For those who aren't familiar with the store: Shakespeare & Co. is a Paris bookstore, famously known not only for its books but also for housing a rotating community of scruffy, soup-eating hopeful authors. Mercer stayed at the store while attempting to figure out what to do with his life.
After giving up his crime-reporting job due to a death threat, the author traveled to Paris but he ate through his savings rapidly. His memoir tells about fleeing his Canadian hometown in fear, his early days in Paris, time at Shakespeare & Co., and the literary magazine he and another resident eventually began to publish, Kilometer Zero.
Although Time Was Soft There is a memoir, it's not merely about the author's experience. Mercer also describes Shakespeare & Company's history and owner George Whitman's life. Whitman has since passed away (but he apparently lived to 98 -- maybe there's something to just living with the dirt, rather than trying to keep everything squeaky clean). The store lives on.
Although I was too busy to read much, Time Was Soft There went with me to Nashville during our Christmas holiday, along with several other books, and was the only book I bothered to continue reading when I had a spare moment. During those spare moments, I read a bit on the "rabidly" side.
I'm not quite sure what exactly I expected -- certainly not the mention of insect life, but perhaps the grubbiness of the store's residents -- however, in many ways the book was far better than anticipated. I loved the fact that Time Was Soft There is part memoir, part bio of the store's owner, part history. Memoirs run the gamut from humble to self-aggrandizing and Time Was Soft There strikes a nice balance.
Addendum: I'd completely forgotten that I read an excerpt from Time Was Soft There in Paris Was Ours (<---link to my review), which I read early in 2011. Thanks to editor Penelope Rowlands for the reminder. That particular excerpt was one of my favorites; no wonder I went into the reading with a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Recommended to memoir-loving book fiends.
On a related note, we watched Midnight in Paris, two nights ago. The entire time we were watching, I kept hoping Shakespeare & Co. would show up. Sure enough, there was a brief image. Too brief, really, but I made a little noise of excitement when the bookstore finally made an appearance. Husband was baffled. What, pray tell, was so exciting about that extremely minimal view of the bookstore? he asked (my wording). "I just read about it," I said. "Oh." Shrug. There's really no accounting for crazy book people, I suppose.
In case you're interested, Kiddo and I loved the movie (about a writer who is transported to the Twenties, where he hangs out with the expat artistic crowd gathered in Paris), even though there's no escaping the usual feel of a Woody Allen movie. I thought Owen Wilson did a spectacular job of portraying a Woody Allen role without the usual stiffness and odd gestures that make Allen's movies come across looking so staged. I do like a few Woody Allen films, just not many. Midnight in Paris is loads of fun for the literary-adoration crowd. We laughed a lot, Kiddo and I. Husband left the room. He said it was way too "typical Woody Allen" for his taste.