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Audra Merfeld (Pennsylvania State University)
Vive le livre: Collective Memory and the Village du Livre Phenomenon in France

In this age of increasing electronic communication, new technologies frequently render earlier methods obsolete or greatly diminish their importance. Instead of buying a newspaper, we read it online. We send emails instead of letters, and we trade in our hardcover and paperback books for e-books. In the midst of these changes, some European cities are striving to preserve the memory of the Book and the various occupations associated with it. Following the example of Richard Booth, who created the first Book Town in 1963 in Hay-on-Wye (England), France and other nations worldwide have, over the last twenty years, developed their own villages du livre. This paper examines the relationship between the memory of the Book and the creation of French towns specifically designed to preserve it. This necessarily entails an analysis of why this phenomenon has become so important in recent years, especially in terms of the construction of a collective memory.

The four principal villages du livre in France, Bécherel, Montolieu, Fontenoy-la-Joûte, and Cuisery, each boast a large number of bookstores (between 15 and 20) despite the relatively small number of inhabitants (300-1000 people). In addition to the bibliophiles who travel from near and far to peruse these shops, regular streams of tourists and schoolchildren file into the towns to participate in educational workshops on paper-making, printing, binding, calligraphy, or illustration, or to visit the museums dedicated to the Book.

The presence of these villages suggests a need to protect the Book and the métiers associated with it, to preserve the memories of the technologies of the past and to pass them on to the next generation. In my analysis, I explore the creation of the villages du livre mentioned above and how they manage to keep the past alive by recreating it for a modern audience. In some ways, these villages have become living museums, allowing them to use the Book to both preserve and shape a common memory while also ensuring the economic and cultural well-being of their communities.

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