Four decades ago, the little Belgian town of Redu was revitalized by its transformation into the Village Du Livre. The village that had been shrinking fast as farm jobs disappeared and families moved away. But in the mid-1980s, a group of booksellers moved into the empty shops and barns and transformed the place into a booklovers’ destination. The community of about 400 became home to more than two dozen bookshops and each year thousands of tourists thronged its quaint streets.
Sadly, now more than half the bookstores have closed. Some of the booksellers died, while others quit due their inabilty to compete with internet-based bookstores and digital books. Many who remain are now in their 70s and aren’t sure what will happen after they’re gone.
With only a dozen or so bookshops remaining in the booktown, the less optimistic say that their trade has fallen out of fashion, and that people, especially young people in Belgium, are reading fewer books.
Anne Laffut, the mayor Redu is located, has offered a counter-narrative: “Life is changing, but nothing is dying. Everything is evolving…. There is a change of mentalities. The elders think the village is changing because there are fewer bookstores and it is a disappointment. But there is a new generation which is very active in Redu. Many volunteers are teaming up with the same desire for the village to continue to endure.”
It’s a brave statement by the mayor, but I can’t see it surviving as a book village for much longer, unless they reinvent it and hop on the digital bus.