"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in Shakespeare and Company (10)


Open Minds


I was full of inspiration after the evening panel discussion by French, British and American literary magazine editors at Shakespeare and Company Books. I wanted to get home quickly to open my new books (Giovanni’s Room! The Stockholm Octavo! The Tenants of The Hôtel Biron! Londoners! Tin House’s issue on Beauty!). But I was hungry. I took a short detour down one of those twisty golden Paris streets to a little Italian trattoria with phenomenally tasty pizza.

The small black-haired Italian girl behind the counter was talking with the older Italian customer just as if the scene were frozen since the last and only time Richard and I had stopped there.

The Italian man asked where Richard and I lived. Paris, now. And where did you live before? said the girl. Playa del Rey, a beach town in Los Angeles, I said. The Italian girl wanted to know why we’d rather live in Paris. The older man laughed. He knew. He moved to Paris from Bari some thirty years ago.

My pizza was ready. There was a booth at the back, near two women who were belting down red wine.



I opened my book, The Tenants of The Hôtel Biron. It’s a fictional account of the years when the house that is now the Musée Rodin was inhabited by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Rainer Maria Rilke, Auguste Rodin, Camille Claudel, Vaslav Nijinsky, Eric Satie and Jean Cocteau. I know, you want to read it, too, right? I read with special relish because the author, Laura Marello, had passed the manuscript to me about ten years ago when we knew each other in Los Angeles. I’d been knocked out by the story and the writing, felt it was publication-worthy then, and now, ten years later it had found its publisher, Guernica Editions. Do you have any idea how happy it makes me when a writer finally breaks through?

So I’m savoring the pizza, devouring the book, and the two women speaking Spanish behind me are growing boisterous with gaiety. One taps me on the shoulder and asks in French if I have a cigarette.



Non, je suis désolé, je ne fume pas.

She gets up to ask the only other diner, a man who looks like Serge Gainsbourg, for a smoke. He hesitates, gives her one, and she puts it in her mouth as if she’s lighting up.

You know it’s not legal to smoke in restaurants? I ask.


Street art (mask) by Gregos, additional artist unknown


She scurries over to the edge of my booth and leans in and makes a face at me. Then walks outside to smoke.

Her friend behind me says, Forgive her. She doesn’t understand that you have to respect the cultural customs of the country in which you live. She has a problem with depression.

It’s okay, I say. For me it’s just a matter of health. I’m so relieved that France changed its laws about smoking in restaurants.

The woman and I banter in French. She tells me she talks to her friend about her surly attitude.


Street art by PopEye


The smoker returns. She sits down, her back to my back but turns to look at me as I talk with her friend. She is drunk, with a sweetly cow-like expression on her face, melancholy eyes, and a sprinkling of freckles. Like her friend, she has very short hair.

We ask questions of each other. Discover we are from the same continent, only they are from South America.

It’s the continent of the heart, I say.

South America, maybe, says the older woman.

North America too, I say. It’s all one heart.



Then an odd conversation begins. The older woman begins to talk about her friend as if she isn’t there. She is too closed, she says. She stays at home and is depressed. She doesn’t have any confidence in herself.

The younger woman nods, That’s right.

The older woman says, We’re out tonight trying to cheer her up. Getting her out of her apartment. Having a little wine.



There are four empty bottles on the table.

We talk about living in Paris. I notice that the younger woman’s fluency in French, her accent too, is excellent, and ask her about it. She was educated in Paris.

The older woman is originally Basque—we have rebellion in our veins, she says. Her family emigrated to South America before she moved to Paris. She never wants to leave.

The younger woman asks me if I’ve read Stefan Zweig.

No, I say. Is he good?

Very good, she says.

Do you like Proust? I ask.

The two women shake their heads. There are certain moral problems it seems with Proust. (Do they mean that he was gay?)


Street art by PopEye


He was Jewish, wasn’t he? the older woman asks.

Half Jewish, half Catholic, I say. He was raised as a Catholic, but really identified more with his mother who was Jewish.

I can see in their faces that there’s some difficulty in the way they regard this fact.

But you can’t be two religions, says the older woman.

Well, God, gods, spirits—what difference does it make?

They look at each other meaningfully. (Unspoken: a huge difference.)

You are Catholic? I ask.


Anti-Israel/-American street art in the Marais, artist unknown


They both nod as if to say, Exactly. And then the older woman, her lips red with wine, begins to talk about Jews. How grasping they are. How they try to take over the banks.

No, no, no, I say.

How Hitler tried to save his country from the Jews.

Hitler was a monster! I say.

No, he was trying to save his country.

The Jews were not responsible for the wretched state of Germany after World War I, I say. Germany was economically ruined and Hitler offered a scapegoat, someone to blame. He was a failed artist, a maniac.



I suddenly see that a visor-like armor has fallen over their faces. There is no further place to go in conversation with these two. Closed minds. Time to go. I pack up my book bag and say goodbye.

And the Italian man who still stands talking to the girl behind the counter, says, Dites bonjour à votre mari. Say hello to your husband.

Merci. Et bonne nuit à vous.

Buona notte, says the girl with a big smile. California, she sighs.

I walk home thinking about bigotry and hatred. How an atheist Jewish friend of mine used to talk about Catholics, and mock my spirit helpers, who appear to me in the form of gods and goddesses. She is someone I love, but it cost the friendship. No one wants to have to defend his or her own spiritual beliefs, nor should any of us have to.



I think about how a recent online discussion of a well-known Native-American poet’s reading in Tel Aviv elicited a furor on Facebook. There were those who, objecting to Israeli bullying of Palestinians, said, Don’t cross the picket line. There were those who defended Israel at any cost. There were those who sent her love and blessings on her performance there in the role of poet and musician.

I identified, in some way, with all of them.

It’s so obvious. Peace and love are not clichés. They’re the answer. But when you encounter scapegoating and bullying, where do you draw the line?





The Best Christmas Gift


How odd it was on Thursday to hear that everyone we know in the U.S.A. was celebrating Thanksgiving, while here in Paris we heard nary a mention of turkey or pumpkin pie.

But we celebrated in our own way with our usual daily gratitude for our work, family, friends, and our lives together in Paris.

Moving on to Christmas: what is your favorite Christmas gift? I mean besides love, money and creativity—something that can be wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree.

For me, it’s always been books. Even as a child, getting a new book was bliss.



Last week, Richard and I and our nephew, Jonathan Edwards, went to Shakespeare and Company Bookstore one night to hear the American novelist, Percival Everett, read an excerpt from his novel. We’d heard him before at Antioch University in Los Angeles. But here in the bookstore, I could immediately buy one of his books.

After the reading I asked him to recommend where to begin. He suggested his comic novel, “I am Not Sidney Poitier.” Both Jonathan and I bought it, and I had the sad experience a few days ago of finishing it. Sad because the world Everett creates in this novel is so rich, so real, I didn’t want it to end. It is about the journey of a young black man, Not Sidney (yes, that is his name) from his childhood with a smart, unsentimental single mother who, through her investments, makes her son staggeringly rich. After a period of living with Ted Turner (and glimpses of Jane Fonda), Not Sidney embarks on a farcical stint at Morehouse College and a terrifying journey through the South where—okay, can’t give that away, can I?



The book is full of absurdity, from a Morehouse professor named Percival Everett who teaches the Philosophy of Nonsense to his earnest students, to Not Sidney's way of handling the cruelty of frat house hazing, which made me laugh so loud I had to run into the kitchen so I wouldn’t awaken Richard.

But wait—it’s more than his humor that makes this novel so brilliant. It’s the mild temperament and voice of the narrator. While people around him are behaving savagely or absurdly, he simply observes. (Think Candide.) And slowly it dawns on the reader that this is the most eloquent telling of how it might feel to be black in the U.S.A., at least in the redneck states, of anything I’ve read. (I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read James Baldwin’s work, but I’m going to get Giovanni’s Room next.)


Street art by Nice Art


But wait—it’s even greater than this. No one has put into words better than Marcel Proust the deepest purpose of reading. Here is what he wrote in a letter:

“It is one of the great and wonderful characteristics of good books…that for the author they may be called “conclusions” but for the reader “incitements”…That is the value of reading and also its inadequacy. To make it into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement. Reading is on the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it.” As Alain de Botton writes in his book, How Proust Can Save Your Life, “Even the finest books deserve to be thrown aside.”

There was something about the surreal sensibility of this book that incited the first pages of a new long story (novella? novel? not sure). Inspiration: the greatest gift any book can give us. 

And with that, I want to recommend a few of the most inspiring books I’ve read in the past year. Who knows, one or two of these might inspire you, or someone for whom you're looking for a gift.



  • The Certificate by Isaac Bashevis Singer (This novel was written in Singer’s sixties and is closely autobiographical, the story of a young Jewish man who arrives in Warsaw from his small Polish village in 1922. He has romantic adventures with three young women while waiting to get his certificate to go to Palestine. This is brilliant writing, the kind of voice that’s so vivid you can’t stop reading. It’s out of print, so you may have to track it down through some online used book store like Abe Books.)
  • Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, translated by Lydia Davis. (I can’t improve on Virginia Woolf’s words in a letter to Roger Fry in which she wrote, “My great adventure is really Proust. Well—what remains to be written after that? …How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance? One has to put the book down and gasp.”)
  • The Blue Fox by Sjon (Such a strange and mysterious story told by the Icelandic writer Sjon. It takes place in Iceland and links the destinies of a hunter/priest, a blue fox, a naturalist and a girl with Down syndrome in a tale about compassion. It is a book that seems carved out of ice; it’s minimalist, poetic, and told in a distinctively Scandinavian voice that reminded me of my Norwegian-American maternal grandfather, Julius Heimark’s way of telling a story, colloquial and as simple and straightforward as The Eddas.)
  • Self-Portraits: Fictions by Frederic Tuten (Imagine a series of short stories that combine the sensibility of Luis Bunuel's films with Andre Breton's writing, and you'll be half-way to the flavor of this writer's work. The stories seem to be telling an autobiographical dream narrative, sometimes erotic, sometimes hilarious (laugh out loud), and always as close to poetry as fiction gets.)
  • N-W by Zadie Smith (stream of consciousness narrative of four characters, Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan, in present-day London. It made me think of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. This is one of those books that in the first few pages is slow to get going, then you are truly inside the characters in the most satisfying way, living their life minute by minute, including some surprises that you don't see coming.)
  • This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz  (Interlinked stories about various women in the life of Yunior, a young Dominican-American man whose Don Juan ways end up breaking his own heart. Diaz’s genius is high voltage voice! You can’t put the book down.)


Street art by Miss-Tic


  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches by Matsuo Bashō (Seventeenth-century travel writing that chronicles the great Japanese haiku poet's journeys through Japan, interwoven with his poems and his Zen Buddhist vision of eternity in the sensory world around him.)
  • The Maximus Poems by Charles Olson (A free-verse epic poem that approaches the Massachusetts fishing town of Gloucester through its characters, its history, its ecosystem, and the poet’s inspired personal and mythical vision as well. It marked a new freer direction in American poetry. And strangely, it seemed to bring my own paternal ancestral history to life in me, though I haven’t lived in Massachusetts since I was three years old.) 
  • The Iliad by Homer, both Robert Fagles' and Stephen Mitchell's translations  (The greatest epic poem ever written on war. My favorite part is always the way the gods and goddesses are characters as real as the humans.) 




  • The Goncourt Journals (1851-1870) (Two brothers, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, wrote down everything that happened in their literary and social circles during mid-nineteenth century life in Paris. Casual mention of conversations with Flaubert and Turgenieff spice it up. I loved reading in George Painter’s biography about Proust’s self-pity after he read these journals. Why didn’t he know that many interesting people? And then it dawned on him that he did. Proust spent the rest of his life writing about them.)    
  • Robert Duncan, The H. D. Book (This is a strange, visionary book, part apprenticeship to his beloved poet idol, Hilda Doolittle, part visionary and poetic musing as befits a book about this great visionary poet.)
  • Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer (The best writing I know about religious fundamentalism and its intrinsic domination of women, carried right to its ultimate end in the murder of the most clear-thinking, "disobedient" woman, the brother of these two Mormon brothers, and her baby.)
  • Eels by James Prosek (An elegant book about the biology and mythology of this strange fish, from New Zealand to the Sargasso Sea, illustrated with beautiful etchings by the author. Most fascinating are the Maori legends about eels as guardians and monster-seducers.)


Street art by Fred Le Chevalier


Biography & Autobiography

  • Marcel Proust A Biography by George D. Painter (A bookseller at Village Voice Bookshop (sob) lent me his copy. I marked it up with so many colored flags that I had to order a copy for myself, and transfer all the markers in order to have all these treasured facts close at hand.)
  • The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon (One of the greatest works of Japanese literature, Shōnagon weaves short tales, longer ones, lists, and poems about her life as a gentlewoman in the 10th century Court of Empress Teishi in Heian-kyō (present-day Kyoto). Fascinating for the way poetry, wit and okashi (that which delights) are a part of every aspect of life, and for the exquisite attention to sensory beauty, especially the clothes of both women and men.)





What a Wonderful Way to Die

Our friend George Whitman died Wednesday.

The legendary, incredibly hospitable, and sometimes famously irascible proprietor of the latest incarnation of the Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company was 98. We've shared our love of the bookstore here on Paris Play twice before.

In these latter years, George had turned over the operations of the store to his supremely competent, beautiful, and equally hospitable daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, who expands on her father's gifts by running the bookstore as a business, too, which wasn't really in George's nature.


Here's what we mean: Richard had the pleasure of being George's guest at his "Tumbleweed Hotel," a few times during the eighties, which sometimes entailed running the cash box while George stepped out. George was a wonderful, trusting soul, but Richard suspects that many of the other vagabonds who also found themselves in the position of watching the store may not have been as scrupulously honest.

George estimated that he put up more than 40,000 travelers at the bookstore over the years. In exchange for a bed, George asked them to work an hour or two a day, write a short autobiography and read a book a day.

In a video made by Book TV C-Span 2 in 2002 (when George was 90 years old and Sylvia was 21), the interviewer asked him about Sylvia:

Is she the only child you have?

George: In a way she's the only one. In another way, I have thousands of children all over the world.

Interviewer: She came a little late for you, didn't she?

George: Not for me. I'm just beginning to live. When I'm 100 years old, come and interview me again, I'll tell you some more interesting stories.

His friends recalled that George also had the habit of slipping large denomination franc notes into books as bookmarks, then reshelving them and forgetting where he put them. Since George ran Shakespeare as a lending library, too, people would report finding 50,000 franc bills, which George would pocket, saying, "Oh, I wondered where that went." He was a great lover and patron of literature, and counted among his friends many of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, among them Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, James Baldwin, Lawrence Durrell, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg and Wiliam Burroughs.


Willis Barnstone read at Shakespeare in August

I met George in the nineties when Richard and I began traveling to Paris together. In his mid-eighties, he was lean and raffishly bohemian, and had the aura of a Merlin. As Sylvia said about her father in the 2005 video, Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man, "For me, he's more of a very eccentric wizard."


There are many fine obituaries out there with all of the pertinent "facts," how George was given the mantle and bookstore name by Sylvia Beach, who began the store in November 1919 (and closed it in December 1941 after threats from the occupying Nazis), and who first published James Joyce's Ulysses; how George and his friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights in San Francisco began their "sister stores" in the early 1950's, etc.; but what moved me was the way his death so beautifully mirrored his life. Sylvia was quoted in the 2002 Book TV interview, "People ask me what is his secret. I think it's that he's surrounded by books, which is his passion. And also surrounded by young people, so it kind of keeps him alive. He's got a buzz for life and so he's--I find him quite inspiring that way."

George Whitman died as he lived, above the bookstore in his tiny apartment facing the Seine and Notre Dame, in a 17th Century building that had once housed the monks of Notre Dame. He died surrounded by books, with his daughter, friends and his dog and cat by his side.



We walked by Thursday to bring Sylvia Whitman a bouquet of roses, and found the store closed, and dozens of people with the same impulse, creating a shrine of flowers, candles, and notes that we all hoped would withstand the near-freezing Paris wind.

George will be buried at Pere-Lachaise, our favorite cemetery, where Balzac, Proust, Oscar Wilde and Apollinaire rest, so we will visit him there, and will continue to greet his spirit at least weekly at Shakespeare, the fiercely independent and magical bookstore where we buy our books. 




A Night Alone in Paris

Street art by Pole Ka


Richard is sick in bed. He caught the flu at L’Alliance Francaise (one of the hazards of being in school), so I went alone tonight to pick up a book at Shakespeare & Company. And I got sick too, but in a different way.

A bookstore that stays open till 11 p.m. suits me just fine. Since I work at home, I often forget the difference between weekdays and weekends. Walking down St.-Germain at 9:30 p.m., I was surprised to find the cafes packed with people, the art galleries open, everyone in convivial spirits. Oh, right, Saturday night. I stepped into a gallery where a man in a beret was playing a violin, while a dark-haired woman writhed like a serpent in front of a seated audience. It was not particularly artful. Yet the seats were all taken. More people like to watch than get up on stage and perform, so the balance worked.



At Shakespeare & Company, I asked a young woman behind the counter if my Alain de Botton book had arrived. She searched the shelf behind her, speaking to me in English and French. Her English was so perfect, I assumed she was British, but no, she had just started learning it 11 years ago. She gets a lot of practice at the bookstore.



She handed me Botton's, How Proust Can Change Your Life. Margarita recommended it, and she loves Proust the way I love Proust. She’s also reading a biography of Proust, which she said makes him seem like a nasty man, but I find that hard to believe.

I browsed the fiction section and found two Jennifer Egan novels I hadn’t read, Invisible Circus and Look at Me. Extravagant, but I learned from my mother extravagance in buying books. She used to leave bookstores with a box of them in her arms. When I was a child and my parents had more children than money, she’d take us to the library every day for another Wizard of Oz. The passion for reading came from her, and she got it from her mother, Esther the poet, who ran off to Columbia for a year of graduate school, leaving two small children (one of whom was my mother) at home with her parents. While it was an agreement she’d made with my grandfather, who could start his medical practice now after finishing medical school, it was still a shocking thing for a small-town Minnesota woman to do, and I think cost her dearly in her husband and daughter’s affection.


On to the poetry section to see if the book I longed to read last night was there. I’d gone to every bookshelf in our apartment, unsure if we’d brought it or donated it to Antioch, our MFA alma mater, when we moved. Hélas! It was nowhere to be found at home.

But here! Here it was at Shakespeare. I grabbed the only copy of Ezra Pound’s The Cantos, and headed for the red theater chair in the next room to read a little of each Egan, and decided, of course I needed them both, and then dipped into The Cantos.


The French woman clerk came in with an English colleague to put some art books to bed. They were bedding the books above me, and to both sides, so I offered to move. No, no, they said, in the relaxed way that characterizes this bookstore.

We talked about learning English and French. Terry said that he surrounded himself with French people, played soccer with an all-French team, sang phrases while he showered, just bore down on it like a jackhammer. He practiced saying words with French friends, asking them over and over, “Am I saying it correctly?” After four years, he was fluent. Both were fluent in both languages. But, they teased each other, “I can still tell you’re French when you say certain words.” “Well, I can tell you’re English,” she sing-songed back.



I listened to a couple speaking German.

Another couple came in and spoke Spanish, from somewhere in the Americas.

And then a couple spoke what sounded to me like Chinese, but perhaps was not? Japanese? No, they looked and sounded Chinese.

I went back to reading The Cantos, and read a line about Chinese or Japanese. Hmmm. That was strange.

I asked the woman if she spoke English or French.


Street art by Tristan des Limbes


English, she said.

“I was just wondering if you were speaking Chinese or Japanese,” I said. “And then I read this.” I showed her the line.

She nodded, as if to say, Very strange indeed, but she was looking at me, not the text.

I came in for two books, but I wanted all four. I’m trying to be frugal—the exchange rate from dollars to euros is nuts right now; imagine everything costing one-third extra—but frugality doesn’t apply when it comes to books. I was programmed that way in childhood.



I meandered out into the cooler autumn air, past the oldest tree in Paris, a robina planted in 1636, which has a crutch beneath it like a figure in a Salvador Dali painting. Maybe I’d try a new restaurant I’d passed on the way. I wanted healthy tonight more than delicious, and Le Grenier de Notre Dame promised wholesome vegetarian fare. It was intimate and beautifully lit, and the waiter was warm and wall-eyed, and recommended a vegetable pie, and I sat and read The Cantos, and ate a perfectly delicious, perfectly healthy meal.

I was again ensorcelled by Pound’s way of weaving myth, history, poetry of other times, astronomy, astrology, philosophy, beauty of place, Italian, French, English, German, Chinese, Latin, Greek, his own memories, his obsession with economic justice and wise rule, and the occasional expression of a heart that seemed cracked with scapegoating and hatred—the works. Oh, but the richness.

I read:

       “nothing matters but the quality

of the affection—

in the end—that has carved the trace in the mind

dove sta memoria


The couple two tables away spoke Italian, he in a caressing soft tone, she like a barking dog. She had tattoos on her arms that looked like the exquisite graffiti on the walls around here. I glanced at each of them. I’m fascinated by volume, how some nationalities speak loudly, some softly. Italians, like Americans, speak as if they’re on stage. French people tend to speak as if they’re in the bedroom, and sometimes as if they want you to get in bed too.

I was struck by how softly this Italian man was speaking. But the moment after I glanced over at the two of them, he began to bark back at his companion, as if caught in the act of being too gentle, too refined.

And I walked home at 11 p.m., feeling perfectly safe on a Saturday night in this city where my soul is so at home, sick—sick with love.




The People of the Book

From Rue Lagrange, we turn a corner.  Suddenly, Notre Dame looms like a great ship before us, directly across the Seine. We pass the Square Réne Viviani, named for a WWI-era French prime minister, but once the garden of l’Église St-Julien-le-Pauvre, where St Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Villon and Rabelais all prayed, in the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.


Here we are at 27 Rue de la Bûcherie, in front of this odd little bookstore that is so numinous for us. Shakespeare’s portrait is painted twice on the wall outside. Two young Americans sit at a table outside intently chatting (I hear their accents as we pass).

Out here on the paving stones between the store and the Seine is where Richard read his poems one day in spring of 1997 when we were here on our honeymoon. In 2006, on an evening when we’d just arrived in Paris, the two of us read poems together in the small intimate room upstairs.

I remember the dazzling warmth of Sylvia Beach Whitman, who had just taken over ownership of the bookstore from her father, George Whitman. She was like a fairy, delicate, blond, and full of light. Though she seemed far too young to run a bookstore, it was clear she would be very good at it.


This year, we enter as if visiting an old friend in our home town—Paris is our home town now. It’s 8:30 p.m., and chances of Sylvia being here this late are slim. But there she is to the left of the door, small, blond, radiant as ever. We exchange greetings, chat.

I ask her about my gift certificate. She dashes back to her office in the antiquarian book room, and returns: here it is, converted from dollars to Euros. Six weeks I’ve waited, gathering a list of books, savoring the thought of spending the goodbye gift from my writers group in Los Angeles. It’s a hefty amount.

But first Richard and I must sniff around this rabbit warren of a bookstore—a warren for enchanted rabbits.  In the front of the store to the left of the cashier, are books about Paris and France. Here I find Ernest Hemingway’s The Moveable Feast. But no Montaigne.

Sylvia, all in black, leggings and a long sweater, searches through the section on France. While she is looking, I remember bookstores where I’ve worked: The Tides in Sausalito, California; Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Rizzoli Books in New York City. I think that in a former life I was—not the owner of a bookstore—but a bookstore itself.

 Sylvia says she’ll be right back. She thinks there is a volume of Montaigne on hold, and Voila! she returns with The Complete Essays.

I move on to the next room, the poetry section. I search for Dorianne Laux’s The Book of Men, and Susan Howe’s That This. No luck.

In the fiction section, I strike it rich. Here is Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita; Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea; Leonardo Sciascia’s The Wine Dark Sea, and Andre Breton’s Nadja.

And here are a few volumes of The Paris Review Interviews. I select Volume II, with interviews by James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Alice Munro.

In the France section, I find Paris Metro Tales, translated by Helen Constantine, and the recently published, How to Live; A Life of Montaigne In One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, by Sarah Bakewell.

I find Richard seated in the next room on a red theater seat, a huge book on the history of photography open on his lap.

“You pick a book that you want too.”

“No,” he says, “This is your gift. I don’t need to buy any more books.”

He is engrossed, which gives me time to sit on a ledge in the fiction section and read a bit from each book. Yes, the various recommendations from friends and book reviewers were all good.

A young black-haired couple speaking what sounds to me like Japanese stands nearby discussing choices of books.

Another couple in their 40s pokes through the France section speaking what might be Norwegian.

An Englishman talks with Lauren at the cashier's desk.

The sweet music of French is all around us.

At the counter, Lauren rings up my purchases, and asks me if I’d like my books stamped. Bien sûr! The stamp is a portrait of Shakespeare with the name of the bookstore and Kilometer Zero Paris in a ring around it.

I order Dorianne Laux’s latest and Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon. She hands me back my gift card. Half the credit amount still remains. Oh, how rich I feel!

In the window I notice a stuffed crow.

“….for there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that, with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you…”

We walk out of Shakespeare & Company, in my right hand a big brown bag with nine books. Richard takes my left hand and chuckles, “You’re so happy with a stash of books.”

I send a thank you over the Seine, across France, sailing over the Atlantic Ocean, flying over the North American continent all the way to Los Angeles to Anna, Cassandra, Dawna, Diane, Jennifer, John and Jon. 

They—like Sylvia, like the authors she carries, like her father, like my mother who read to me as a child and is the greatest reader I know, like the voices already speaking to me from the big brown bag—are my tribe, the People of the Book.

Page 1 2