Oh how long has it been since I read a book in dead tree format? Let me count the years. (lol) That’s not totally true, but it’s very close because my eyesight is just not what it used to be. I can do it slowly and taking breaks because the font is smaller and it’s quite tiring.
So … this book was chosen for the All-nonfiction group and since I’m the owner over there I felt I had an obligation to give it a try even if I had to get the paperback. (It’s not available in any other format.) – It was WELL worth it – and I recommend it if you are interested in either the bookstore itself or in James Joyce.
Shakespeare and Company
by Sylvia Beach
and Introduction by James Laughlin
1956 / the Introduction in 1991- / 230 pages
Rating: 8.5/ memoir
(I read this in paperback!)
The important thing about Sylvia Beach and her Paris bookstore is that she was there at the center of the literary circles from France, England and the US as well as elsewhere and in regular contact with the likes of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Andre Gide, Ezra Pound, D. H. Lawrence, and many others. She went into the publishing business in order to produce Ulysses, arguably the “most influential” novel of the 20th century, and that, along with a couple of very brief works by Joyce, is the only publishing she ever did.
Her bookstore closed during the German occupation and never reopened. That section in the book – towards the end – is riveting. Truly.
Prior to reading I was familiar with the name Sylvia Beach and her bookstore in relation to that very informal literary “group” and Joyce, but I didn’t have much in the way of specific information. This is her memoir and although I think I would have enjoyed it more in a Kindle or Audible version (both please), it was fine this way.
It’s a good book. It’s fun – but maybe only for literature and history buffs. There’s an element of nostalgia to it – a big element maybe. But Beach is so enthusiastic about her authors and books and although that’s not really contagious, the books is mostly sweet and fun to read except that, also toward the end, some bittersweet memories of Joyce comes through.
Hemingway comes off as a hero throughout the book and that’s cool because I never appreciated him as a person – only as a writer. Beach certainly had little adventures getting Ulysses actually on the market – it wasn’t zipped off in the back room via copy machine or computer (times have changed!), but she and a few friends were determined.
She never reopened the bookstore after the war but she sold the name to George Whitman who had his own good bookstore going by then. (All that happened after Beach wrote this book, so …)