Saturday, April 14, 2007

Time Was Soft There - Book Review

Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer
(UK - Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs)

I read this book in one day - today. Being a Saturday - I seldom get time to do much reading, let alone an entire book. But this book is about 2 things I love - Books and Paris!! And to make things even better - the Author is a Canadian!!!

"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."

When I first spotted this book on the shelves, I was attracted to the books on the cover. Any books about books will catch my interest. I read the blurb and the back cover, and thought Shakespeare & co bookshop in Paris. I remember reading about that shop, but I thought that was old, back before the war. So I figured this a biography of the shop when all the famous authors were there, before the war. I believe I read that the Montmartre district (arrondisement?) was called "Bohemian Paris".

Well it turns out I was only partly right. I was right about the Bookshop before the war and the famous authors and the Bohemian era. What I had not known was the bookshop had been started up again (by George Whitman) during the sixties, and was still going strong in the new millenium.

I loved the descriptions of Paris. The out-of-the-way places that most people dont get to see. I was somewhat disconcerted to read about the run-down state of the building - inside and outside. I was horrified to read about George's lack of security, his blase attitude to money, and the numerous thefts.

George Whitman (the owner) definitely did not have a head for business. Despite being a communist as he claimed, I think he wore his heart on his sleeve, and allowed everyone to walk all over him. While reading the early part of the book, I was thinking, I must go visit this bookshop, if I ever get to Paris. About two thirds of the way through, I was thinking, if its still that run down and non-secured, I think I will stay away. But in the last chapter, I was cheered to read about the improvements to the shop, after George's daughter Sylvie took over as Manager.

The problem is that George wanted to live in a socialist and utopian society. Where money means nothing and everyone helps everyone else. The real world just does not work that way. I don't much like the real world either. I often wish I was born 100 years earlier so that I could grow up in the late 1800's and early 1900s, and see the beginnings of the technological & industrial society that now consumes us.

Even if I have never been Paris, maybe I already do know what a bookshop like Shakespeare & Co feels like. I used to spend hours in a similar shop near my home back in New Zealand. It's called The Hard to Find, but Worth the Effort second hand book shop. They have 10 rooms in what used to be a 3-storey house, all jam-packed with books. And while the owners do not allow people to sleep there, it does have a bathroom.

Anyway, this book was more about the people, and not the books. I was disappointed that there was not more mentions of Book titles. I would have loved more details on the rare books being sold in the "antiquarian room".

But that's just me. I am more of a Books person, and less of a People person.

So, here are 3 more reviews on this book, plus Jeremy's own website.

Review 1

Review 2

Jeremy Mercer

Review 3

PS To those who still dont know what the title refers to - "Soft time" refers to time spent in medium and & minimum security jails. Where inmates often have access to TV, books, computers, the internet and sometimes even distance education. Hard time is usually time spent in maximum security jails.

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