Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Only in Socialist FRANCE! Right?


Edward Cody has an article in the Washington Post that starts so sweet and, ya know, foreign. The lede is all about a funny li'l town square in Poligny, France, where "a bookstore has been dispensing culture and entertainment to the people of Poligny for 150 years." When it almost had to close due to financial pressures, the town rallied, "a group of townspeople put up cash to form a little corporation, capitalized at $70,000, and bought the lease to keep it running. As a result, the New Bookstore reopened two weeks ago with a coat of fresh paint but a familiar mission: to be a haven where people feel welcome dropping by to buy a ballpoint pen or browse for books."

Cody moves out from there, to show how France's insistence on keeping one leg in the past - with monuments and fine cheeses, etc - prevents it from modernizing and moving forward. It's an odd article. With subheads, this jump is clearly delineated: bookstore lede, France as old-fashioned and behind the times, innocently move back to specifics of bookstore. Something is amiss. Why bookend this story of France with a very specific article on a bookstore staying open due to committed townspeople?

Well the sandwich fillin' in this here story really speaks volumes about the bookstore story itself. By kind of counter-framing the narrative of the bookstore with this tangent on the French character that makes the case that "France must also go beyond its past because the world has largely moved on while France was stuck contemplating glories that were," our reading of the bookstore story becomes a joke. These townspeople saving this bookstore are clinging to a dying institution and preventing progress, just like the national response to Sarkozy's attempt to start a discussion about all the new immigrants became "focused on the need for new arrivals to adhere to values arising from France's past."

But wait... this happened here in the good ol' US of A just a few years ago, in fact in a place deemed too conservative, by many folks, to even warrant a mention unless there is a serious sneer involved.

In 2006, community members came together to keep Brazos Bookstore in my (kinda) hometown of Houston, TX open:
When owner Karl Kilian announced that he would have to sell the store or close because he was taking a position at the Menil Collection, a Houston museum, many wanted desperately to help. The problem, Moser said, was no one could take on the entire financial or operational commitment of a bookstore. However, one of the bookstore's champions, Gabrielle F. Hale, proposed the idea of forming a group to pool resources. Fourteen of the store's supporters each agreed to invest a minimum of $10,000 to keep the store open, according to Moser. At a party celebrating the deal, 11 additional partners signed on. The 25-member group formed Brazos Bookstore Acquisition, a limited liability corporation, with its chief investor, Edward R. Allen III, as president.

Sound familiar?

My point is that this idea isn't as radical and certainly not as backward as Cody presents it in the Washington Post article, and in fact should be considered a viable idea for other struggling independent bookstores around the country.

Let's not chalk this one up to crazy France, with it's baguettes in bike baskets, 6 week vacations, and constant cigarette smoking. We could all learn something from France - and from H-town.

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