Time Was Soft There, Jeremy Mercer

This is a memoir about Jeremy Mercer’s time as a temporary denizen of the famous old Parisian bookstore, Shakespeare and Co. The bookstore is owned by George Whitman, a quirky, parsimonious, octogenarian with communist ideals. I thought I was going to get a mix of Patti Smith’s Just Kids* with a dash of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris e.g. A lovely bohemian romp where the author finds himself, learns something new, and meets colourful characters. Instead, I had a hard time getting through this book, because I couldn’t sympathize with the author at all.

The man runs away from his problems and his moral compass is sketchy (at best). For example, Mercer back stabs/reveals the name of his source in his new crime book. Ultimately the miscreant source gets mad and threatens him, so Mercer decides to flee to Paris. The author also admits to being a part of an illegal grow op, drinking & driving, running from the police, and smashing his car up. What’s even worse is he gets away with all of it! I felt like he was rubbing my nose in the fact that he gets away with a bunch of stupid, selfish garbage. Now I realize everyone makes mistakes, but this guy never seems to learn from anything or anyone. Can cops use this book as a confession? If so, please do.

What’s worse is that I had to question every other part of his story, because I no longer trusted his character. I couldn’t believe that just because Whitman allowed him to stay at his bookstore for free, that all the sudden, the author becomes magnanimous. Really? He’s always willing to help and would NEVER steal the money that Whitman haphazardly stows away around the store. I mean it never crossed his mind to tuck away a couple hundred francs found in an old forgotten book, yet he’s willing to scheme a large company out of money? Really, I am expected to believe that? Not saying it isn’t possible, but come on!

The author’s note at the beginning of the book leaves everything up for grabs too. “…In writing a memoir such as this, the truth becomes liquid…” It sure does, as well as putrid. Perhaps others will enjoy this read, but personally it left my nose a little out of joint. To each their own.

*Side Note: You should read Just Kids! It’s really good. Thank you, Patti Smith!

denizen (n):  an inhabitant or occupant of a particular place

Did Whitman really trust the newest denizen with the keys to his establishment that early on?

parsimonious (adj): unwilling to spend money or use resources; stingy or frugal

Will the next generation be more parsimonious, much like our grandparents?

magnanimous (adj): courageously noble in mind and heart, unselfish

I am selectively magnanimous when I am offered free residence in socialist utopian bookstores. (eye roll)

time was soft there

Books Read: 5


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