A Canadian journalist who lived for a time at famed Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Co. tells the story of its iconoclastic owner and his destitute but mostly merry band of boarders.
Reporting on crime in Ottawa was getting Mercer down, so when he received what could have been a death threat one night from a disgruntled subject of one of his stories, the author was more than ready to leave his old life and flee to Paris. The City of Light was charming, and Mercer wasn't ready to leave when the money ran out, so he did what countless other writers had done before him: shacked up at the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, trading a little bit of service in the store for a bed (but not a bath—ablutions were performed at the spacious facilities of a nearby cafe). There Mercer got to know owner George Whitman and many of the characters who over the years drifted into the store and never left. Luckily for the literary freeloaders, Whitman (no relation to Walt) was a committed, lifelong communist, a man determined to put his ideals into action by sharing what he had—a roof—with the have-nots. Mercer, a fresh and eager face, quickly became the old man's confidante. He learned about Whitman's personal history, his goals for the store and the idiosyncratic methods of penny-pinching that allowed him to operate a free hostel for the well-read set. Mercer is a genial, wide-eyed guide to the wild crew at the store, and although he eventually became somewhat disillusioned with Whitman, his affection and admiration for what the man has accomplished are clear.
Literary gossip, and catnip for book junkies.