A confession – I’m a sucker for memoirs about bookstores, or by people who worked in bookstores or in publishing. Or just by people who are bibliophiles. Fortunately Kinokuniya has a good selection of books on books in our “lit criticism” section. This particular book, I found in the “travelogues” section, but the same book is also in “Lit Criticism”, under the title Time Was Soft There.
This memoir is about George Whitman’s Shakespeare & Co bookstore (not Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Co), which resides across the Notre Dame in Paris. I really can’t write about this without being incredibly biased. This is a truly romantic tale about an independent bookstore, the kind that I wish exists here. As a bookseller, I was pretty much gob-smacked by George Whitman’s way of running the store – he never kept an account ledger, he kept his money in hidden places all over the store, and he let total strangers run the counter. The bookseller in me was horrified – I couldn’t believe that this bookstore survived all of that – and the bibliophile in me was completely and utterly charmed. Because, you know, it is the wild eccentricities of book-people that make me love them so.
Even though I enjoyed the book, I wasn’t too keen on Mercer’s writing style. I wasn’t interested in all of the anecdotes he provided, and I wanted to know more about Whitman and the other characters in the store, rather than Mercer’s own experience there. But the story he told about Shakespeare & Co is an enchanting one, and perhaps it is his “down the rabbit hole” perspective that gives the book it’s edge.
~ originally posted on blogspot