Borrow a book by the beach

Deck chairs (above) outside a pop-up library have been set up for beachgoers who borrow books in Etretat, north-western France.
Deck chairs (above) outside a pop-up library have been set up for beachgoers who borrow books in Etretat, north-western France.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Deck chairs outside a pop-up library (above) have been set up for beachgoers who borrow books in Etretat, north-western France.
Deck chairs outside a pop-up library (above) have been set up for beachgoers who borrow books in Etretat, north-western France.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Pop-up seaside libraries in France let beachgoers read while soaking up the sun, sand and sea

PARIS • Want to wade into a book during your beach vacation, but forgot to pack a thriller?

You do not have to kick the sand in frustration because a trip to one of France's pop-up seaside libraries opens a new chapter on such indulgences.

Lulled by the gentle cries of seagulls in the distance, flocks of readers have been heading to the book-filled beach huts that the authorities have opened along the coast of Normandy in northern France and elsewhere.

"It's a perfect break for reading and relaxing between two dips in the sea," said a 52-year-old hairdresser, who gave her name only as Isabelle, from her deck chair at the library in Etretat, a Normandy resort famed for its dramatic white cliffs.

"Since I'm not going away on holiday, this is my treat every afternoon," she added, before diving back into a detective novel.

Etretat is one of 12 local resorts where the authorities have set up library beach huts this summer.

Open until Aug 26, each of the wooden huts has been filled with 1,000 books.

Normandy launched its Read At The Beach scheme in 2005 with three huts and, by last year, was welcoming more than 38,000 bookworms.

The idea has since taken off elsewhere in France, with the Herault region in the south attracting 21,000 readers to its own beach huts last year.

Similar schemes have also been launched in other countries, including Australia, Bulgaria, Israel and Spain.

In Normandy, anyone is welcome to dip into a book, with no registration needed.

But readers must stay in the deck chairs provided, rather than take the books down to the sea and get sand between the pages.

This year, 400 chairs are up for grabs around the region at the beach huts, which are open every day between 2 and 7pm. Some books in English, German and Italian are provided for foreign readers.

On a recent sunny afternoon in Etretat, a dozen readers - aged between nine months and 70 - came to transport themselves to other worlds from the hut, overlooking the sea.

"We need more of this kind of place," said Mr Romain Mace, an engineer on vacation from the city of Rouen, enjoying a volume of poetry as his baby slept beside him - a rare pleasure for sleep-deprived young parents.

Since the books cannot be taken off-site, the hut's two librarians will happily put aside a novel you have started so that you can pick up the story where you left off the next day.

Ms Corinne Ait Amar, 47, had returned to delve back into the thrilling exploits of gentleman-thief Arsene Lupin while her daughter was engrossed in a Japanese manga comic.

"It's perfect," said the nurse, who was on vacation with her family from the eastern city of St Etienne.

"My daughter and I have been saying to ourselves that we might meet the rest of the family a little later than planned."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2018, with the headline 'Borrow a book by the beach'. Print Edition | Subscribe