You tend to notice things when away from home. For instance, I have always been struck by how many people on trains and buses in Paris have their noses buries in books. So when I spent a couple of weeks there in March, I tried as often as decently possible to sneak a look at what Parisians were reading.
The results were interesting. I saw two twenty-something women engrossed in Harry Potter. A few elderly ladies were obviously spellbound by American schlock. The large majority, however, had brought along much weightier stuff: serious fiction, French classics, philosophy, and sociology – even poetry. Perhaps the Métro line I usually took had something to do with this: it cuts across most of the Left Bank, stopping at several of the stations servicing the Sorbonne’s numerous campuses. Yet elsewhere too, on bus and train routes feeding the suburbs, the reading matter seemed to be of a generally high quality. The conclusion to be drawn from this might impress some as naïve. It seems to me unquestionable, nevertheless, that the French (or at least Parisians) have a far greater interest in matters cultural, literary, and intellectual than Australians.