Les bouquinistes, Paris
The French word bouquin is an informal word for a book. The more common and more serious word is livre. So if you are reading a livre it sounds important and edifying, whereas reading a bouquin is just a way to pass the time or satisfy some strange obsession or obscure interest.
All along the banks of the Seine, on the upper walls, there are dark green boxes which look rather uninteresting when they are closed (fourth photo), but when they are open they turn out to be book stalls where you can buy used books, mainly in French, of the sort that would easily qualify as bouquins. Most of them are very obscure paperback books from bygone decades, and they are often wrapped in cellophane to keep them from getting dusty.
The person who sells bouquins at one of these stands is called a bouquiniste. I don’t know if they can make a living doing this (perhaps it’s just a hobby?), but most of them also sell guide books, post cards, posters and trashy souvenirs to bring in some extra money.
I have been browsing these book stalls off and on for fifty years now, and have occasionally bought a bouquin so I would have something to read on the train, but I have rarely found one that I really wanted – until now, that is. On a recent morning before leaving my hotel I noted down the titles and authors of two books that I really wanted to find, thinking they would both be difficult to obtain.
On the Quai de Montebello, across from Notre Dame, I started browsing, and in the second bookstall I actually found one of the two books I was looking for. It was an old paperback edition of the novel L’Hôtel du Nord by Eugène Dabit (1898-1936), and the bouquiniste sold it to me for all of two Euros. (After reading this novel I wrote a few things about it in my tips Hôtel du Nord: the place, the book and the film and Hôpital Saint-Louis.)
I kept on browsing up and down the Seine, but of course didn’t find the second book I was looking for – that would have been too much luck for one day. (But I did find it the next day at the big fnac store at Les Halles.)
Next review from June 2012: Hotel Abricotel
If you're strolling along the banks of the Seine near Pont Neuf you'll come across the many stalls of the bouquiniste.
Even if you aren't looking to purchase anything a quick glance at the many second-hand books as well as posters, post cards, and other small objects like magnets as well as many other type of souvenir will catch your eye and makes for a nice picture opportunity.
Prices are reasonable.
In the 1980s some bouquiniste owners stopped sell books and prints in favor of tourist souvenirs. New regulations were introduced in the early 1990s to stop this unwelcome development. Only a quarter of the stalls are allowed to sell the cheap, mostly Chinese-made, Parisian-related souvenirs and postcards.
Do not waste your expensive euros on these poorly made items. If you must come home with such junk get a better price at the department stores, Au Bon Marche, La Samaritaine, and Galeries Lafayette. Postcards, too, can be bought at these department stores for a better price. Frankly, I would not buy anything at these stalls, even the books appear to be questionable.
Since the early 17th century the quayside of the River Seine has been an outdoor bookstore. Known as bouquiniste these green stalls, bolted to the sidewalls overlooking the river, sell mostly secondhand books. They are uniquely Parisian and a quaint city landmark, of sorts.
Over the years these booksellers, in addition to their legitimate wares, have sold banned books and pamphlets critical of the monarchy and the Church. After the misguided French Revolutionaries plundered the libraries of the aristocracy, some of those treasures were sold from these stalls.
Initially the booksellers of Paris wheeled their books about in barrows. In 1606, it was decided that the profession needed some regulation; the authorities allowed them to ply their trade for a few hours every day in a certain spot on Ile de la Cité. Not until the early 19th century were they recognized as a real profession. In 1891, permission was granted to set up permanent stalls. More regulation was ordered in 1952; when the boxes were painted the shade of green and a standard size was set.
What to buy: Nothing!
What to pay: Nothing!
At the north- and south banks of the Seine, mostly at the southbank around the Ile de la Cité, you will find the so called "Bouquinistes". These are salesmen with a very typical bookstall that is built on the walls of the quays. At night they close the stalls, and they look like big wooden boxes on top of the walls, but every morning when they open them, hundreds of books make it into a very nice sight.
What to buy: In these stalls you will find lots of old books, comic books, calendars, magazines etc. If you are interested in old books, this is the place to be!
You can find many great bookshops in Paris, in particular in the Latin Quarter. Often these shops sell second hand books outside in baskets, and if you're lucky, you can pick up some real bargains. I had always wanted to own copies of Les Miserables and Notre-Dame de Paris written in their original language, and after much searching I finally got second-hand editions of both for next to nothing. One good place to get these bargains is the Gilbert-Jeune bookshop on Boulevard St. Michel but there are many more in the surrounding side streets.
Also worth checking out are the Bouquinists alondg side the Seine near Notre Dame though these are becomingly increasingly expensive as they have been "discovered" by tourists. I read about a book collector who picked up a signed first edition of "Ulysees" by James Joyce for 20 francs many years ago. So you never know, you might strike it lucky!
Walking along River Seine you can see many book sellers, it’s real paradise for old book lovers or just readers. Here you can find not only rear books, but also some comic books, old postcards, posters and some interesting things.
I have good memories from my childhood of comic book Pif le chien, of course, in Latvian, and I also saw it hear. It looked very old, very well preserved, but it cost too much for me that time :)
They already were there 4 centuries ago and they sold sedicious writings. At the end of the 19e century, they obtained the right to have their box attached to the wall.
Now the job is less dangerous and gives a subtential benefit..
The bouquinistes are 250. Their boxes must be green wagon and their dimensions are legally ruled : 2 meters long, 35 cm high, 80 cm large. They must be opened at least 4 days a week.
What to buy: Initially, they sold only second hand books. They had customers who sold them old books to buy other ones.
Some have kept the initial profession. Others are specialized in collection post cards.
But the stuff mainly proposed is for the tourists : new post cards, drawings and pictures of Paris, guide books, etc.. The regulation which imposes to have only 1/4 of the boxes dedicated to tourism is not respected.
Pay attention to the books which are wraped in transparent cellophane. You can be desapointed by the content.
What to pay: It is rather expensive.
This is a permanent fixture of Paris. You can find most anything in the stalls on the right and left banks of the Seine. Books, posters, records, mugs, keychains, coasters, other tourist tat. It is a lovely way to spend the morning, browsing along the Seine.
The photo below shows many posters, where I went crazy and bought a dozen to frame and hang in my dining room.
Here is Stace looking to some posters.
As souvenirs we bought some cards, a similar poster in B/W of the tour Eiffel to match the NY ones for the living room and a few drawings of Paris in BW too.
The embankments of the Seine are an obligated passage place to go to some districts. But it is also about a pleasant walk goal, in full heart of bets, and the possibility to stroll. It is also there that are the bouquinistes, these second-hand book merchants without whom the embankments of the Seine in Paris would not be the embankments.
What to buy: It is possible to find either on the embankments many old books magazines, but also of the engravings, and everything that has report to the edition.
Around Ile de la Cité at the Seine Banks you will find the book stalls operated by "Les bouquinistes".
Ideal for postcard and souvenir shopping.
What to buy: Postcards.
What to pay: Euro 0.50