Interesting intro to a piece about Shakespeare & Company, the famous Paris bookstore, by Michael Lawrence for Writers Review:
Between 1995 and 2015 I published a number of stories and forty-something books for children and teenagers. One of the books – Young Dracula – inspired five CBBC-TV series of that name; a series I didn’t like and which earned me little more than a fleeting ‘originator’ end credit and a handful of beans. While I enjoyed writing many of my books, others were such a tussle with editors and their various chippers-in that frustration and out-and-out rage became the order of many a day. When the new head of a certain publishing house informed me that my new ideas were ‘very funny with strong narrative voices but a little quirky and out-there at a time when we are looking for something a lot more obvious’ I knew it was time to move on. I’m still moving. Still writing too (it’s hard to give up), but not for children.
Recommend reading the rest of the piece…
Writing in the New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz praises the bookshops of France in general, and of Paris in particular, and then gets a nasty surprise when she pays a return visit to the legendary Shakespeare & Co.
When I arrived this time, a line had formed in front of the shop. People waited placidly, snapping iPhone photos to bring back to their bookstore-deficient nations. The doors were closed. I went to reach for the handle just as they opened to emit a pair of nuns, and a dark-haired woman stuck out her head and called, “Next two, please.”
Failing to understand, I tried to move past her. She blocked my way. The shop had too many visitors to fit inside at once, she explained. Would I just stand to the side and wait my turn?
A bookstore that has become a monument to itself, even a wildly popular monument, has lost its living essence. If this is what the French are trying to protect against, good luck to them. Rebuffed by Shakespeare, I did what you do when you have the luxury of choice, and went around the corner to the Abbey Bookshop, on the Rue de la Parcheminerie, where I found Kushner’s book smack in the middle of the shelf, right next to Kundera and Lawrence.
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, reviewed by Simon Mason
Simon Mason quite likes this ‘dotty’ novel. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it when I read it, and felt it somehow missed being a great read. I shall be interested to see what children make of it…
Katherine Rundell’s charmingly lyrical style is dotty in the way Charles is dotty. In the London section she seems interested mainly in conversations, which have a high quota of witticism (wearing a skirt, Sophie looks as if she’s "mugged a librarian") and aphorisms (lawyers have all "the decency and courage of lavatory paper"). In general, her metaphors are determinedly original. Such verbal showiness, though entertaining, has the disadvantage of showing up the misses as well as the successes, and in the early stages the story has the contrived manner, but not the solidly exciting matter, of a fairytale.
This changes the moment Sophie climbs up through the skylight in her Parisian hotel bedroom to the rooftop above. All her life she has been a keen tree-climber, drawn to heights. Now, standing above the city, she is liberated – and the story is liberated with her. Almost immediately she realises she’s not alone up there. A feral boy called Matteo lives on the roof of the law courts, and the drama of his encounter with Sophie and their subsequent partnership is thrilling. The roof-top world is grittily real, the stuff of broken toes and roasted rat and howling gales. Breaking away from Charles’s protection, Sophie finally expresses the Pippi Longstocking-like wilfulness only coyly hinted at before. Even the showy metaphors thin out. There’s a gripping journey of exploration, an extraordinary feast and a tremendous fight between Sophie, Matteo and their tree-dwelling friends and a wolf-like pack of boys from the station area.
Richard Holmes chooses French portrait photographer Félix Nadar as his ‘Hero’ in The Guardian’s weekly Review feature:
Nadar was the man who introduced me to Paris, and to romanticism. He was the first great French portrait photographer of the 19th century, and a master of visual biography. His Panthéon Nadar of 1854 was originally a collection of nearly 300 literary and artistic caricatures, drawn in an arch, psychologically penetrating style later inherited by the American cartoonist David Levine. By 1870, it had become a fantastic photographic archive, in which every writer, painter, musician, dancer, singer and actor of note in the second empire – from Victor Hugo to Édouard Manet, Hector Berlioz to Sarah Bernhardt – was not merely recorded, but shrewdly observed. His sequence of photographs of his friend Charles Baudelaire, for example, is in effect a life study of the poet…
Despite his rackety life, he lived to be 89. He was in some ways his own best creation, and “Nadar” was both an artistic signature and a shrewd commercial logo. His real name was Gaspard-Félix Tournachon: a tall, exuberant man with a vibrant circle of friends and a beloved wife. Jules Verne called him “an Icarus with replaceable wings”. So this brooding self-portrait, taken in 1854, is a typical Nadar paradox. Never trust a biographer on the subject of himself. I shall always be grateful to him.