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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charming Memoir of a Modern-Day Paris Bohemian
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...
Published on January 2, 2006 by Amy Senk

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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Amazing bookstore, unappealing author.
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...
Published on January 28, 2008 by Charlie M


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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charming Memoir of a Modern-Day Paris Bohemian, January 2, 2006
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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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Romance and Reality in Literary Paris, December 11, 2005
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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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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Amazing bookstore, unappealing author., January 28, 2008
By 
Charlie M (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. (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. Mercer is by no means a dark and unlikable character, but his opening few chapters present him as such, with the added drawback of portraying him as an innocent young man wanting to get his hands dirty. Honestly, the reader has to struggle to persevere through this start (I not only found this, but so to did several people who also read it). But as the reader reads on about this charming bookstore and peculiar owner, Mercer finds his rhythm and is able to sustain the reader's interest.

From the moment of his discovery of the bookstore, Mercer reveals a world that seems utterly unbelievable at times. Whilst it may have appeared to be a cluttered, yet cult bookstore from the surface, the reality awaiting Mercer is one which at times appears to be sheer madness. From the employee toilet being surrounded by stacks of books (which unfortunately suffer from ungraceful sprayback), a resident locking himself in his room day and night to escape imminent eviction, to tea party's featuring guests more likely to come from a Roald Dahl fantasy, the bookstore constantly lives up to its famous and offbeat name. Ultimately the numerous misadventures and anecdotes serves to incite an intense desire on the reader's behalf to go and discover this world themselves, with the firsthand account of Shakespeare & Co. appearing almost unbelievable.

I give the book 3 stars yet this is more of a compromise. For its insight into the enchanting world of Shakespeare and Co., I would say it's 4/4.5 stars, yet for the tabloid style writing and the author's general appeal to the reader, I would say it's 1.5/2 stars. `Time Was Soft There' is however well worth the read, for it tells the tale of a bookstore inhabited by such an array of odd individuals that one can hardly believe that it is a memoir and not fiction. It makes quite easy reading (one can race through it fairly quickly), and once the hurdle of the introductory opening chapters is finished, you are able to enjoy the extraordinary tales of Shakespeare & Co., and its eccentric owner.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid, witty and Engrossing, November 10, 2005
By 
E. Sutton "Sam" (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sure catches the scene as I glimpsed it, January 24, 2006
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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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Lifeless; skip this, August 10, 2012
I love Paris, and I was intrigued by the idea of this book about this famous bookstore, but the execution is disappointing. The writing is competent but never sparkles; in fact it reads like a pedestrian magazine article, which isn't surprising since the writer was a journalist. There are many supposedly colorful characters in the book but they never come to life. There are many supposedly funny situations in the book but they never made me laugh. I found myself skipping pages and then skipping more pages and then skipping more pages. It's way too long and perhaps if it had been better written and had some genuine humor it would've been an enjoyable read. It captures none of the charm of Paris. Finally, as others have noted, there's just something about the narrator that isn't very appealing.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a Winner!, January 29, 2006
Reading about life inside Paris' Shakespeare and Company was a hoot. I laughed out loud so many times I thought the neighbors would complain. I stopped reading the book for a week five pages from the end because I didn't want it to end. Jeremy nailed the character of George Bates Whitman not to mention all the other delightful characters in that toppling pile of old books that teeters on God knows what alongside the Seine.

Two years before Jeremy I interviewed George for my memoir of Hemingway. When I asked him to comb down his wild hair for a photograph, he looked at me in shock and said he hadn't used a comb for years. When he had to, he told me,he used a fork. I combed his hair with mine and shot the picture.

Now, thanks to Time Was Soft There, I learned how George got a haircut...by burning it off! Thank God we didn't get to that!

This book is a pure delight from cover to cover and I am sending a copy to an old WW2 Army buddy who was with me for that interview. I know he will laugh himself into the funny farm from reading it because his self-control is not as good as mine.

Robert F. Burgess
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stepping Back in Time...., January 14, 2007
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This review is from: Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. (Paperback)
Reading Mercer's memoir was like stepping back in time for me. I've been to George's book store many times, but it's been a few years. So reading his accurate account was a wonderful return back to a special place.

I came across George and his book store in the early 90's and when I questioned if he had a book about Kiki and her memoirs, the answer I got from George was, "Come to the tea party Sunday afternoon." It was an experience I'll never forget and Mercer described that tea party perfectly....sitting there wide-eyed, trying to figure out what it was all about.

I enjoyed his book tremendously and my only regret was that it had to end. I also wanted to give Mercer credit for "tying up loose ends" in regard to George, the book store and George's daughter, Sylvia. It was a great ending with good information. I'll be back in Paris in 9 weeks and very much look forward to a return visit to the book shop with Sylvia now in charge.

If you love Paris or are planning a trip there....you won't be disappointed in this piece of history. It's the first book I've come across with so much detail and info on George Whitman.....who just happened to be raised in my hometown, Salem, Mass.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Novel Novel, February 6, 2007
This review is from: Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. (Paperback)
Escaping circumstances stemming from position life as an Ottawa crime reporter which have endangered his life, 28 year old Mercer runs to Paris. Broke, he is invited to tea at Shakespeare and Co., the small Left Bank bookstore which "is a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore". In exchange for unpaid labor, Whitman, the owner, allows struggling writers to live in the bookstore. Mercer takes up residence in the upstairs library, and experiences modern-day Bohemian Paris, "drunk on alcohol, drunk on Paris, drunk on our sudden new lives, we felt for all the world like the best of friends" (p. 161).

This book is a must for anyone who loves books, writing, independent bookstores, and Paris after the liberation-the Paris of romance, intrigue, freedom and creativity.

The one major flaw with the book is that it is hard to like Mercer, the narrator. Mercer begins his story by describing how he betrayed one of his friends, spent all his money on alcohol, drugs, and a BMW. And Mercer isn't in Paris to redeem himself. Mercer has a convenient way of painting his story around his personal acts of heroism instead of the heroics of the store. Mercer paints George Whitman as an eccentric who needs to be saved-by Mercer of course. The poet living in the antiquarian room is saved by Mercer. Fires are put out by Mercer. Passports are found by Mercer. Daughters are found by Mercer. Drunken brawls are broken up by Mercer. Mercer takes a punch in the face. The store is going to be saved by Mercer via Oprah. In this story, everyone is a big mess and Mercer is mana from heaven. Accordingly, some of the writing feels a bit affected. Mercer is trying way too hard to find the story here. Just having lived through something doesn't make a writer. It's similar to the people who think they've got a story to tell because they ran with the bulls in Spain like Hemingway.

Mercer's writing and psychology are heavily influenced by his crime reporting days. The first line of the book is "It was a grey winter's Sunday when I came into the bookstore." That kind of line seems extremely passe to me-the beginning of airport crime fiction, not a story about one of the greatest bookstores in the world. You get the feeling Mercer became a crime reporter to be a savior-it's the same mentality that his brought him to Shakespeare and Company and it dictates this story. Nurses tend to develop a sort of munchausen syndrome. After reading this book I tend to think that crime reporters have a similar sort of affliction. They place themselves in situations and places where they can play hero. I think the story of Shakespeare and Company is amazing, but I am not sure Mercer delivers it well.

Still, the story is a unique and quick read.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great fantasy for many of us., December 31, 2006
This review is from: Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. (Paperback)
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.
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Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co.
Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer (Paperback - September 19, 2006)
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