Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. Info

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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.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co.:

5

Jan 30, 2013

[I'm going to join the uncool kids who gave this five stars, realizing, of course, my credibility as a reviewer likely will take a huge unrecoverable hit from the cool kids who gave it fewer, for whom, I suspect, giving any book the full five stars would mark them as forgettably naive.]

After 44 years I still don't know what it was about me George Whitman didn't like, if anything. It might have been my haircut. He might have thought I was a CIA agent. I was an American on leave from the Army and [I'm going to join the uncool kids who gave this five stars, realizing, of course, my credibility as a reviewer likely will take a huge unrecoverable hit from the cool kids who gave it fewer, for whom, I suspect, giving any book the full five stars would mark them as forgettably naive.]

After 44 years I still don't know what it was about me George Whitman didn't like, if anything. It might have been my haircut. He might have thought I was a CIA agent. I was an American on leave from the Army and Whitman's Communist convictions were causing him official problems in the mid-1960s. The French government even shut him down for a while in 1968 accusing him of housing Communists during the May student riots in Paris, which he was.

I met him in May 1966. We were never introduced, but I spoke with him one time at the front desk of his bookstore. Our conversation went something like this: "Excuse me, do you have anything by Rousseau?" I had to repeat this once or twice, as Whitman seemed absorbed by something, either something on his desk or in his mind. Eventually he turned his head, barely enough to look at me. His face conveyed annoyance, if not incipient contempt.

"What did you say?" From the loaded indifference in his voice he might have been on the verge of telling me to get the hell out of his sight. I repeated my question. My mistake, I soon learned, was in mispronouncing "Rousseau," probably misplacing the accent or even dragging the esses to sound like zees. He made me repeat my blunder another time or two before correcting me, his voice now curled in a sneer. When I nodded yes, he growled no, stared hard at me a moment longer and then turned back to whatever had been occupying his attention.

What surely clinched the unfavorable impression he'd evidently already formed of me was the book I finally purchased. It was a paperback copy of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. Not a bad choice for a detective novel, but, as I was to learn just the other day, Whitman has a low opinion of the genre. Other than to take my money and put the famous Shakespeare and Co. stamp in my purchased books, he never bothered to even glance at me again on my numerous successive visits his store.

Stationed in West Germany I'd saved up my leave time and spent it all in Paris - two or three weeks. A friend who had just returned from the City of Light raved about the famous bookstore on the Left Bank facing Notre Dame. It was named after the literary hangout for Lost Generation expatriots in the 1920s and '30s run by Sylvia Beach. Her store had achieved international acclaim for publishing James Joyce's Ulysses and was personally liberated from the Nazis by Ernest Hemingway. Whitman's successor to the legendary Beach bookstore, in a different location, had won recognition by a new generation of young literati, with luminaries such as Ginsberg, Corso, Kerouac and Ferlinghetti frequenting the place, sleeping, writing and working there occasionally and giving readings. Whitman published Ginsberg's Howl, when no one else would touch the cutting-edge poem that became an anthem for the Beat Generation.

During his sojourn in Paris my literary Army buddy had gotten to know a young writer Whitman befriended after learning the man was sleeping under a bridge over the Seine. The writer was now living and writing at the bookstore. Sounded like my kind of place. Even after the cold reception I got from Whitman, I couldn't stay away, seduced by its exotic ambience.

I have been seduced anew by Jeremy Mercer's charming memoir of the months he spent in Paris in 1999 living at Shakespeare and Co. Mercer ended up at the bookstore after fleeing to Paris from Ottawa where he'd been a crime reporter and had seriously pissed off an ex-convict who vowed revenge. Mercer's book, Time Was Soft There, brought back memories and dreams from my time in Paris and shed some light on the personality of George Whitman, the man I'd annoyed or worried more than four decades earlier.

Whitman, it seems, continued throughout the years to be suspicious of Americans, considering anyone he didn't know to be a potential CIA agent. He's a moody man and can be grumpy and hostile without warning, and he loathes detective mysteries.

A Google search indicates Whitman is pushing 100 years of age but is still kicking, although he has turned over the Shakespeare and Co. keys to his daughter, Sylvia.

I still have and periodically re-read the copy of Hammett's book I bought from Whitman, but I'm not certain I yet know the correct pronunciation of “Rousseau.” ...more
5

Jan 03, 2019

An endearing, delightfully charming personal memoir about living in one of the most famous, unique and culturally significant bookstores in the world: "Shakespeare and Company" in Paris.

Virtually everybody (maybe with the exception of the likes of Donald Trump, I guess) would have heard of this mythical bookstore located in the beguiling heart of beautiful Paris, on La Rive Gauche of the Seine River, an area historically known as one of the foremost cultural and artistic parts of the city, a An endearing, delightfully charming personal memoir about living in one of the most famous, unique and culturally significant bookstores in the world: "Shakespeare and Company" in Paris.

Virtually everybody (maybe with the exception of the likes of Donald Trump, I guess) would have heard of this mythical bookstore located in the beguiling heart of beautiful Paris, on La Rive Gauche of the Seine River, an area historically known as one of the foremost cultural and artistic parts of the city, a neighborhood where the likes of Picasso, Matisse, and Hemingway once lived.
An area where, like in most of central Paris, you can breath and savour the sophistication, elegance, rich cultural history and a tradition of active, democratic (if occasionally hot-headed) political awareness and activism, so characteristic of what I personally consider the most beautiful City in the world, and the city that most deeply represent the richness of the cultural traditions of old Europe.
A city for which my affection is rekindled every single time I have the privilege to visit its beautiful galleries, museums, bookstores, and to stroll along its elegant boulevards, delightful parks, and the romantic bridges and banks of the Seine, all punctuated by architecturally magnificent palaces and beautiful monuments representing a constant reminder of the remarkable history of this extraordinary city.

Shakespeare and Company has a very particular history, being not just a famous bookstore but also a place of sanctuary and refuge for penniless aspirant writers and artists, and a center of radical cultural and political activism.
Its complicated, generous, eccentric and utterly fascinating owner, George Whitman, provided free accommodation inside the store to all sort of intriguing and unique characters: the only requirements were to be culturally active and love books, to read a given quota of books, and to occasionally help in some of the activities of the store. His objective was to create a socialist utopia strongly tinged with a deep, abiding love for culture in all of its manifestations, and an almost fetishistic affection for books.

The author of the book describes his memorable life experience when guest of Shakespeare and Company. An experience that saves him from himself and that provides an opportunity for re-thinking the values and decisions of his own life.
The owner of the shop, George Whitman, has been rightfully appointed in 2006 "Officier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" by the French government, for his unique and important contribution to the cultural life in France. Sadly he died at the age of 98, after a meaningful life lived to the full, but thankfully he is survived by his daughter who is trying to preserve (albeit in a more polished and less ruffled and chaotic manner) the rich tradition of this unique bookstore.

From the author's words: "though far from perfect and rife with idiosyncrasies, George, with all the hope and optimism of a child, still believes he can change the world and the people he takes in at his store. In an age when it is so tempting to be cynical, this is enough to make him a hero in my eyes".
George's words: "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 ? It does not make any sense!"

“Be not inhospitable to strangers,” reads a sign that stands at the entrance of the bookstore “lest they be angels in disguise.”

Highly recommended. An absolute must-read for anybody who has ever fallen in love with Paris and who has a personal fetish for books, who still believes in a humane alternative to the "greed is good" philosophy of the rotting and primitive model of unfettered, unregulated capitalism that still survives in few countries, and who puts higher priority to culture, intelligence and education over money and power. ...more
5

Apr 24, 2013

I love this first line in chapter 35 --

"Within a week, Ablimit was in the hospital, the apartment was lost, Eve stopped wearing George's ring, and a man was dead."

Former journalist/ novelist Jeremy Mercer is broke and on the run. He leaves Canada, and ends up in Paris, where he takes refuge at Shakespeare & Co., the infamous bookstore known for its literary history and promise to house writers "free of charge in exchange for their work". (The list of previous writers reads like a who's who I love this first line in chapter 35 --

"Within a week, Ablimit was in the hospital, the apartment was lost, Eve stopped wearing George's ring, and a man was dead."

Former journalist/ novelist Jeremy Mercer is broke and on the run. He leaves Canada, and ends up in Paris, where he takes refuge at Shakespeare & Co., the infamous bookstore known for its literary history and promise to house writers "free of charge in exchange for their work". (The list of previous writers reads like a who's who of literature.)

Mercer tells an enchanting story of his stay at the shop, the people he meets, and the relationships he forges there. But he doesn't overromanticize the experience: The title refers to soft time, as in soft jail time (as opposed to hard jail time). The store is not the easiest place to live; for that matter, having no money is not an easy way to live--but it could be worse. This book explores the sometimes dramatic dynamics of several creative personalities living under one roof. It is also about people finding their own way, in their own time, and in their own style. Mercer subtly entwines readers in the residents' lives, making them feel as though they are actually there.

Great non-fiction, enjoyable read! ...more
2

Sep 09, 2009

I'm glad I have finished this book; it was really beginning to irritate me! I wanted to like it, I really did - Books, Paris, what's not to love? What a shame then that what started off as a very promising look into Paris's most famous of bookstores quickly descended into one of the most self-indulgent memoirs I have ever read.

Jeremy Mercer is a Canadain journalist who after printing the name of someone he promised he wouldn't name, did a runner one Christmas to Paris and ended up spending the I'm glad I have finished this book; it was really beginning to irritate me! I wanted to like it, I really did - Books, Paris, what's not to love? What a shame then that what started off as a very promising look into Paris's most famous of bookstores quickly descended into one of the most self-indulgent memoirs I have ever read.

Jeremy Mercer is a Canadain journalist who after printing the name of someone he promised he wouldn't name, did a runner one Christmas to Paris and ended up spending the next 9 months of his life living in the famous Shakespeare & Company bookshop. What did interest me was the fact that the shops owner, 86 year old George Whitman (an American) let anyone (usually with the claim of being a struggling writer) sleep in one of the many beds dotted around the shop, indefinitely. The backstory of how George came to be in Paris and how he came to set up the shop in the first place was intruiging (for about 50 pages). What confused me too was the fact that Mercer kept saying what a wonderful person George was, yet the way he portrayed him was as a rude, grumpy old man who perved after young girls 65 years younger than him! He also repeatedly talked about Georges wish for communism and how the world had it all wrong, yet he also seemed proud of the fact that the two of them would go to church sales to buy books for a few pence and then sell them on for a massive profit in his store. Infact, when one of the priests cottoned on to what they were doing, George had a physical fight with the priest over a book. Nice!

I am left feeling deflated and somewhat irritated by this book. Given the subject, I expected to fall in love with Paris over again through the book. While there were frequent references to getting pissed and telling stories by the river Seine, there was never a point where I felt that this was a magical city. The narrative was flat, it didn't make me feel like I was there (which is always a sign of a well written book, in my opinion), in fact I didn't even feel like Paris was somewhere I would want to revisit on the back of this book.

A self-indulgent, poorly executed excuse for a mediocre writer to cash in on his time spent living in a famous bookshop. ...more
3

Mar 22, 2016

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 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.
...more
4

Sep 11, 2015

As every book lover knows, there is something special about a bookshop, but the famous, Shakespeare and Company, in Paris is another level again. Originally founded in 1919 by Sylvia Beach, she was the first to distribute Ulysses by joyce, and counted among her friends Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway. After her death, George Whitman bought the stock and re-founded his own shop in homage to hers. Originally called Le Mistral, he renamed it Shakespeare and Company on the 400th anniversary of the As every book lover knows, there is something special about a bookshop, but the famous, Shakespeare and Company, in Paris is another level again. Originally founded in 1919 by Sylvia Beach, she was the first to distribute Ulysses by joyce, and counted among her friends Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway. After her death, George Whitman bought the stock and re-founded his own shop in homage to hers. Originally called Le Mistral, he renamed it Shakespeare and Company on the 400th anniversary of the bard’s birthday. Whitman had always been a wanderer, walking all over the States, Mexico and Central America. The charity and kindness that people showed him on his travels, inspired his philosophy “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.” The bookshop was to become a haunt and dwelling for aspiring poets and writers, and a number of the staff lived in the shop too. He called them Tumbleweeds; they had few responsibilities, but they included, producing a short autobiography, helping out in the bookshop for a few hours a day and reading a book a day.

Mercer started out as a journalist, reporting court cases and other news items for a local paper. After a run in with a criminal contact he decided that he need to leave Canada for his own safety. Arriving in Paris he turns up at the bookshop as he has heard that it can be a refuge. Whitman says he can stay for a while, and says he can stay in the Antiquarian room, but he must say to the current resident, a poet called Simon, that after five years it is time for him to move on. Simon proves elusive, and when he does catch up with him to pass on the news he seems distraught. They agree on a time period for him to go, but when Mercer says that Simon wasn’t going to leave, he expects a scene, but Whitman shrugs it off.

As he settles into Paris life and the bookshop, he starts to befriend the other people that are living there. Whitman is a man who collects favourites, Mercer becomes one at one point, before the latest new member overtakes him. It is a bit chaotic, he is forever leaving money in books, there are a number of thefts from unguarded tills, and there are always new people and others moving on. They have to find places to shower and bathe and having very little money himself, he is taught by Kurt the cheapest and best places to eat from. For a time they are fed by a staff member of the New Zealand Embassy, and have to sneak in and stay quiet so they don’t get caught. And in this place of misfits, great things have emerged. It is thought that at least seven books have been written there, and many times that have been started or conceived.

It was a really lovely book to read. Mercer has brought the bookshop and its many characters to life and gives us a flavour of Parisian life at the time. There are some funny parts too as they sail a little too close to the law. Whitman is quite a man too, flawed but generous, this bookshop that he has given to the world is now in safe hands as his daughter is now running it.

Must pay it a visit one day.
...more
2

Feb 13, 2012

I wanted to like this book. I really really wanted to like this book. France + bookstores should have been a surefire way to get four stars from me. But. The author focused too much on his angsty 20-something life (a surefire way to get one star from me).

I loved learning more about George, the owner/proprietor of Shakespeare & Co., but those parts were too few and far between.
5

Mar 19, 2013

A friend who works at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., dropped me a note last month to tell me that he had just finished reading “time was soft there.” Yes, all in lowercase. He said it was the true story of a former police-beat journalist who quits his job and flees to Paris after receiving a death threat, and he finds both refuge and a new direction in life at an iconic bookstore.

My first thought was, “Yeah, right, that sounds, uh, really boring.” So I immediately put the book on my hold A friend who works at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., dropped me a note last month to tell me that he had just finished reading “time was soft there.” Yes, all in lowercase. He said it was the true story of a former police-beat journalist who quits his job and flees to Paris after receiving a death threat, and he finds both refuge and a new direction in life at an iconic bookstore.

My first thought was, “Yeah, right, that sounds, uh, really boring.” So I immediately put the book on my hold list at my local public library. And “time was soft there: a Paris sojourn at Shakespeare & Co.” by Jeremy Mercer is now on my list of lifelong favorites.

It was at the end of a chapter about three-quarters through, on Page 142 of my hardbound version, that I had to stop and say, wow, I love this book. Not knowing the context might hinder its impact here, but it involves the aging owner, George Whitman. Mercer writes:

“Of course. What was I thinking? Instead of starting a foundation to protect the bookstore, we were going to wait for his daughter to come take over, which George would never let happen, so instead we were buying an apartment. It was all so obvious. We were through the rabbit hole and into the world of Shakespeare and Company, where down is up, white is black, and nothing is ever normal.”

George, the store’s founder and owner, is an eccentric man in his mid 80s -- an American by birth who became disillusioned with capitalism and American life, in general, and after military service in World War II became a vagabond exploring the world. He embraced communism, in it’s truest form. His travels, we learn, led him to Paris, where he surprisingly settled and opened a bookstore. As it grew he changed the name and adopted Shakespeare & Co., a moniker of a previous bookstore that had been founded and operated by a woman until the Germans took issue with her during their occupation of France in World War II.

The bookstore still exists. In fact, it even has a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shakes...) and website (http://www.shakespeareandcompany.com/).

Mercer, the book’s author, had penned two true-crime novels back in his native Canada, but in the second book he violated an agreement with a source, a known criminal, and used the guy’s name. Not so good. This known criminal let it be known that Mercer was to be toasted -- in the fried or dead kind of way, not feted for his brilliant story line.

Still very much a young man with an expected long life ahead of him, Mercer vanished and landed in Paris. One day while walking the streets, jobless and pondering what to do when his dwindling money supply is gone, he seeks shelter inside Shakespeare and Co. to escape a sudden heavy downpour of rain. A young woman working there invites him to the bookstore’s Friday tea time, and he finds a possible, temporary solution to his growing worries.

Throughout its history, the bookstore, located across a 400-year-old street from Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, has been a magnet for writers -- some very famous or about to be very famous, along with some drifters who in their dreams would be great writers or poets.

George ran a loose ship, allowing these wandering dreamers to sleep for free in beds located throughout the bookstore for as little as a night or indefinitely. No showers, no hot water, very little privacy. Free is a bit of a misnomer; these drifters from many countries were expected to help open and close the store daily, and help clean it.

“time was soft there” takes the reader well into life among the misfits in Paris, providing a startling glimpse of being homeless, taking advantage of opportunities, and working the system to survive. Along the way, some find love, occasionally long-lasting and including marriage but most fleeting and heart-breaking.

Mercer, like many others before and after him, adopted Shakespeare and Co. as his home and anchor. Unlike many others before him, he developed a rather close relationship with aging George, becoming his confidante and go-to resident, although the road was rocky, turbulent and unpredictable -- all reflecting George’s idiosyncrasies.

So what does Mercer do with his life? Sorry, you’ll have to read the book. This is both a book on the store’s history and a coming-to-grips-with-life lesson. The book will be one to remember.
...more
4

Apr 03, 2011

Shakespeare and Company in Paris, in the shadow of Notre Dame, is one of the world's most famous bookshops.

The original bookshop was the haunt of many literary greats such as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, but the legendary owner, Sylvia Beach, closed it down after World War II.

George Whitman opened his bookstore in the 1950s and eventually changed its name to Shakespeare and Company and although this is the second incarnation of the store of that name, the atmosphere and Shakespeare and Company in Paris, in the shadow of Notre Dame, is one of the world's most famous bookshops.

The original bookshop was the haunt of many literary greats such as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, but the legendary owner, Sylvia Beach, closed it down after World War II.

George Whitman opened his bookstore in the 1950s and eventually changed its name to Shakespeare and Company and although this is the second incarnation of the store of that name, the atmosphere and bizarre way of life remain very much the same.

Aspiring authors still frequent the place and even remain there for many years, sleeping in the beds amngst the books. Jeremey Mercer was one such writer who escaped from Canada on the threat of death from a criminal that he had inadvertently named in a book that he had written and he was one of those who remained, forming a close friendship with the idiosyncratic Whitman.

He remained a number of years and this is the story of that almost fairytale time that he spent there.

Quirky, sometimes shocking, sometimes pathetic, always entertaining this is a classic of sub-culture Parisian literary life. ...more
1

Aug 27, 2012

It's fun to read about book shops, and the Shakespeare and Co. is a unique place for sure as it sells books, functions like a library, and offers shelter for down and out writers.

However, I am not a fan of Mercer's style--his journalistic background shines through with a lot of telling and not much showing. He also has a pomposity about him that I didn't care for--despite the fact that he wrote about an impoverished time in his life.
4

Dec 20, 2014

"In a place like Paris, the air is so thick with dreams they clog the streets and take all the good tables at the cafes. Poets and writers, models and designers, painters and sculptors, actors and directors, lovers and escapists, they flock to the City of Lights."

Mercer's quirky, bohemian memoir seems so quintessentially Paris. I have never traveled to Europe, and the only thing I knew prior to reading was that the Parisian Shakespeare and Company is one of the world's most famous bookstores. "In a place like Paris, the air is so thick with dreams they clog the streets and take all the good tables at the cafes. Poets and writers, models and designers, painters and sculptors, actors and directors, lovers and escapists, they flock to the City of Lights."

Mercer's quirky, bohemian memoir seems so quintessentially Paris. I have never traveled to Europe, and the only thing I knew prior to reading was that the Parisian Shakespeare and Company is one of the world's most famous bookstores. Mercer fled life as a Canadian crime reporter under some shady circumstances, leaving behind his possessions and a decent paying job. He had been one credit short of graduating college with a language credit, so this is the split second reasoning he chooses to pick his destination. He quickly runs through his cash reserves staying at a hotel, and with no job prospects, stumbles upon this bookstore mecca on a rainy day.

My favorite parts were the crazy ways Mercer and his other live-in bookstore friends would find ways to shower in the city, ride the metro for free, scrounge for meals that would last days for a few francs, and the stories of the extremely eccentric but brilliant, George....bookstore owner. There is a detailed section on George's family life, traveling history, zany business sense, and belief in communism. He lays out a convincing case for why nations have failed to execute communism in appropriate ways- the foremost reason being the greed and ruthlessness of the leaders in these regimes, along with political pressure from other nations. I liked that he felt a society should be evaluated on how the least fortunate are being treated and cared for.

While I am too structured and private to have enjoyed this kind of lifestyle, it was highly entertaining! ...more
4

Nov 26, 2009

Ever just feel like chucking it all - your job, your bills and all your other obligations? Well, my friends, you're gonna love this book. For circumstances somewhat beyond his control, author Mercer fled his Canadian home and found refuge in Shakespeare and Company, the famous Paris bookstore.

It's important to note that this isn't Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company, but rather George Whitman's Shakespeare and Company - a bookstore and would-be-writer flophouse. Whitman - no relation to Walt Ever just feel like chucking it all - your job, your bills and all your other obligations? Well, my friends, you're gonna love this book. For circumstances somewhat beyond his control, author Mercer fled his Canadian home and found refuge in Shakespeare and Company, the famous Paris bookstore.

It's important to note that this isn't Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company, but rather George Whitman's Shakespeare and Company - a bookstore and would-be-writer flophouse. Whitman - no relation to Walt Whitman (yes - that question does come up) - has owned and operated the store for more than fifty years and appropriated the name with the permission of Ms. Beach (who closed the original store when the Nazi's occupied France).

Mercer's memoir is equal parts biography and travel narrative, and an always entertaining portrait of Paris, Whitman and the denizens of the left bank. Fanciful, colorful, engaging and informative - "Time Was Soft There" is perfect for book lovers, and anyone who has ever fantasized about taking a sabbitcal from their hum-drum lives of obligation and responsibility. Enjoy. ...more
5

May 24, 2007

A wonderful story, well written... it made me want to go there and do all the things that the author did, which is the definition of a good "travel" story, if you ask me.
5

Mar 27, 2008

For anyone who has worked in a bookstore, who has romanticized working in a bookstore, and who wants a little validation for bohemian leanings.
5

Jan 25, 2008

Anyone who loves independent bookstores (and anyone who loves Paris, loves books, loves San Francisco's City Lights bookstore, is planning to visit Paris, okay, let's just say anyone!) should read this enchanting story about the legendary Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris.
4

Jul 24, 2009

I've have just found another reason to visit France next year.The book centers around the famous Shakespeare & Co. bookstore in Paris.A Canadian crime reporter has to leave Canada (you'll read why) and end up in Paris.Then by chance he comes across this bookstore and gets free room and board as long as he provides a biography and works in the store 2 hours a day.I will let you all read the book to see what happens.A must-read for any book lover.
3

Aug 11, 2012

For me, this was a little surreal in that I too was at S&C the same time as Mercer was so I know all the characters he is writing about. The funny thing is I can barely remember him and I'm sure he can't remember me either as I think I count only as one of the few transients he mentions.
I couldn't stand not having a shower, kitchen or toilet and the others there were somewhat of a clique. For one I never got an invite to the New Zealand embassy, perhaps I wasn't there long enough. Another For me, this was a little surreal in that I too was at S&C the same time as Mercer was so I know all the characters he is writing about. The funny thing is I can barely remember him and I'm sure he can't remember me either as I think I count only as one of the few transients he mentions.
I couldn't stand not having a shower, kitchen or toilet and the others there were somewhat of a clique. For one I never got an invite to the New Zealand embassy, perhaps I wasn't there long enough. Another interesting point from my perspective is that Mercer seems to be berating the same person I do in my own 'Voyage of Nomad' book. George is indeed an interesting conundrum which I also wrote about. I don't mind if Mercer is self indulgent - most of us writers are. I am a little jealous he managed to get a book deal out of it when any one of us could have written that book. I am also slightly jealous he has made and still manages to make France his home but I don't begrudge him. It's also fair to say I've not lived there and maybe it isn't as great as it may seem from the outside (or is it? - This has yet to be learnt/achieved). The book as far as I can recall is reasonable in its field. ...more
5

Oct 29, 2015

Mercer combines the larger history of Shakespeare and Company with his personal tale of living at the bookshop for several months in 2000. He is a Canadian journalist who had been a successful crime reporter, but had got into trouble by naming a source and, fearing for his life, ran away to Paris, as writers are wont to do. He had almost run out of money when he visited the bookshop and was invited to one of their legendary Sunday tea parties. There, he learned that George Whitman invited Mercer combines the larger history of Shakespeare and Company with his personal tale of living at the bookshop for several months in 2000. He is a Canadian journalist who had been a successful crime reporter, but had got into trouble by naming a source and, fearing for his life, ran away to Paris, as writers are wont to do. He had almost run out of money when he visited the bookshop and was invited to one of their legendary Sunday tea parties. There, he learned that George Whitman invited writers and artists to live in the shop, making it as much a commune as a business (possibly more of a commune, in fact, considering George’s business sense and his being a genuine card-carrying Communist). Mercer wanted in.

George’s conditions for “Tumbleweeds“, as he called his guests (and considered himself to have been on his own arrival in Paris), were threefold: to read a book a day, help out in the shop and write a single-page autobiography for his archives. Mercer was given one extra condition: to evict Simon, an antisocial poet who’d been living in the antiquarian room for several years and had started to prevent customers from getting in.

Mercer threw himself into all this with gusto. He befriended his fellow Tumbleweeds and learned how to live for pennies by making use of public showers, market-day leftovers and a nearby student refectory. Importantly, he became close to George himself and became privy to details about the shop’s precarious future and George’s past.

- See my full review: http://www.noseinabook.co.uk/2015/11/... ...more
5

Nov 10, 2017

Some people call me the Don Quixote of the Latin Quarter because my head is so far up in the clouds that I can imagine all of us are angels in paradise. And instead of being a bonafide bookseller I am more like a frustrated novelist store has rooms like chapters in a novel. And the fact is Tolstoi and Doestoyevski are more real to me than my next door neighbours, and even stranger is the fact that even before I was born Doestoyevski wrote the story of my life in a book called ‘The Idiot’ and Some people call me the Don Quixote of the Latin Quarter because my head is so far up in the clouds that I can imagine all of us are angels in paradise. And instead of being a bonafide bookseller I am more like a frustrated novelist store has rooms like chapters in a novel. And the fact is Tolstoi and Doestoyevski are more real to me than my next door neighbours, and even stranger is the fact that even before I was born Doestoyevski wrote the story of my life in a book called ‘The Idiot’ and ever since reading it I have been searching for the heroine, a girl called Natasha Filipovna.

One hundred years ago my bookstore was a wine shop… Further back in the year 1600, our whole building was a monastery called La Maison du Mustier. In medieval times, each monastery had a frère lampier whose duty it was to light the lamps at nightfall. I have been doing this for fifty years and now it is my daughter’s turn. 
GW ...more
3

Feb 05, 2019

Ah— a little bohemia where might live long left misfits persists. It gives heart to a soul bleached bland so white to know an eden briefly out wheres houses some curious-minded, some poets, readers and writers in this centrifuge of global capitalism, yet a naïve place playful invites.
4

Jul 26, 2018

If you truly love Paris and old bookstores, you will enjoy this! And that title!
1

May 07, 2019

Apart from the chapter in which the author talks about George Whitman, the rest of this book was as boring as listening to someone else's memories or dreams.
4

Sep 20, 2018

A funny and interesting autobiography about his time in the quirky and fascinating book shop in Paris.
4

Mar 14, 2019

A sweet and nostalgic memoir of time spent in Paris at Shakespeare and Company.
5

Aug 02, 2010

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 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 (I've added it as the official url in the book details) and in stores as of late September 2016. ...more

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