City of Light . . . Reading

I think Paris needs a new nickname. Sure, "City of Light" is appropriate. There are lights. But in this day and age, most cities are very well lit, if not as romantically as Paris. But something does still set the French capital apart, which is why I think we should begin to refer to it as the "City of Books."

The other day, I went to the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris's second biggest public park. Upon entering, I was confused. Firstly, it was eerily quiet. Secondly, there were hundreds of chairs. But as I walked around, I began to realize that the reason for the silence and chairs was that almost everyone there was sitting, reading a book. Not newspapers, not e-readers, but actual paper books.  It was kind of surreal.

Paris is full of books. It seems as though there's at least one bookstore on every block, and they are always packed with customers, browsing the new and the used collections. Even the Seine, the beautiful river that runs through the heart of Paris, is lined with stands selling used books. And again, every time I pass them, a large group of people is swarming around, ready to make a purchase.

I have a Kindle, and it's great. Since I'm traveling, I obviously can't afford to lug around an entire suitcase full of novels that I may or may not make the time to read. Having all my potential readings on a little, portable device is convenient. But there are certain things that an e-reader can never capture about the experience of holding an actual bound copy of a work: the smell of the ink, thumbing through the pages, folding down the corners of pages with memorable passages, judging a book by its cover (whether or not that's a good thing).

Parisians seem to get this. Perhaps since France is such an old country, books are some kind of unspoken tradition. It seems unbelievable, but while bookstores in America struggle to stay open, book sales in Paris have increased 6.5 percent since 2003. How is that possible?

Maybe Parisians have figured out something that's counter-intuitive. When I think of reading, I picture myself curled up in my living room, or in bed. Surely reading in a park or restaurant would be fraught with distraction. But in France, there seems to be an agreement that public places should be quiet so that can people can read, left alone from the distractions that one might find at home, such as family, the television, or the newest HooplaHa post. Having these sacred, silent places probably means that it's easier to focus on reading.

Or maybe it's all the coffee they drink.

Either way, walking around Paris, it’s strangely comforting to see so many people openly expressing their love of books. Maybe I’ll go to a park or café and give it a shot!

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