One of the huge drawbacks about living in a foreign country is the lack of libraries carrying books in your mother tongue. Up until we moved into the rural depths of England, I’d always lived within walking distance of a well-stocked library. And even in the depths of rural Devon, it was still only a ten-minute car journey away.
We had been hopeful that we might find the odd book in English in a French library, but we didn’t find a single one when we tracked down our nearest library in South West France. In fact there weren’t that many books at all. Maybe there were other larger and better-stocked libraries elsewhere, but we gave up looking and turned to Amazon.
Then when we moved to Normandy we discovered that one of our neighbours, a French man, ran a mobile library. He subsidised it himself, filled his car with books and drove around the commune every other week, stopping at the homes of all the members. It was a brilliant service – not a huge collection of books, but people donated their own books to boost the collection. He tried to get a grant from the mayor but was met with a shrug – ‘Books? Who wants them?’ Sad to say he could no longer afford to run the service and he gave up.
But he wasn’t alone with his thirst for books and a desire to run a library. Many expats have started their own libraries. Some are ‘Library and Coffee Mornings’ where someone opens their home for two hours every week for people to come and swap books. Or donate and buy. The need for, and love of, libraries is something deeply ingrained in us Brits. The weekly or fortnightly trip to that palace of books, never quite knowing what treasure you’d find, is a magical childhood memory for many of us.
One of the best private libraries in our area is run by Helianthus in Pre-en-Pail. It’s an animal charity that opened a shop in 2010 stocked with donated goods. Several thousand of those goods are books which means they have a whole room upstairs crammed with books – 99% of which are in English. Each book costs 10 cents to buy. The 10 cents goes to help the animals and most people return the books when they’ve read them to keep the shelves well stocked. So for ten euros a year you get 100 books to read.
Brilliant value and a brilliant service.
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novelette, What Ho, Automaton! was a finalist for the 2012 WSFA Small Press Award for short fiction. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Hands – a quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?
Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.
What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried – the international bestseller – true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth?
Resonance – “This is one of the most original new science fiction books I have ever read. If it is as big a hit as it deserves, it may well be this book which becomes the standard by which SF stories about … are judged.”