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Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at…

Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. (2005)

by Jeremy Mercer

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7822417,778 (3.71)73
  1. 00
    Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart by Krista Halverson (alanteder)
    alanteder: Another excellent recent book on George Whitman's legendary Paris book store "Shakespeare and Co."
  2. 00
    Shakespeare and Company by Sylvia Beach (sneuper)
    sneuper: Books about the bookstore Shakespeare and Company in Paris

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» See also 73 mentions

English (20)  Portuguese (1)  Catalan (1)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
What an awful read. Thoroughly disappointed in what I had hoped would be a memoir about working and living in a bookstore instead of the territorial shenanigans and drama between its employees. Perhaps I had a rather romantic view of what this book would be, but I just found the execution rather tedious and annoying.

It's a lot less about the bookstore and books than it is about the people who work there. I suppose that it makes for more interesting reading, but I was not at all interested in the escape from the past background of the narrator, or his romantic entanglements, or his territorial powerplays with the other residents. Also wasn't to interested in the romantic dramas with the other people who lived/worked there, nor could I summon much interest in the dangers of the possible loss of the store. Based on the author's description of how it was/is run, it was not really a surprised.

As the author left Canada for Paris, I had hoped there might be some discussion of similarities/differences between bookstores at home and those in France. Anything, such as how they were run, the corporate nature of large chains vs. a store like Shakespeare & Co., etc. That was not the focus here, unfortunately.

This was more about the author exercising his own personal demons. There's a whiff of a "Gary Sue" to him that just doesn't make me root for him. I personally disliked his anecdote of revealing a prominent doctor seeing prostitutes. The doctor staged a successful PR campaign that even turned the newspaper against Mercier and his reporting partner. They claimed that this was a health risk and of public interest. Uh, no. Health risk possibly, but not of public interest.

He thanks the store and George for his time there, but it's just not a compelling read.

I'm mad I bought it. Library book for sure. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
This should be a great book. I wanted it to be, like, so bad.

Its a true(ish?) account of a fellow Canuck who goes to that temple of literary Gods, the used bookstore "Shakespeare & Company", ekes out an existence on one of the numerous guest cots throughout the store, interacting with the literary hopefuls scraping by working in the store, scamming, weaselling, chiselling and sometimes writing, and the owner, famous George.

The store itself is legendary. I myself have been there, in the heart of Paris, had tea in the books-&-people packed rooms riddled with roaches and swirling with the gaga eyed sycophants like myself who wanted, somehow, to be anointed with greatness by immersing ourselves into it. Doesn't work that way though.

I can recommend the visit. You get a free cookie. Lukewarm tea. A lab pup that buggers off with one of your mittens. A memory, a story, but not a book, or a novel, or whatever Jeremey was shooting for with this one.

Too bad. He has skill, his material is a rich vein of solid gold, but his own persona too often becomes the theme. Memoirs of a nobody packaged as literary tribute to ghosts still needing a voice.

3 stars.
( )
  LeonardGMokos | Nov 22, 2016 |
Canadian ex-newspaperman Jeremy Mercer was down on his luck and funds when he managed to find a berth at George Whitman's Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, France in late 1999. The memoir of his stay and of the people he met was first published in 2005 as "Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs: The Left Bank World of Shakespeare and Co" and later as "Time Was Soft There." The second title comes from a passage in the book where Mercer contrasts hard and soft prison time and concludes that his Shakespeare & Co. time was "soft time."

Whitman's Shakespeare and Co. is the 2nd legendary store to bear that name after he inherited it from Sylvia Beach. Beach's original store was closed by the German occupation during WWII and never reopened afterwards. Beach was famous as the founder of the Paris english-language book store which also functioned as a lending library and mail-drop for many ex-pat writers in the 1920's & 1930's and she was also the first book-format publisher of James Joyce's "Ulysses". Whitman's store was originally called La Mistral when it opened in 1951 and the name-change came in 1964.

The overall arc of the book is Jeremy Mercer's path from down-on-his-luck writer to Shakespeare and Company veteran alongside George Whitman's search for reconciliation with his then estranged daughter Sylvia (yes, named after Sylvia Beach) Whitman. The reading journey was definitely a soft time and is recommended for book store lovers.

Further Reading:
As of July 1, 2016 there is now an official history Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart available online from the bookstore's website and in stores as of late September 2016. ( )
  alanteder | Jul 23, 2016 |
Mercer spent several years as a newspaper crime reporter in his native Canada, wrote a couple of true-crime books, dodged a drug charge, fell into alcoholism and finally skipped town after angering the wrong guy. He was truly burnt-out from daily facing the worst of humanity but also feared for his life. Landing in Paris, he discovered the generous and erratic George Whitman, owner of the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, who allowed destitute traveling writers to sleep in his store and help out with running the place. Whitman regularly provided meals and the writers, often young Bohemians, looked up to him as a mentor, though Whitman's many quirks seem to make it impossible for anyone to really get close to him.
Mercer describes how upon accepting his request to stay in the store, Whitman also told him he was responsible for evicting an old poet who had lived in the store for five years. The book tells how the many impoverished guests get by on very little or no money, learning how to pass themselves off as students for cheap meals, scavenging for thrown out food, using a cafe restroom to wash. Though he includes the confrontations and filth, the title of the book comes from Mercer's description of prison "hard time" as being the most difficult, while the time he spent at S&C as being as soft as it could be. ( )
  mstrust | Nov 27, 2012 |
I really, really liked this book. I enjoyed Paris through the eyes of the writer. I enjoyed meeting the characters that lived in Shakespeare and Co book store. I loved the owner George. I made me want to relive my youth and go and spend time living in the Paris bookstore..... ( )
  Smits | Nov 6, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
Tender, disenchanted, self-castigating and bittersweet, Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs is a book that is consistently surprising.
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It was a gray winter Sunday when I came to the bookstore.
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The title is Time Was Soft There in North America, Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs in England.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312347405, Paperback)

Wandering through Paris's Left Bank one day, poor and unemployed, Canadian reporter Jeremy Mercer ducked into a little bookstore called Shakespeare & Co. Mercer bought a book, and the staff invited him up for tea. Within weeks, he was living above the store, working for the proprietor, George Whitman, patron saint of the city's down-and-out writers, and immersing himself in the love affairs and low-down watering holes of the shop's makeshift staff. Time Was Soft There is the story of a journey down a literary rabbit hole in the shadow of Notre Dame, to a place where a hidden bohemia still thrives.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:42 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"With gangsters on his tail and his meager savings in hand, crime reporter Jeremy Mercer fled Canada in 1999 and ended up in Paris. Broke and almost homeless, he found himself invited to a tea party among the riffraff of the timeless Left Bank fantasy known as Shakespeare & Co. In its present incarnation, Shakespeare & Co. has become a destination for writers and readers the world over, trying to reclaim the lost world of literary Paris in the 1920s. Having been inspired by Sylvia Beach's original store, the present owner, George Whitman, invites writers who are down and out in Paris to live and dream amid the bookshelves in return for work. Jeremy Mercer tumbled into this literary rabbit hole, found a life of camaraderie with the other eccentric residents, and became, for a time, George Whitman's confidant and right-hand man." "Time Was Soft There is one of the stories of bohemian Paris and recalls the work of many writers who were bewitched by the City of Light in their youth. Jeremy's comrades include Simon, the eccentric British poet who refuses to give up his bed in the antiquarian book room, beautiful blonde Pia, who contributes the elegant spirit of Parisian couture to the store, the handsome American Kurt, who flirts with beautiful women looking for copies of Tropic of Cancer, and George himself, the man who holds the key to it all. As Time Was Soft There winds in and around the streets of Paris, the staff fall in and out of love, straighten bookshelves, host tea parties, drink in the more down-at-the-heels cafes, sell a few books, and help George find a way to keep his endangered bookstore open. Spend a few days with Jeremy Mercer at 37 rue de la Bucherie, and discover the bohemian world of Paris that still bustles in the shadow of Notre Dame."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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