Do you ever wake up in the morning and think, “Today is the day I have to do something that counts!”? This morning I was sitting there eating my oatmeal and reading the news and I thought, “It’s been one year since the attacks at Charlie Hebdo. I should do something.”
So I chose the first thing that popped into my head: a Book Attack.
The polemic after Charlie Hebdo was all about freedom of speech, and not only do I believe (strongly) in that, but I also believe in the power and necessity of story. My stories aren’t groundbreaking political treatises. They have nothing to do with freedom of speech, besides the fact that I was able to write what I wanted and see it published. But my books are fun and entertaining and might just help someone forget their sadness for a few hours. So why not contribute a little bit of light to a dark day? “Books heal!” I thought, and started the wheels of my plan in motion.
First I gathered together all of my books in my inventory (okay, not all…but a lot):
and selected a few copies of each. (Remember, Paris is very international. Even if I put a Bulgarian book out there, someone’s going to be able to read it.) I wrote a little note to put with each (Marie Cambolieu translated it into a pretty version in French), and then signed each book, indicated the book’s language, and stuck it in a plastic pouch. (It’s been raining. Hard.)
I filled a couple of bags with the books, and set out to the Charlie Hebdo memorial, a couple of blocks away. But halfway there, one of the bags had gotten so wet I was afraid it would break. Plus I was feeling a little bit chicken, thinking there might be cameramen there. So I rang my friend Fiona’s doorbell and she agreed to accompany me.
First stop: old location of Charlie Hebdo offices, where the mayor and president posted a memorial plaque last week. A small pile of flowers had begun to amass, and cameramen and journalists were loitering, waiting for something to happen. Fiona and I dove in, I taped my note to the wall:
and then spread an assortment of books around on the ground.
We were in and out before anyone could come up and ask what we were doing. (I really hate being interviewed on camera. I say incredibly stupid things when someone shoves a microphone in my face. Actually, I say incredibly stupid things anyway, but it gets worse when I know I’m being taped for posterity and potential re-runs.)
Fiona and I hightailed it out of there, and headed a few blocks away to Bataclan, where it looked WAY too wet and soggy to leave anything made of paper, even wrapped in plastic. Plus, I wanted to focus on Charlie Hebdo, so we continued to Place de la République—the center of the Charlie solidarity demonstrations, as well as those after the November 13 attacks.
We walked around the fountain, searching for the driest possible space, before settling on a patch that didn’t resemble a small lake. And then it was all go, go, go, and run away before anyone could ask any questions.
One lady caught me while I was gathering my bags. She held up one of the book packages marked “en francais.”
“Are you the author of these books?” she asked me in French.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
Oh no, I thought. I’m going to cry. Did I mention that’s also something that occurs when people interview me about things I care deeply about? I tear up. Yeah. There’s a reason I’m a writer and not a TV presenter.
I did my fingernails-in-the-palm trick and tried to formulate an appropriate response in French. And, finally, only two words came out: “Books heal.”
The woman stared at me for a second, trying to decide if I was being sincere or if this was just a publicity stunt. And then she smiled broadly and nodded. “Yes,” she agreed. “Books heal.”
I turned and walked away as dignified as I could before grabbing Fiona and scurrying away. Mission accomplished. Project “Books Heal” complete. I hope it brought a few smiles and a little ray of light on this day of remembrance.