Thursday, 6 November 2014

Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs: The Left Bank World of Shakespeare & Co by Jeremy Mercer

Nonfiction November has made me post more than I've posted in a week for a long, long time. If you don't know what I'm talking about go and have a browse through Kim's post and some of the others linked up, I promise you'll find some great recommendations!

I have a confession to make. I went to Paris, and having not read this book, I was unaware of the existence of Shakespeare and Company and therefore neglected to visit it. Having read this book I am now kicking myself harder than I've ever kicked myself before! 

Ellie recommended Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs to me at least two years ago and I've had it on my shelf longer than that because I'd vaguely heard something about Shakespeare and Company being an amazing place and then saw it in a charity shop and look at that cover, who could resist? But despite the cover it took me ages (and even a couple of false starts) to get into it, but I am so so glad that I've finally read it. As I finished it I went and found a pen to put my name in the front of it. It's a keeper and it's going on my list of favourite books of this year and you should all read it immediately. 

It's difficult to put my finger on what I liked so much about it, except to say that Mercer's own story is pretty engrossing and the way that he interweaves it with the story of the bookshop and its founder, George Whitman, is pretty great. Although it sets itself up to be all about the bookshop and books it's really more about the people than about the shop itself, although I do now know a hell of a lot more about the history of the shop than I previously did! 

Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs starts with Mercer running away from a pretty awful situation in Canada to Paris. He doesn't have much money and after a few weeks he stumbles upon the bookshop totally by chance and discovers that the eccentric owner allows writers to stay there free of charge, and so, of course, he goes and gets himself a room! From then on in it's pretty much a look at some of the people staying in the bookshop with him and the effects of living in such conditions interspersed with the story of George and the founding of the bookshop. 

I loved the motto 'Be kind to strangers, lest they're angles in disguise' which is central to the idea of letting random strangers stay in your house for as long as they like and I find it amazing that in a world which can be so cynical and frankly depressing there is still this kind of hope and trust in people to be found. 

This book was such an amazing pick for my first book for Nonfiction November - it must have been, I only finished it yesterday and here I am already writing a review about it! It's propelled me to keep on in my nonfiction reading and I've picked up Tina Fey's Bossypants to read next and am loving it! 

If you didn't see, I'm also organising a simple nonfiction only book swap - you sign up, I match you up with someone, you buy them a book and send it to them. Details here.

If you want a book which will make you hopeful and happy and excited about the prospect of travelling, read this. 


  1. I think I've pretty much told everyone at the point how scared I am of nonfiction because I associate nonfiction with school texts, hahaha! However, "all the cool people are doing it", so I might as well give it a shot this month!

    I had known about the bookshop before I heard about the book, so now I'm glad that when I read this book, I'll be able to envision/relate to it much better!

    1. I made a playlist of the documentary about it too, which was made around the time Mercer was in Paris (he appears in it a couple of times) and really helped put faces to names - especially Simon, the ex-alcoholic poet living downstairs. :)

      Hopefully this link works:

  2. I didn't visit Shakespeare and Co when I went to Paris either, though I wish I had! This book sounds lovely.

  3. I think there is probably a typo in the shop's motto: 'Be kind to strangers, lest they're angles in disguise' hehe. It made me giggle!

    The book does sound lovely! It doesn't seem like it'll be easy for me to get hold of a copy while I'm in Japan, so I'm going to keep an eye out for it while I'm in the UK over Christmas :D

  4. I'd never heard of this book until reading nonfiction November posts - it sounds interesting!