Synopses & Reviews
"Some bookstores are filled with stories both inside and outside the bindings. These are places of sanctuary, even redemption---and Jeremy Mercer has found both amid the stacks of Shakespeare & Co."
---Paul Collins, author of Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books
In a small square on the left bank of the Seine, the door to a green-fronted bookshop beckoned. . . .
With gangsters on his tail and his meager savings in hand, crime reporter Jeremy Mercer fled Canada in 1999 and ended up in Paris. Broke and almost homeless, he found himself invited to a tea party amongst the riffraff of the timeless Left Bank fantasy known as Shakespeare & Co. In its present incarnation, Shakespeare & Co. has become a destination for writers and readers the world over, trying to reclaim the lost world of literary Paris in the 1920s. Having been inspired by Sylvia Beach's original store, the present owner, George Whitman, invites writers who are down and out in Paris to live and dream amid the bookshelves in return for work. Jeremy Mercer tumbled into this literary rabbit hole and found a life of camaraderie with the other eccentric residents, and became, for a time, George Whitman's confidante and right-hand man.
Time Was Soft There is one of the great stories of bohemian Paris and recalls the work of many writers who were bewitched by the City of Light in their youth. Jeremy's comrades include Simon, the eccentric British poet who refuses to give up his bed in the antiquarian book room, beautiful blonde Pia, who contributes the elegant spirit of Parisian couture to the store, the handsome American Kurt, who flirts with beautiful women looking for copies of Tropic of Cancer, and George himself, the man who holds the key to it all. As Time Was Soft There winds in and around the streets of Paris, the staff fall in and out of love, straighten bookshelves, host tea parties, drink in the more down-at-the-heels cafés, sell a few books, and help George find a way to keep his endangered bookstore open. Spend a few days with Jeremy Mercer at 37 Rue de la Bucherie, and discover the bohemian world of Paris that still bustles in the shadow of Notre Dame.
"Jeremy Mercer has captured Shakespeare & Co. and its complicated owner, George Whitman, with remarkable insight. Time Was Soft There is a charming memoir about living in Whitman's Shakespeare & Co. and the strange, broken, lost, and occasionally talented, eccentrics and residents of this Tumblewood Hotel."
---Noel Riley Fitch, author of Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties & Thirties
"There does seem to be something about the odd ducks that work at bookstores. Jeremy Mercer has captured the story of a wonderful, unique store that could only be born out of a love for books and the written word."
--- Liz Schlegel, the Book Revue bookshop, Huntington, New York
"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. Agent, Kristin Lindstrom." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Jeremy Mercer's tale of George Whitman and his beloved bookstore is a book of revelations, for it tells the hard-to-discover true story of George's life and of the twenty-thousand-and-one nights of this enchanted place that continues to be, for its habitées as well as for its creator, a way of life."--Lawrence Ferlinghetti, cofounder and owner, City Lights Bookstore
"The memoir is much more than an entertaining romp through Parisian literary bohemia at the turn of the millennium. Time Was Soft There will likely be the last firsthand account of an aging legend."--Newsweek
"Mercer has fashioned a colorful de facto biography of Whitman . . . a tightly written, insightful memoir of Left Bank literary radicalism. A great read, both funny and quietly moving."--San Francisco Chronicle
"The milieu he evokes, while a long way from that of the Lost Generation, has its own charm."--The Wall Street Journal
"The memoir ably captures a romanticized version of the bum's life."--The New Yorker
"Mercer is a fine writer with a keen and jaundiced eye."--Chicago Tribune
In a leafy square on Paris's Left Bank, a young writer finds a home and an unlikely mentor among the shelves of a legendary bookshop.
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.
About the Author
Jeremy Mercer was formerly a journalist for the Ottowa Citizen.
He is the author of two crime books and a founder of Kilometer Zero,
a cult literary magazine currently being published out of Shakespeare & Co.