Tag Archives: Shakespeare and Co

Fortunate discoveries in Paris

If Paris were a female she would be a natural beauty with Debbie Harry’s chiselled cheekbones, natural bone structure, a facial composition of bliss and elegance.

debbie-harry-annie-leibovitz-vanity-fair

The kind of girl who looks amazing even with just a simple outfit on, hair scraped back and early morning breath. Artistry is in the very DNA of the City of Light. I love to amble around watching the day turn into night and witness the compositions I’ve seen in Brassai’s photography come alive.

brassai

Sunday morning, sharp cold air stabs like a thousand miniscule icicles. Time to fuel up on bread and jam with proper coffee taken in a French café, where they had run out of croissants. I meander towards the Eiffel Tower from Montparnasse, through the cemetery.

Montparnasse-cemetery

Here the dead live in close proximity with the living in high-rise apartments, but as my old Nanny Carrie used to say:

It’s not the dead you should be afraid of, lad, it’s the living.

I should be on the right path, yet to be honest, je suis perdu. I stumble upon the La Pagode cinema on the Rue de Babylon and eventually hit the Seine.

seine

Bang a right and allow myself to flow along the river. Like a piece of flotsam I drift, starting my exploration through the myriad of booksellers.

Peter Ackroyd personifies London, in his biography of the smoke, as a living entity. The tube, river and roadways acting as arteries pumping the life blood into the epicentre. Keeping it alive. The river is potentially the oldest part, the life line of the city. It is true of Paris also.

Along the Seine there are around 200 independent book sellers outdoors. 300,000, collectible, new and used books and magazines under open skies. The banks are littered with iconic green metal boxes, depicted in numerous famous landscapes – notably from the Impressionist period.

bouquinistes 2

There is an urban myth about the origins of this bohemian trade. A ship transporting volumes of books capsized near Notre Dame. Sailors rapidly swam ashore taking with them as many books as they could and sold them to the passers-by to substitute the wages they had lost. This quick sell proved to be a lucrative venture.

The Bouquinistes sold old, bashed volumes and highbrow society would not buy these vulgar types of books. In 1450 with the invention of the printing press, there was an increase in the sale of pamphlets targeting the government and the church. The vagabond traders had no fixed selling point meaning if necessary they could make their escape from the law. The area along the river became a rallying place for citizens and students to vent their spleen.

The literary business really took off following the Revolution; houses of the bourgeoisie were demolished, emptied and affluent book shelves were sold through the bouquinistes.  Jean Genet, the infamous writer, made stealing books and selling them on to the bouquinistes practically an art form and his signature trademark.

Bouquinistes

During World War Two, the Resistance transmitted code messages in the pages of the books. It was a hard task for the Nazis to find the messages hidden.

I decide to take a trip along the river by boat. Sadly, as I take in the sheer beauty of Paris, at least 3/4s of the people on board chose to experience Paris by water, not through their own eyes but through the perspective of the “I” phone.

I remember a time when I could go to a gig, dance like a loon and throw myself around. Now in recent gigs I’ve been to, I have seen people recording the event, filming the whole spectacular. Recording life, instead of living life, has become the new hashtag experience! Eyes are the window of the soul, but does anyone have a spare charger?

I finish my journey at The Shakespeare and Co Bookstore, a favourite haunt of mine and decide to purchase THE LITTLE PRINCE, one of those many titles I have not quite got around to yet.

the little prince

A perfect way to lose oneself on a Sunday morning in March.

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Read, Think, Grow

With tales of a worldwide trek that ended in Liverpool, let John Maguire take you on a shortcut to literary treasure, in the latest of our series on favourite bookstores.

LIVERPOOL PRESENT DAY

Winter sun splashes off the wet cobblestones of the courtyard. There appears to be a brief respite from the almost biblical rains that have attempted to sink the United Kingdom. The rays of light ricochet haphazardly and illuminate the majestic piece of architecture ahead of me: The Bluecoat, a Grade 1 listed building and the oldest in the centre of Liverpool.

bluecoat modern

Originally a school founded by Reverend Robert Styth, Rector of Liverpool, and sea-captain Bryan Blundell in 1777, the building became an Arts School in 1907 and has been recognised as an international creative hub ever since.

bluecoat

Yoko Ono notably appeared in 1967 and other cultural dignitaries have visited, including the late Doris Lessing and Michael Nyman.

yoko

BACK STORY/FLASHBACK TO TWENTY YEARS AGO

It was to The Bluecoat that I used to venture on a Saturday afternoon, to buy books from the little stall that, sadly, is no longer there. The shop was like the Tardis, it seemed to be bigger on the inside. Here I was introduced to Hubert Selby Jr, Ibsen, Margaret Atwood, Burroughs and Bukowski. I also started a collection of Taschen Art books, drowning my eyes in Barbara Hepworth, Basquiat and Geiger, to name but a few.

2008

Alas, after the refurbishment of the Bluecoat in 2008, I felt that the place  lost something of its charm. The interior of the ground floor was now somewhat surgical. The back yard had had a secret garden feel to it, but now looked a little too contrived. I even used to like the vagabonds who harassed you. What’s a city without a few eccentrics?

Yet the restaurant upstairs with its battered leather couches, school tables and chairs hinted at the retro Bluecoat.

CUT TO PRESENT DAY

However on this particular day in February, I was refreshingly taken aback by a new book store that appeared in the courtyard. Tripping up the steps to Kernaghan Books, I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the door. Immediately, it was like being transported to an old Club, like The Athenaeum, or one you would expect to find Phileas Fogg residing in.

kernaghan books

The proprietors – husband and wife team, Bryan and Alwyn Kernaghan – gave a friendly nod, and when prompted by a question they sprang into life. Welcoming like old friends, they answered queries, made recommendations and offered anecdotes. The learned couple serve to help you navigate your way through the sea of literature.

How exactly did this book store find its way to Liverpool?

The bookstore’s actual evolution is an epic tale in its own right, as Bryan Kernaghan told me,

A gap year in the 70s, long before the term was contrived, was never intended to lead to opening a bookstore. The offer to work as an ‘Antiquarian Bibliomite’ (old bookseller’s assistant to you and me) just seemed the most quirky of seven offers to a Belfast school-leaver in what must have been a plentiful jobs market.

Periods of travel and working abroad were further punctuated by spells in amongst many rooms of dusty but fast-moving tomes. Only after a few years’ inimitable work in the Himalayas did we come back to the UK wondering what we might do next. Rather than join at the bottom of a larger London company we were persuaded to launch in at the top of our own start-up old and rare book company.

We were invited to open a gallery/bookshop together with artist Tony Klitz and his wife in Southport. It was seen as an experiment which might last six months, possibly two years. Then (so the thinking went) we’d be off again to exotic parts. That lasted over 27 years before we eventually made it to the city of Liverpool, the business following an earlier move of home. So in short, not so much a decision – more a stumbling into it.

I asked, as I often ask book lovers, if you could go back in time and meet a deceased author, who would it be and why?

Not far back in time. Seamus Heaney died too soon, having tried too hard for others. He spanned my adult life in the island of my birth through times of flux. He was a consistent, perceptive and sensitive observer on a global scale, viewing through the intimate soil of Ireland. His Beowulf is stunning. A day’s walk with him on the north coast of Ireland would be epic.

With the monumental increase in fresh technologies such as Kindle, e-books and the like, I wondered how he could foresee the future of the common bookstore and the book industry?

Pared back hopefully from the massive over-production of the last four decades. e-formats hopefully will cause publishers to focus on the real virtues and values of a printed book, incorporating creative elements which genuinely please the new, emerging tactile market.

To be completely honest, I personally would struggle to hand over some of the literary treats in this bookstore. I wondered if there had been a book that had been difficult to part with.

Joyce; Ulysses – 1st edition, Shakespeare and Co, Paris 1922. We had it briefly as part of a Joyce collection which ended up in the right place just before the Joyce market went stratospheric. Would like to have it in my hand now – an unwieldy flimsy paperback, but sheer genius with a turbulent publication back story.

Another copy of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale 1st edition would be nice to see come in. We bought one from a customer who’d found it for 25 pence. He went for a holiday of a lifetime on the proceeds!

I urge book lovers to discover this rainforest of the written world. An oasis of calm in the cosmopolitan city of Liverpool. And the mantra to chant at this temple of Literature is read.think.grow

What I bought:

13 x leather-bound Charles Dickens’ Collected Works

1 x vintage pulp edition of Mildred Pierce by James M Cain

mildred pierce

1 x vintage edition of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.

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The Bibliophile’s Cathedral – Shakespeare and Co, Paris

Here at ten minutes hate we love a good bookshop. John Maguire writes the first in a soon-to-be-series of our favourites.

The City of Light, Paris has long been a somewhat creative Bermuda triangle, poets, writers  and artists, all navigate towards this Metropolis. Some disappear into their own egos whilst others emerge from the experience with robust pieces of artistic endeavour.

The Catholics have their Vatican and shrines such as Lourdes, the Pagans have Stonehenge, the Muslims, Mecca, while bibliophiles have Shakespeare and Co in Paris. Every chattel of literature will head towards this celebrated book store. Situated in the shadow of the Gothic Notre Dame, it comprises two buildings on Paris’ Left Bank.

The original venture was begun by Sylvia Beach in the Rue de L’Odeon in 1922. The establishment has been associated with writers such as Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Henry Miller, to name a few.  Having a lasting impression on the creative, Paris has an intoxicating effect on all its visitors,

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

– Ernest Hemingway

Beach closed the store down in World War Two and urban myth suggests it was closed due to her refusal to give a German Officer the last copy of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.  Joyce was known to call the store, ‘Stratford on Odeon’.

The bookstore also acted as a library and it was here that readers could gain access to all kinds of literature, including the then UK-banned Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Shakespeare and Co, Paris

However, the spirit of this cultural haven is now continued in a new location. George Whitman opened his book store Le Mistral on the site of a 16th Century Monastery. It soon became a literary rabbit hole and attracted the likes of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. The proprietor renamed the store Shakespeare and Co when Sylvia Beach passed away in 1964, as a tribute to this legend of literature.

bookstore-Shakespeare-and-Co-George-Whitman

Aspiring writers are permitted to stay in beds amongst the books upstairs in return for work. One resident James Mercer even penned a book about his experience, ‘Time Was Soft There – A Paris sojourn at Shakespeare and Co’, a depiction of subculture Parisian life. Whitman claimed that over 40,000 people had slept over through the years.

The eccentric figure died in December 2011, passing the lantern light on to his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, clearly the energy and passion for the printed page is embedded in her. She has established a biennial literary festival,  FestivalandCo,  where such writers as Jeanette Winterson and Paul Auster have come to show their respects. The store has also featured as a backdrop in the art-house film, Before Sunset (Richard Linklater) and Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen).

Inside books grow from every part of the rooms, creeping paper roots trail through the floorboards. Mountains of volumes clamour up the walls, taking over any available space. Bricks and mortar crammed with literary thought, a building seeping with pure knowledge.

Some of the aged books appear to have bloomed new blossom, in the shape of the shiny new volumes on sale. It is indeed a book aficionado’s Utopia. A magical site, an interchange between the past and present, distant voices amplified. Here the reader can in fact commune with the minds of ancestry, sparks of ideas live on, helping to resolve problems, stave off loneliness, to comfort, to aid. The books serve to help unlock potential and provide inoculation from the enemy of the human spirit, procrastination.

If in Paris, book lovers must pop in and leaf through the shelves, soak in the fresh smell of paper on a par with any mountain air. It would indeed be a literary sin not to visit and if you do not, it will be a case that you will have to read ten Spike Milligan poems, four Charles Bukowskis and three Lorcas, solely as penance.

Paris Wall Newspaper, Shakespeare and Co

Bookstore pictures, author’s own. Picture of George Whitman from Sense & Sensibility

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