Dark & Angry Rourke on the falseness of Shakespeare & Co.: he was not pleased. Excerpt:
It was the sheer fakery of the place, the jaw-dropping hyperreality
of what it’s become. It was like stepping onto a film set between
takes, the extras standing around chatting, bits of set being moved
around, directors discussing the script and the next ever-so-important
shot. Not bohemia, but "The Bohemian Experience". It was horrible. So
horrible in fact that I spent no more than five minutes in there. Just
enough time to wander up and down the shoddy stairs and browse the
shelves for Maurice Blanchot and Blaise Cendrars titles (of which they were disappointingly bereft).
I do understand George Whitman’s vision, I’m not completely
ignorant. I do understand Shakespeare & Company’s place in literary
history: the free meals; the book loans, the countless "tumbleweeds"
allowed to stay free of charge over the years, the literary connections
with the building, the poet Gregory Corso being banned for stealing stock. All of that, of course.
But for me it’s all merely a simulacrum of the real thing. The
original Shakespeare & Company, owned by the publisher Sylvia Beach
(she famously published James Joyce’s Ulysses), stood a considerable
distance away from our present day affair, on Rue de l’Odeon. Sylvia
Beach’s original bookshop became the place where ex-pat writers like
Joyce, Pound, Dos Passos, Stein, and Scott Fitzgerald would find a home
over the years. Later their French counterparts Blaise Cendrars, Man
Ray, Jean Cocteau, and Andre Gide would hang out there, mixing with the
likes of Hemingway et al. But the second world war put an end to all
that and the shop never again reopened after all its stock was put into
storage during the German occupation.
…I don’t want my bookshops to be theme parks. I want to walk in and
browse without feeling that I don’t belong. I don’t want to feel that I
have walked into the wrong place. I want my bookshops to feel natural.
I want authenticity. What I don’t want is a myth in three dimensions.
Sadly, this was all I found by the Seine.
For all his dark-room-scowling, I’m with Rourke on this one.