Fewer novelties on the shelves but more books in the baskets: from children’s literature to comics, via novels, Quebecers have rediscovered the pleasure of reading and especially their local authors in the wake of the pandemic.
Deprived of cultural outings or evenings with friends for months due to very strict confinement, the inhabitants of the French-speaking Canadian province, in an attempt to escape at least a little from the screens, read more than before the crisis and especially put the hand to the purse.
In 2021, book sales jumped by more than 16% in Quebec, particularly driven by sales of local authors (+ 18.3%), according to the Gaspard report, which compiles book market data.
“There has been significant growth in Quebec books for a few years, which has been accentuated for two years”, confirms to AFP Arnaud Foulon, president of the National Association of Book Publishers (ANEL).
Calls for local consumption therefore seem to have also affected books in Quebec, supported by a government campaign “I read Quebec”.
Readers “wanted to choose books by local authors, local publishers, in a local bookstore,” says Katherine Fafard, executive director of the Association des libraires du Québec (ALQ).
They preferred this literature described by the experts as “very North American but in a French language”, sensitive to “self-fiction”, “the reality of the natives” or “ecology”.
On the site of independent bookstores in Quebec, 45 of the 50 best-selling titles in 2021 are from Quebec, and more than half have appeared this year. At the top of the podium, Native American author Michel Jean with his book “Kukum” (Libre Expression, 2019), has three other novels on the list.
For him, his novels have also “benefited from a context linked to the native question”, which has made headlines in Canada in recent months, in particular because of macabre discoveries around residential schools for natives.
These institutions, where some 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly enrolled between the end of the 19th century and the 1990s, cut them off from their families, language and culture.
This dark page in Canadian history has been brought back to light after the uncovering in recent months of more than a thousand unmarked graves near some of these former residential schools.
– “Quality” –
The increase in book sales also demonstrates “the quality of current Quebec literature”, underlines the writer Michel Jean, interviewed by AFP.
So to meet this growing demand, booksellers left these books on display for longer. Also constrained by the realities of the sector.
Quebec publishers, who usually publish 6,000 new releases each year, have seriously reduced the sails with releases down 19% in 2020 compared to 2019.
The sector, like others in Canada, must indeed juggle shortages: that of labor which affects the entire chain and that, worldwide, of paper caused by the Covid-19 and which is causing prices to soar. .
But that does not discourage Olivier Hamel, 40, who defines himself as a “compulsive book buyer” and frequents the independent bookstore in Verdun, a neighborhood in southwestern Montreal, every week.
He now estimates that “30 or 40%” of his purchases are Quebec works. “It fascinates me: I find that we have writers, really fantastic cartoonists, so I try to encourage them”, smiles this school librarian.
Same “craze” for Stéphanie Gibeau, 37, who works in IT and believes that there are many “talented authors”. Today she reads half of Quebec books, more than some time ago, especially on the advice of her bookseller.
According to the latter, Billy Robinson, the fallout from this “fairly exceptional” year is raining down on all genres: children’s literature, adult literature, essays, fiction…
And the Quebec book is also exported more: according to Arnaud Foulon, it has “never sold so many rights to Quebec books on the international scene, especially in France and Germany, where Canada was the guest of honor. ” of the Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest event of its kind.