Wait a second… Archambeault and Renaud-Bray, are they not two well-known book store chains in Québec? So why would I be featuring bookstore chains in a pop-culture-related blog? Well, the reason is simple. Literature in Québec and Francophone Canada takes on a very different role than in Anglophone Canada. I get a feel that modern and popular literature is considered by much of the Québec public as being a cultural outlet equal to television, radio, and other arts. Even if the public is not necessarily reading a different book every week, you’ll see Québécois with a book in hand far more often than you will Anglophones.
Book stores have been on the forefront of promoting Francophone literature. The Salon du livre de Montréal is a giant French book fair held in Montréal once a year (this year 19-24 November) giving exposure through the media and directly to the public regarding what’s new in literature and authors (it’s attended by over 130,000 people each year… I’m not sure that could happen in Vancouver). Francophone authors and new books regularly are discussed (even debated) on television and radio, and they are also promoted by the big book stores (likely as much to gain sales, as it is a cultural habit).
It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg story, being tough to say which came first; are the literary arts in Québec popular out of desire to protect and promote the French language? Or is it popular because there’s much more respect for the literary arts in the Francophone world in general? (it’s even strong in France, where support for the literary arts are not necessarily attributed to a need to protect the language). Québec receives television programs from France which are dedicated to discussing books.
I personally tend to think it’s a bit of both. Because French is a minority language in North America, Québécois view Francophone literature as a protective vanguard of Francophone culture, and they have traditionally thrown media and government financial support behind it in a way that’s a bit different than in Anglophone Canada (although that might change now with recently introduced austerity measures). Canada, in general, has a strong literary history, with its citizens able to rattle off well-known its respective Anglophone and Francophone authors. However, Québécois authors are considered by the public in Québec as the protectors and developers of the language (that’s how the Québec public is frankly taught to view it by many teachers in school – a very different view than how Anglophones view their authors elsewhere in Canada). Québec authors have also played a major historical role in creating a modern Québécois identity, and instilling a sense of pride in how Québécois speak French, notably Joual (with the likes of Michel Tremblay leading the charge during the Révolution tranquille).
I think this all can translate into a special “soft-spot” for book stores in the hearts of Québécois. However, economic reality makes it so books in French tend to be much more expensive than in English (even translated versions of English books). As such, a lot of the smaller independent book stores have gone bankrupt, leaving the big chains in their place (as well as discounted books at Costco, just like elsewhere in Canada). Archambault (owned by Québecor) and Renaud-Bray (Canada’s second largest book chain after Chapters/Indigo) are the two larger and better known chains. They’re viewed more as cultural icons, rather than just a book store. Their concepts are similar to Chapters & Indigo in English Canada, but dedicated solely to French literature (with a variety mix of music and trinket sales), with a strong emphasis on Québec literature. They’ll often feature book signings and book events, and they maintain a “best-seller” lists of what books are hot.
My personal reading tends to wander between English and French books (either from France or Québec). But I’ve consulted the best-seller lists from Archambault and Renaud-Bray on more than one occasion to find out what might be worth buying (hey… I figure books are expensive, so better to be sure in advance that what you’re buying has already gone over well).
If you’re in an area of Canada where it might be difficult to purchase French books, you’re not sure what might be good, and you think you’ll have to order books online, I’d strongly recommend you go with the Palmères livres (top book countdown) put out by the big book chains:
- Archambeault’s book count-down can be viewed on their website by clicking HERE.
- Renaud-Bray’s book count-down can be viewed on their website by clicking HERE.
- You can also order books online through Amazon Canada’s French website HERE , and Chapters’ / Indigo’s French website HERE.
Bonne Lecture !!