Paris, August 22:

Parisian book-lovers desirous of a dose of Dumas in the dead of night or some Stendhal on a Sunday can turn to a new development in automated distribution — the book vending machine.

Five bright yellow Livre a toute heure machines, sto-cking 25 contemporary and classic titles, have been installed around the city over the past six weeks, the latest in the cavernous Chate-let metro station. “People have cravings for literature just as they do for bars of chocolate, fizzy drinks or all the other things you can now buy from machines,” said Xavier Chambon of the bookshop chain Maxi-Livres, “These vendors mean it’s as if our stores were open 24 hours a day.” He said most customers knew exactly what they wanted and were prepared to venture forth “at all hours” to get it. Among the titles on offer are Homer’s Odyssey and Alice in Wonderland, but also practical books such as 100 Delicious Couscous Recipes.

“Our biggest vending-machine sellers are The Wok Cookbook and a popular French-English dictionary,” Chambon said. Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal was also popular. Regardless of their literary merit, all books are sold at a modest two euros.

Unlike sweets, drinks and condoms distributors, book vending machines deliver their products without a characteristic thump. “We knew French bibliophiles would be horrified to see their books falling into a trou-gh,” he said, “So we equipped them with a mechanical arm that grabs the book and delivers it safely.”

Other recent initiatives include more than a dozen mini supermarket machines selling up to 200 basics ranging from pre-cooked meals to cat food, razors, tampons and toilet paper. The city of love also has two automated flower distributors. Jean-Marie Pilias, who installed the first of the machines next to his shop nearly three years ago, told Le Parisien, “It may not be very romantic, but my turnover is up by six per cent.”