop owners fined for opening in defiance of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Literature lovers are fuming over the government’s shutting of bookstores, along with all other outlets selling “non-essential” goods or services, for the second time this year. A handful of bookshops have openly flouted the shutdown, backed by writers, literary critics and tens of thousands of bookworms who argue that books are essential to well-being. Jardin, who penned bestselling romance novels “Le Zebre” and “Fanfan”, has rallied in their defence.

He said Sunday that authors would pay the fines incurred by rogue booksellers. Jardin told Europe 1 radio that Didier van Cauwelaert, winner of the Prix Goncourt, France’s top literary prize for his 1994 novel “Un Aller Simple”, had offered to cover any penalty imposed on a bookshop in the city of Cannes, leading the revolt. “The next bookshop will be me, and the next somebody else,” he said, declaring that “no state has the moral right to close bookshops”.

Freedom of speech

France has some of the highest book readership figures in the world, studies show, and one of the largest networks of independent bookstores. While hairdressers, toy stores, perfumeries, florists, cinemas and malls have all been shut since October 30, the plight of bookshops has sparked the greatest public indignation. In an open letter to President Emmanuel Macron, van Cauwelaert warned that restricting access to culture posed a threat to France’s “precious freedom of speech”.

Jardin pointed out that other European countries, such as Belgium, had allowed bookshops to remain open. The head of Grasset publishing house, Olivier Nora, complained booksellers were missing out on crucial November-December sales accounting for 25 percent of annual revenues. The French government has so far resisted pressure to ease a month-long partial lockdown imposed to curb a second wave of Covid-19 infections. Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday did however raise the possibility that some shops might be allowed to reopen in December if current trends showing a decline in new infections continue.

The virus has killed over 44,000 people in France. On Saturday, Macron tweeted that “the next few days will be decisive” and urged people to continue taking precautions.

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