I’m no longer sure how this occurred, but I somehow came across a 2019 social media post announcing the installation of some new and highly ...

Introducing the (very unusual) public bookcases of Eysines

I’m no longer sure how this occurred, but I somehow came across a 2019 social media post announcing the installation of some new and highly unusual public bookcases (or "boîtes à livres") in various locations around the pleasant town of Eysines, as handily detailed on a map available on the municipality’s website. What makes most of the Eysines bookcases unusual is that rather than simply being angular wooden structures, each unique design reflects the surrounding area and was lovingly hand-crafted by members of the municipal technical teams. Needless to say, this clearly demanded a low-key Sunday morning cycling roadtrip!  

Of course, the basic premise of public bookcases is straightforward: come along, browse a little, ideally deposit a book and, in return, take one home with you. For the purposes of this project I adapted that rule to my roadtrip format, initially contributing a book to the Eysines collection, and then at each bookcase selecting one that I would leave at my next stop, forming a bit of a input/output book chain. To begin the process, the book I dropped off at the first public bookcase was the very Invisible Bordeaux-friendly Grandir à Bordeaux dans les Années 1940 et 1950 by Véronique Cardinal. What publication would I be taking home ten stops along the line?

My first public bookcase was in the shape of a vintage "Eysines Bourg" tram, positioned here just slightly ahead of the neighbouring tram line D "Eysines Centre" stop entering into service. The bookcase was in good condition and offered a fair selection of books. This was also my first experience of the accomplished handiwork of Eysines’ municipal staff: I realized the hinges of the doors contained a strong spring mechanism so that when released the doors would automatically close upon themselves. Neat and clever. I swapped my Véronique Cardinal book for some classic literature that would take me back to my university years: Balzac’s Le Père Goriot

Stop number two was in the leafy Bois du Derby, the name of which may or may not be a reference to the nearby horse-racing track. In the shape of a colourful tree, the bookcase comprises two little houses to store books, one at adult height and the other at child height.

The latter was ominously empty… and the springy doors were no more. For some reason this triggered my inner politician and Le Père Goriot was replaced by Anna Cabana’s Un Fantasme Nommé Juppé.

The third boîte à livres was a little more difficult to track down, situated within the confines of a residential set of buildings (Résidence les Cottages), by the side of a children’s play area and a small-scale football pitch. 

Despite a hand-written notice requesting some communal goodwill, this bookcase was clearly in need of some tender loving care… and was conspicuously empty save for a weather-beaten children’s picture book. I opted to leave things as they were. 

Then it was on to Place Florale which, on a Sunday morning, is a hive of activity because… it’s market day! Hurrah! So I was met with crowds of people stocking up on various foodstuffs at what is known as Marché de Migron, with the smell of roast chicken in the air and all soundtracked by an amplified busker singing old Bob Dylan tunes in approximate English. The Place Florale public bookcase is a delightful beast (although it too is short of its protective doors), in the shape of an old Citroën utility van. Is this a reference to a specific Citroën van or does it simply hint at the market sellers who set up their stalls here every weekend? 

Certainly, the day I was there, there were obvious parallels with the camper van parked alongside selling tomato plants! Stopping here also served as my first chance to see a remarkable new piece of public art, a bronze sculpture by Ibai Hernandorena depicting three disabled local youths. The piece entitled "Jéremy, Germain et Olivier" and which you can read about by clicking here, possibly deserves its own Invisible Bordeaux article! I set off, now with John Gray’s Mars et Vénus Sous la Couette safely lodged in my bag. 

I was now heading to le Bois Gramond, which is a pleasant area of greenery tucked in among residential streets and flanked to the north-west by the Rocade ringroad. From what I could make out during my short stay, the park is a bit of a joggers’ and dog-walkers’ paradise. It also features arguably the most ambitious of Eysines’ public bookcases: a walk-in hut with well-stocked bookshelves on all sides and an invitation to enjoy the setting at all times of year, with each side of the hut recalling one of the four seasons.

Porthole windows on the outside world complete the picture. It really is most excellent. I swapped my sex therapy self-help book for Denis Guedj’s Le Théorème du Perroquet, simply because I liked the title and the cover.

Next up was a zebra-themed bookcase which, like its les Cottages counterpart, was a touch more difficult to find, hidden away in amongst the packed car parks of the Grand Louis residential complex. Once again I chose to travel back in time to my student years, opting for Sartre’s Huis Clos.   

There were barely 400 or 500 metres to cover before reaching the next public bookcase, simply described on the map as being "à côté des écoles". It was actually fairly easy to locate. Its design was possibly not the most exciting but it did come with its own unexpected bonus: an unobstructed view of local baseball team les Raiders in competitive action.  

After being momentarily taken down to the ballgame I concentrated on my next item of reading material: Sept Années Perdues by George Bellairs.

I was now headed to "la Maison Guy Queyroi", which appears to be some kind of modern multi-purpose building with meeting rooms for local associations and the like. Its public bookcase, which is to be found outdoors but sheltered from the elements, is very much a conventional design, but what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for in terms of supply. This is clearly a hotspot of lending/borrowing and it was quite literally overflowing with books to choose from. I opted for some user-friendly espionage with a saucy cover: Serge Laforest’s À Bout de Patience.

Moving on, I could very easily have completely missed the entrance to my next destination, the Parc du Limancet. Cycling past the first time, the metal gate appeared not just closed but locked. It was only doubling back that I noticed there happily was a legitimate way of creeping around the gate and into this pleasant woodland area. Once in I was afraid it might be difficult to locate the bookcase but I soon spotted it, alongside a large barn. It didn’t need a character from a Serge Laforest spy novel to spot the similarity between the two, the bookcase is basically a tiny version of its functional neighbour!

The books on display were a little disappointing, I eventually chose to go for a solidly-reliable, crowd-pleasing steamy tale from the Harlequin "Série Tentation" collection of books: Lee Magner’s Vos Désirs Sont des Ordres.       

My final stop was now in sight, by the children’s play area in the wide open spaces of the Domaine du Pinsan… which has already made an appearance on the blog in one of my occasional articles about air disasters. There’s very much a child-friendly feel about the colourful design of this tenth bookcase, which features big, expressive eyes (bizarrely topped off by eyelashes that are actually positioned above the character’s eyebrows), and two sets of sharp teeth framing the two shelves of books. The bookcase seems angry, or hungry, or possibly both.  

Once again, the choice of books available wasn’t brilliant but in the ended I opted for Michel Déon’s Un Taxi Mauve, a 1973 novel set in Ireland which was later turned into a movie directed by Yves Boisset. This is the book I would be taking home!

The Eysines public bookcase roadtrip was now over, but what a rollercoaster ride it had been (well, admittedly, we’re talking quite a gentle, low-speed, low-thrills literary rollercoaster here). But mission accomplished, or what? Some of the bookcase designs really are fantastic: the tram- and van-shaped bookcases absolutely have to be seen, and the four seasons reading hut in the Bois Gramond is a genuine delight. Meanwhile, others could certainly do with a bit of a makeover (Résidence les Cottages, we’re looking at you!). And, of course, an itinerary like this is also about the other things you get to see en route: taking in a Sunday-morning market, viewing the remarkable Ibai Hernandorena sculpture on Place Florale, watching some real, live baseball, and then discovering the little-known Parc du Limancet… these are all things that came about simply because I was out hunting for some handmade bookcases.

Therefore, to the good people of Eysines (and beyond), do head out and make the most of these unusual sights, and hats off to the municipal teams who designed and manufactured the public bookcases, they really are unique and quite brilliant. Bravo!

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