The Notre Dame in Paris is magnificent in many ways. There is another haven of peace nearby though, one that is easier to overlook but one that fills me with the same awe the cathedral does. Across the Seine River, where the streets are swallowed up by the Latin Quarter, there is a small store seemingly tucked into a little corner of its own. This is Shakespeare and Company, a Parisian tradition and a Walhalla of English literature to be sure.
The first store was opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919. Writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford came here to discuss, argue, breathe and write literature. Joyce was well known for using the place as an alternative office, Beach was the first to publish his Ulysses. They were allowed to sleep and eat at the store, one of the reasons it became a haven for authors in transit. A number of these authors were known as the Lost Generation. The store is referred to or mentioned in some of Hemingway’s work (particularly A Movable Feast) and features in the movies Before Sunset and Midnight in Paris.
The store was closed by the Germans during the occupation.
Typically, Hemingway, a major in the US army, drove his tank straight to Shakespeare and Company to personally liberate Beach and the bookstore during the liberation of Paris in 1945. However the store stayed closed until 1962 when George Whitman reopened it at the current address, and the chance for penniless writers to live in it provided they read one book a day (the store still has 13 sleeping places in it). A new generation of writers lived or frequented the store, including Lawrence Durell, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin and William Burroughs. Contemporary authors attend the literary festivals organized there by Whitman’s daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman, such as Paul Aster, Siri Hustvedt, Jeanette Winterson, Jung Chang and Marjane Satrapi.
It is an incredible place, a literary shrine and unique in every sense of the word, I know no other place like it. I do know that it would be an ultimate achievement to have my books on display in such a store. This is one of the reasons why I am so pleased with the EBM edition of Escape to Neverland. The Ingram/Spark edition may have a much wider reach but the difference between a chain store and an independent store remains remarkable. Not only does a good independent bookshop have a unique character of its own but a customer simply knows that he or she is surrounded by book lovers there; people who love books and will happily talk about them. People willing to accept books on their own estimation of merit – rather than solely the decisions taken by faceless corporate Respectables who use their calculator to judge the merit of a book. ‘You might think you’ve stumbled on the winning formula, but we found a local loony with interesting things to say and are going to give that a shot.’
Escape to Neverland is available for print-on-demand in the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver Colorado and this, to me, is more of an achievement than a big chain. I remember walking into that store once – with four hours to go before I had to catch the Amtrak to San Francisco – and losing all sense of time so that I came very close to missing my train. Parts of it are a living room; you can curl up on a cosy chair by the fire place while sampling prospective buys or have a break in a coffee shop designed for comfort. It’s also worthwhile checking out all the events; there are readings, book signings and other aspects which breathe life into books so that reading can become a passion that can be shared.
The McNally Jackson Bookstore in Lower Manhattan, N.Y.C. is another store I am proud to be represented at. It’s down the block from the Puck Building. This historic building was the former home of the Puck Magazine, the Spy Magazine and the Pratt Institute. It is named after Shakespeare’s Puck just like my Puck is. The store recently had an amazing discount action; I think it was 10% if you came in and high fived one of the staff on a particular day. I do really like that sort of thing. The store aspires to be the centre of Manhattan’s literary culture and organizes events like the ones explained above as well as doing everything they can to make the customer feel at home. How could I not be proud that my book can be printed on demand in Manhattan’s literary centre? It’s just plain sexy.
The Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington D.C. is amazing too. All you have to do is look at their planned 2014 New Year’s Eve celebration to get a sense of the place. They co-sponsor the Bushboys and Poets in throwing a Remix of the Nerds party for the benefit of the Capital Area Food Bank and the Split This Rock’s DC Youth Slam Team! Feed the hungry and support young poets and all by attending an event with “one of DMV’s hottest DJ’s, live dancers compliments of Dance Place, music, games, food, drinks, interactive art, burlesque in the nerd, midnight countdown and more.” It really sounds like the place to be and if that is not possible it sounds like a great place to have a book available at.
Schuler Books in Grand Rapids Michigan also promotes interactivity between its customers and local authors by means of a variety of events and the promotion of the enjoyment of reading in general. There is interaction with the local community here which you simply don’t find in a chain. The Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse in Flintridge La Canada in L.A. County California is one of those places where the local community seems to be important as well and they have a very impressive list of local authors and seem keen to promote up and coming talent.
The support of local authors can be crucial as I have discovered myself. The publishing industry is changing fast and there is not much support for new authors who learn very fast to become wary of ‘publishers’ who are just out to make a fast buck at the expense of the authors. Independent book stores like the ones mentioned above but also the American Book Centers in the Hague and Amsterdam are taking a leading role in ensuring the original voice is not lost as the mainstream publishers focus on formulas and sales figures rather than authors. I’ve found a great deal of support at ABC Amsterdam and am very grateful for this. The recognition of being a ‘local author’ has done me a world of good. If you can, please support your local independent bookstore by shopping there so you too can help maintain that original creative voice in literature.