Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Paris sessions

A Lowdham Book Festival on Tour trip to Paris gave me another opportunity to visit two of the English language bookshops, Shakespeare & Company and The Red Wheelbarrow and to discover one I'd not come across before, Abbey Bookshop, which helped us organise an event for the tour group. The latter was with the Anglo-French writer Stephen Clarke who'd previously been to Lowdham on a "French" day at one of the Festivals. His A Year in the Merdre was first self-published (oh God, no) and sold well at Abbey, leading to his subsequent career. The shop itself is the stuff of nightmares even for those of an untidy mind and office, with towering piles of mixed new and second hand stock leaning at precarious angles with but narrow paths between the sections. Hilary at Shakespeare & Co warmly welcomed the group, with a short history of the place and I was glad to see that she and Sylvia, who has taken over the running of the shop from George Whitman (aged 97 and still living on the premises) have introduced modern ideas like having a telephone, computers and recent and decent stock. The place is much more of a proper bookshop than a time travel visit to the Beat era.

My loyalties though are still with Red Wheelbarrow. By a nice chance the Guardian gave away a free "literary guide to Paris" on Saturday, featuring a useful 7km circular walk round where we were staying. The supplement described the Red Wheelbarrow as having "arguably... the best selection of literature and serious reading in Paris". I don't think there is much argument and this busy and friendly shop between the Marais and the Seine is the place to go for new hardbacks and paperbacks from North America, the UK and the "open market" whereby books only out here in hardback are available in trade editions there.

My purchases were two only, the Paris Magazine from Shakespeare and Great House the new novel by Nicole Krauss, from the Red Wheelbarrow . The latter was mostly read in the Jardines de Luxembourg - yet another middle-aged to elderly man in flat cap sitting reading and dozing in the sun for several hours. Life has had worse moments. This was Lowdham Book Festival on Tour's fourth trip abroad - to Dublin for James Joyce's centenary, a combined Amsterdam/Copenhagen cruise, a Nile cruise in the past - though the first I was able to go on. Next time, Venice, accompanied as in Amsterdam and Paris by Chris Ewan, author of the Good Thief series.


Mark said...

Red Wheelbarrow also very hard to get around, it being so small, and especially if you're looking for travel literature, which is at floor level, meaning you have to get on hands and knees to look at the titles with your neck twisted sideways. This is OK and funny ha ha when the shop is not too busy. When busy...Btw I found Village Voice to be as well stocked as Red Wheelbarrow, as charminmg as the latter shop is. If you are looking for second hand on the left bank, there is a well stocked emporium called San Francisco Books in the very interesting Rue Monsieur le Prince, off Boulevard St Michel, which is run by two middle aged Americans. Here, the travel lit can be viewed without you being trampled on.

Ross Bradshaw said...

Thanks, Mark. I didn't get to Village Voice this time but from memory Red Wheelbarrow shaded it because it is good at books from the USA and GB both whereas VV seemed more orientated to the US market. But I'll get there next time. Re difficulty on getting to books - in my distant bookselling days I can remember a pregnant woman rightly complaining that our books on childbirth were so high up you could only reach them by standing on a stool, not very safe if you were heavily pregnant. I moved them. Next time she came in she asked me if I had ever seen a heavily pregnant woman try to bend down to the lowest shelf...