Of French Book Towns, Experimental Presses and Pouilly-Fumé

Literary Tourist in France, near Paris

After a brief look at publisher Alain Gründ’s library, and some delightful Edition Gründ kid’s books

we headed off for La Charité-sur-Loire, about two and a half hours south of Paris, where I was to interview John Crombie on his famed Kickshaws Press. Along the way we stopped at Caroline’s cousin’s place and stayed the night. I arose early the next morning and went out into the garden to find this

Sarah Crown, books editor at The Guardian back when I used to contribute, had tweeted out a beautiful flower photo a few days earlier; I fancied a little war of the roses. Didn’t last too long – only amounted to a friendly skirmish. Nonetheless, I figure there’s always room for flowers on Twitter, it being such a bilious platform and all.

After gingerly navigating our way out of the narrow driveway, we hit the road for Charité.

Charite sur loire, france, books, booktown

It’s still known as a “book town,” despite the fact that there don’t seem to be many bookshops around. We only saw a handful. A lot seem to have gone out of business. Words were more evident. We saw quotes all over the place, written on windows and walls. I picked up a program (62 pages long!) from the Festival du Mot that had just taken place in June. Quite a lineup of writers. Impressive for a small town. There’s also an antiquarian book and ephemera fair that takes place in July, a “book night” in August, and a book market on the third Sunday of each month between October and March. So, despite a rather unsanguine appraisal from John, the town does at least seem to be trying to uphold it’s claim to be bookish. Downsizing from the book to the word, in difficult circumstances, seems to me to have been a pretty smooth move.

We had time to grab

lunch on a terrace.

Charite sur Loire, France, books, patio

I got a tad grumpy after being told we had to sit at a table for two when we were pretty well the only souls in the place. I ungrumped a bit as the four-chaired tables filled up, and by the time the waitress rushed my creme brulé over, and my spot-hitting espresso, along with a reasonable bill, I was once again charged up with cheer.

And I needed to be.

John Crombie is having a hard go of it attracting visitors to his atelier and selling his books.

His Kickshaws Press is renowned for the innovative, experimental books it produces. Many are in the collections of great libraries around the world. John laments the fact that there aren’t as many enthusiastic collectors around today as there once were. He misses the supportive community that once surrounded him. We talk about this and the history of his press here, on The Biblio File podcast

I hope that those who admire interesting printing will reach out to him. If you’d like to get in touch, let me know in the comments below, or email me at notabenebeale@gmail.com.

On the way out of town we stopped here

for an obligatory wine tasting, and to pick up some Pouilly-Fumé for a friend. All of these

went for about 10 euros each, except the one I adored the most of course,

L'adoree, wine

it had to go for 50.

I was most taken by the light fixtures

Wine light fixtures

We then drove up to the hilltop village of Sancerre to survey the terrain

and cafe libraries

While here I picked up a brochure promoting the 18th Century family estate of George Sand, the famed cigar smoking, cross-dressing French writer, in Nohant. Sand (Aurore Dupin) was inspired by this, the Le Berry region of France. Many of her most famous novels, including Consuelo, (a personal favorite of Walt Whitman’s), La Mare au Diable, and Le Meunier d’Angibault, were written here, and most are set in the surrounding Berry countryside. Only problem, the house is located at the other end of the province, about a two hour drive away, so we didn’t go. Looks lovely though. Sand was a great ambassador for the area, playing host to all sorts of artists and writers, including Delacroix, Turgenev Flaubert and Balzac.

2 thoughts on “Of French Book Towns, Experimental Presses and Pouilly-Fumé

  1. I would be grateful if you would put me in touch with John Crombie.
    I look after Shandy Hall in Coxwold and would like to know what books he has available to purchase.
    We are a small museum and I have half a dozen or so Kickshaws publications.
    Many thanks

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