When the Daily Telegraph asked me a while back to do a piece for their travel pages on my favourite town, I chose Vaison-la-Romaine in France.
Having been back there for the Tour de France a couple of weeks ago, I found yet another reason to like it. Now it may be that this is an idea that has been tried and tested all over the world, but it was new to me; namely that all around the town, on walls, on park benches, on window sills, lay lots of books.
Each book had a sticker on it ‘Bibliotheque Municipale … Merci de m’emporter.’ And then, as there are plenty of tourists around, the inevitable global language (Mitterrand must be turning in his grave) ‘Take Me Away.’ I can’t imagine the local booksellers are too happy, or indeed publishers who will be wanting to sell new books, rather than see would be customers walking into town and walking out with an armful of freebies. But I couldn’t help thinking if it was in Britain, someone would just round them up for the next car boot sale.
But it was a great thing to see people just wandering around, looking at books, sometimes taking them with them. I took a few, including a novel I am absolutely loving, by an Italian writer, Alberto Moravia, translated into French as Le Mepris, which was also made into a film by Jean Luc Goddard.
Martin McGuinness uses a crack – some people call it Derry, some people call it Londonderry, but after we’ve been the City of Culture, it’ll be known as legendary. Get some books out there, Martin.
– Talking of books, and talking of Martin McG, my ‘Irish diaries’ will be published at the end of October, complete with essays from TB and Bertie Ahern, and my next novel, My Name Is (cover on front page of site) is out next month. So on second thoughts, perhaps UK and Irish towns should wait a while before embracing this excellent French scheme, and we should meanwhile encourage people to buy new books, not old ones. But Vaison is a lovely town, and the library giveaway a lovely idea.