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Parisian English literary haunt bids 'adieu'

Latest update : 07/07/2012

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Article text by Joseph BAMAT

After a 30-year run, the independent English-language Village Voice Bookshop in Paris is closing its doors. The cherished literary haunt is just the latest victim of rising digital books, its owner says.

Village Voice Bookshop, a much-loved Parisian hideout for English-language book lovers, will be opening its doors for the last time on July 31. Its owner, 69-year-old Odile Hellier, says she has finally lost a decades-long battle against discount pricing, e-commerce and electronic books.

For Hellier, it’s been a slow and painful loss. “I am dealing with all the practical details of the closing. The emotions that I have had for the past two years, they are not as raw as they used to be,” she told FRANCE 24.

The bookshop owner said that for years, she’s been losing revenues because of editors’ race to slash prices and customers to online sellers like Amazon.com. However, the nail in the coffin for Village Voice was the launching of digital books. “Since the arrival of the Kindle [electronic book reader] and iPad sales have really sank,” she confided.

Perched on the quiet and quaint Rue Princesse in Paris’ 6th arrondisement, Hellier’s shop began selling books to homesick ex-pats and English-language literature fans starting in 1981. But over three decades, Village Voice became much more than a retailer.

It held regular, almost weekly, readings featuring the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Raymond Carver, Susan Sontag and Michael Chabon. It became a rare hangout where both Paris’ Anglophone community and French writers felt inspired and welcome, as Livia Manera recently wrote in newyorker.com.

“When we announced we were closing in May, customers kept coming in crying,” Hillier confided. “It’s been a very difficult year.”

'The world writes in English'

Hillier, who is a native of France and whose first literary love lay east in Tolstoy and Dostoievsky’s Russia, says the Village Voice changed her life and opened up many unexpected windows onto the world.

“It’s been such a great privilege to have access to Anglophone literature and its amazing diversity. It starts with the UK and all the commonwealth nations, but also includes the Philippines and all the ethnic backgrounds present in the US and Canada. The world writes in English,” she argues.

Hillier has not only been an observer and trader of the incredible wealth of the English language; for the past three decades she has also been its disciplined recorder. Her plan for the near future is to review numerous audio and video tapes she amassed from readings and other interviews with authors.

“I have a beautiful archive. Going though it could be a new adventure. In any case, I look forward to it,” she said.

The Village Voice owner wants to share her treasure with those who, like her, have a passion for books. Ironically perhaps, she plans to do so electronically -- through the Village Voice’s website, which unlike the shop, will continue to welcome visitors.

Main image courtesy of Village Voice Bookstore facebook page

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