Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Bookstore Of My Dreams...

Or nightmares.

I have mentioned here many times that I have dreamed of owning my own bookstore so that I could live in it and turn it into a gathering place of writers and readers.

Well here is the story of one man who did just that. An American in Paris in the 1950s named George Whitman. He ran a bookstore and allowed writers to live there in exchange for a couple hours of work each day. The bookstore Shakespeare & Co, on the Seine directly across from Notre Dame has popped up in my reading of novels and biographies and memoirs of writers over the last several decades but I was definitely not visualizing this! (Though it may not have always been this one I was meant to visualize. As it turns out this one was named after the one Sylvia Beach made famous before WWII and which was closed by the Germans during the occupation.)

This documentary is split into five parts on YouTube. I'm going to embed only the first part and add the links to the rest. It is worth watching the whole thing if you are interested in bookstores, the literati scene in Paris over the last half century or just eccentric people with stories that make your eyes pop. (There is a scene from the film that isn't in any of these parts but posted separately of George cutting his hair with a lit candle!)

Ummm. Maybe I should warn you not to watch this while eating or drinking or even too soon thereafter.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

There are several ways this deviates from my ideal but the one that makes it a nightmare version of my dream (from the proprietor's POV) is Whitman's, ummmm, housekeeping style. From the boarding writer's POV the nightmare is in Whitman's abrasive to the point of abusive labor management style.

And yet.

Part of me would still like to experience living in this bookstore, if only for a week or so. I don't know if I would get much writing done though. I think I would be too enthralled by the labyrinth of book shelves. I would have to be equipped with a miner's helmet and a very long string....

According to Shakespeare & Co own website, George Whitman, now around 94, retired in 2003 and turned the running of the store over to his then 22 year old daughter Sylvia, named after the proprietor of the first Shakespeare & Co. Maybe her housekeeping style is a bit less nightmarish? I believe she was the petite blond talking about the Sunday pancake breakfasts near the end of part 1 of the documentary which I learned on Wikipedia was running on Sundance channel in 2005 and was directed by Gonzague Pichelin and Benjamin Sutherland.

0 tell me a story:

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