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Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. Hardcover – October 13, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mercer explains his memoir's title this way: "Hard time goes slowly and painfully and leaves a man bitter.... Time at Shakespeare and Company was as soft as anything I'd ever felt." His graceful narrative follows struggling writers as they live on potato soup and dreams at Paris's famous expatriate bookshop. Mercer, a former Ottowa Citizen crime reporter, finds himself at Shakespeare one gloomy Parisian day in 1999, in his late 20s, with not much money and no plans for the future, trying to evade some angry newspaper sources back home. With little fanfare, he is taken into the store by its owner, George Whitman, a kindly yet scatterbrained man, who explains, "I run a socialist utopia that masquerades as a bookstore." Mercer begins working as an eager unpaid employee, running errands, acting as a referee between the writers who hang out there and ringing up sales (it's no B&N superstore: when Mercer asks where the credit card machine is, he's told, "Dude, Shakespeare and Company doesn't even have a telephone. Of course we don't take credit cards"). Mercer portrays the assorted characters and their adventures with an eye for detail and a wry sense of humor. Francophile book lovers will enjoy his finely crafted memoir.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

As a crime reporter in Canada, Mercer received a threatening call after naming an underworld source in a book. Fearing for his life, he quit his job and flew to Paris. As his funds dwindled, he stumbled upon Shakespeare and Co., a small bookstore on the Left Bank across from Notre-Dame, and spent nine months living rent-free in the upstairs library, along with a rotating cast of backpackers and aspiring writers. Despite Mercer's predilection for melodramatic flourishes, the memoir ably captures a romanticized version of the bum's life, with elaborate schemes to scrape up money (like buying designer handbags on behalf of Asian tourists) and nights spent drinking wine and swapping stories. But the real star is the eccentric and charming bookstore proprietor, George Whitman, who remarks, after losing a stack of two-hundred-franc notes to nest-building mice, "At least it's not the books."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312347391
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312347390
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #272,958 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Time Was Soft There is a charming memoir that reads like an exceptional novel. It tells the story of a jaded, hard-drinking Canadian cops reporter who must flee after a betrayed source issues threats.

Mercer ends up in Paris to finish a college language requirement. Then, just as he is running out of money, he spots the Shakespeare & Company bookshop during a downpour. He slips inside for a peek, and immediately finds friends, a home, a way of life that is seductive and artistic and romantic all at once.

The story does read like fiction from another era. Mercer's writing is so smooth and honest, and his story is incredible. He captures a very magical place in a magical city. Anyone who loves to get lost in bookstores will savor this book.

There is a fair amount of history in the story, which gives the book a spine. He explains the family background of the bookshop owner, his political leanings, his ties to the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco.

Mercer also does a wonderful job of showing the downside to such a romantic and crazy life choice. Giving up everything in order to live in a famous book store in a famous city sounds wonderful, but there are filthy toilets and hunger pangs and thieves and heartbreak, too.

This is an honest and well-written book about a fascinating subject. Time Was Soft There will surely catch the fancy of anyone who loves books and writers.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this memoir of his stay at Shakespeare & Co., Jeremy Mercer skillfully uses his talents as an extraordinary writer-storyteller. He captures the Romantic notions of all who go (or long to go) to Paris to experience the mythical pasts of the writers and artists who have flocked there for hundreds of years, and balances these notions with the often harsh realities of living the life of the starving artist. These experiences are couched in the Romantic life of George Whitman, the bookstore's founder, who in his free-wheeling life as an ex-patriate with all of its ups and downs, must ultimately face the realities of life as an aging rebel, grappling with the future of his haven - the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore.
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Format: Paperback
Jeremy Mercer's biographical description of Paris's Shakespeare & Company offers an amazing insight into the bookstore which accepts struggling travelers (who have a knack for writing... or at least try) by offering them a place to stay for as long as necessary (5 years for one visitor). But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this bookstore is its eccentric owner George Whitman, a man who regards money with disdain, sets fire to his hair in order to give it a trim, and decrees the bookstore's motto to be `Be kind to strangers, lest they're angels in disguise'.

Shakespeare & Company was originally a bookstore owned by Sylvia Beach, running from 1919 to 1941, attracting such literary heavyweights like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald. After being closed (with one rumor being that it was shut down when Ms Beach refused to sell the last copy of `Finnegan's Wake' to an occupying Nazi officer), a decade late George Whitman opened his own, similar bookstore in Paris under the name `Le Minstal'. It would eventually adopt the Shakespeare & Co. name, and would become renowned for its open door policy to visitors; its deep rooted communist ideals; its run-ins with the government; its cluttered yet enchanting makeup; and its undeniable charm and allure that has attracted so many thousands of visitors.

Into this world enters Jeremy Mercer, a Canadian crime-writer whose open honesty about his true character in the opening chapters immediately alienates the reader, who is likely to be somewhat put off by Mercer's admitted taste for the violence he witnesses whilst reporting.
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Format: Hardcover
With wry wit, self-deprecation and profound humanity, Jeremy Mercer takes us into the unique world that is Shakespeare & Co on the Left Bank of Paris. It's a warts and all look at the scraggly, literate residents, and an honest and loving portrait of the store's octegnarian owner, George Whitman, who emerges as a classic flawed hero, a man who built an instituion on a quixotic dream and little cash. When you finish this book, you will feel like you lived in the store yourself for a while.
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Format: Hardcover
I never lived or worked at Shakespeare but a friend did twenty-five years ago, and five years ago my wife and I dropped into the store to browse and follow her trail. When I mentioned that I knew Howard Zinn, legendary owner George Whitman immediately invited us to stay at the bookstore. (We'd already paid at the wonderful hotel next door, Hotel Esmerelda, so passed on staying there, but took George up on sharing Christmas Dinner, where we met Jeremy Mercer and a moveable feast of other great people. It was the most memorable evening of our trip, and one of the richest evening's of conversation I've ever had--all part of the ambience of the store.

I just spent all evening reading Mercer's book and it was great. We only got that brienf glimpse of Shakespeare & Co but from what I could tell Mercer captured the mileu wonderfully, especially the amazing George Whitman. It's a cliche to talk about a global homogenizized culture. Shakespeare & Co really is part of the antidote, in all its messy glory, dirty dishes and all. And an amazing bookstore on top of that. So thanks to Jeremy for capturing all this.
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