I ran across this sentence from an op-ed piece in the New York Times, "The French Do Buy Books, Real Books" in 2014 and it took me aback.
What does it mean to be an "essential good?" In France, the classification as an essential good allows books to have a special status. They are subject to low taxes. Price discounts on books are limited to five percent and the discounts can't be offered in addition to free shipping. This allows prices of books to be similar between bookshops. In France, the government has taken strong measures to protect what it considers a precious resource.
In an article from November of 2014 in the New York Times, two writers debate whether the US should declare books an essential good. One of the two writers notes that the average person in France reads 25% more books than the average American and that fourteen percent of books published in France are translations compared to 3% in the US. He sums up his thoughts about this question by concluding, "Such realities reflect deep cultural values that can’t be Band-Aided over. Should we declare books 'an essential good?' Sure, declare away. But saying so won’t make it so."
During the pandemic, many countries identified what is and is not an essential good, and non-essential items are cordoned off and not permitted to be sold. Various countries, including Wales, Scotland, Belgium, and Italy put books on the essential goods list.
I would certainly classify books as an essential good. But is that a widespread belief? Apparently it is in France.
Books are a crucial part of culture, an important element of a democracy. What can we do to encourage more thoughtful reading and thoughtful discourse here in the US? Are there ways we can promote a culture of reading here in this country?