Forced to stay home from one day to the next, millions of quarantined people were suddenly faced with a rare luxury in our fast-paced world: time. That, of course, came with a question: What to do with it?

Where others may have chosen to Netflix, garden, read, meditate or complete a 51,300 pieces-jigsaw puzzle, the French seemed to have had a rather French response: Ecrivons ! A survey quoted by daily Le Monde shows that during lockdown, 1 in 10 French had seized the nearest quill, electronic or otherwise, and started jotting down their thoughts. The Robert Laffont publishing house says that within a two-month quarantine span it had received an impressive 1,500 manuscripts — three times more than usual.

The Paris daily notes that the country's publishers remain cautious as to the quality of such a quantity of work. At the same time, the book industry has itself been hit hard by the crisis, with some prominent authors struggling to get their words out, among flat sales rates and cancelled book tours.

So where does that leave the first-time scribes? Much ink, no doubt, is being spilled in the "pandemic-inspired fiction" department. French writers may be hard-pressed to top Albert Camus' 1947 The Plague, the absurdist masterpiece depicting a cholera-like disease sweeping the Algerian city of Oran. But Le Monde reports that these burgeoning new authors are also churning out romance novels, cooking books and poetry, bien sûr.

Across the Atlantic, a similar hodgepodge of creative endeavors is at play, with Arlington Public Library director Diane Kresh introducing the library's Quaranzine: a weekly online publication gathering collages, essays, drawings, comics, etc., from hundreds of local contributors. In Kresh's words, "When the going gets tough, the tough get arty."

And then two weeks ago, the world's storyline seemed to abruptly shift again. With the May 25 killing of George Floyd, questions of racial injustice and police brutality consumed our minds, and time, eclipsing all those pandemic anxieties and bread recipes. Alienation, race and violence driving the Black Lives Matter movement. But if French writers follow that plot, they will be competing with another Camus classic: The Stranger.


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