Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Derailed from Pepys again... by Jeremy Mercer

Ok, I saw this recently-published book and had to drop everything else to read it immediately: Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer (St. Martin's, 2005). His recent article on the world's great bookshops in the Guardian got my attention (,6109,1659513,00.html). His book has a different title in the U.K., the U.S. title is more warm and fuzzy, I suppose, but I like it.

So, I bought the book yesterday and read it last night. The luxury of reading a book cover to cover over several hours is a true luxury. The longer I spend with books the more I think that being rich, having a sense of luxury, means being able to call your time your own - and reading all you want to. You can't buy more hours in the day, you can't buy time. Jeremy Mercer knows this, and I like what he says about the nature of time, how it was soft during the months he spent living as a bohemian writer and hobo clerk at Shakespeare and Company. The book is not so much about books and book-love as it is about human relationships, being a writer hanging out with other writers, living on next to nothing, and above all a loving biography of George Whitman, owner of the bookshop. George says: "'People all tell me they work too much, that they need to make more money, ... What's the point? Why not live on as little as possible and then spend your time with your family or reading Tolstoy or running a bookstore?'" (p.90)

The book made me sad for what I didn't do in my 20s (namely, go live at Shakespeare and Company), and grateful at the same time, because Jeremy Mercer doesn't idealize the life he led in Paris. There's some gritty illegal nasty stuff in there, amidst the bookshop chaos tales, and it isn't pretty, even if you think being a hobo writer could be romantic. Aside from the occasional clunky sentence written in the passive voice, I'm glad I read this book, and it will take up residence at home on my shelves of bookshop narratives. I'm looking forward to his next book, and will keep track of him here: ( The Guardian article mentions that he is taking up residence near or at Atlantis Books ( on the island of Santorini for the next few months to write. Sounds nice - did I mention it is seven degrees out this morning, in Maine? I wonder what the weather in Greece is like this time of year.

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