The fact is that a unique glamour, a cachet for which no other country has an equivalent, has attached to intellectual activity in France for nearly a millennium — from the 12th century, when the city’s newly founded university began attracting fervently opinionated scholars, into the 20th, when the City of Light drew its famous literary expatriates: Gertrude Stein and James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Samuel Beckett.
Whatever the cultural reasons, books in France are indeed an “essential good” — the designation coined by the French government that served to justify the very concrete steps it has taken over the years to protect its precious literary culture. The most prominent of these are laws outlawing the advantages (deep discounting combined with free shipping) that big chains and Amazon enjoy over independent booksellers in the United States and other countries. These help explain a phenomenon that inevitably strikes American visitors to France today: As even big chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble have faltered here, every block in central Paris seems to sprout at least two small, intelligently stocked bookshops.
– excerpted from Should the United States Declare Books an ‘Essential Good’?, NYT Book Review, November 11, 2014
But I do prefer the Louis Armstrong version over Edith Piaf…