Alain Ryckelynck has been a bookseller since 1973. This book lover gave us a few words on the history of his profession.

The booksellers are the survivors of the group of traders who were in Lutece [1] from the 9th, 10th, 11th century. Lutece, well that’s Paris, was quite small and shop keepers were very close to the Seine simply because goods used to arrive by boat. So, even before printing was invented, they used to sell little books, that is texts which had been copied by the monks on the embankments. And of course, when printing took off, the book trade became more important. At that time, the King, all the lords, the shop keepers, everyone was worried about the booksellers because books lead to rebellion, criticism. So quite a number of booksellers were caught, they were fined, and sometimes it was the noose. That calmed things a bit, but it was a constant war between the people who used to sell books and the book shops, who used to say “these people are dangerous, they are spreading bad words everywhere…”. Simply it was competition, you see! From 1259 there were what they called bookshop jurors, that is booksellers who were officially authorized and who had a right to do their business. But the right was not always the authorization of the King; it was not the way of the Republic. Things used to change from one day to the next. Then there was a gradual change of authorizations, of bans, things changed bit by bit, better and better. Napoleon had the entire river bank raised and constructed the embankments. So the booksellers were able to establish themselves on the parapets of the embankments. Then his successor Napoleon III authorized us officially to stay. But it was necessary to remove the boxes every evening. After the war of 14 [2], all the boxes became large chests that they could no longer lift up. They were fixed like bad germs. They were always a source of trouble to the local authority in Paris.

– Have the booksellers always been on the embankments?

– They wanted to move us at one time to build the expressway and moved us to some quite crazy places: station concourses, several underground, finally well it was a question of putting us here to let things die down, but they never proposed a site of the quality of what we already had.

– What would Paris be without its booksellers?

– You can’t imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower, without the Sacre Coeur. You can’t find them anywhere else, so the people note them and want to see them. But they don’t bring anything to the life of the Parisians. Whilst other monuments like Notre Dame is a monument which is part of the history of Paris. So the booksellers in the same way are in some way a monument. The city of Paris would loose a part of its history. We need many things like that, that make the life of Paris; the noise of the cars, the taxis, and us, we are part of all that. People need to breathe these things. And they come from far away to breathe them. And they ask me sometimes – I am on Quay Saint-Michel, so that’s in the Latin Quarter, but the visitors don’t necessarily know that. So they ask me “Where is the Latin Quarter?”, and I say “You are in the Latin Quarter, Sir”. So they look at their feet, they look around and all of a sudden their appearance changes. It is no longer the pavement which they were using two seconds before for walking, it is the Latin Quarter. It is just that they cannot quite remove their shoes to avoid damaging it. You see, so, but I’m just kidding. They are so happy “so I am in the Latin Quarter”. So if we took away the booksellers!

[1] Lutece – The ancient town in Gaul on the site which became Paris.

[2] War of 14 – the First World War.

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