PARIS, July 2014
Without a lot of time left to spare in the city, I made my way to San Francisco Book Co, hoping for the best. It was along a road called Monsieur le Prince, and the architecture was wonderful. That small circle of town where I briefly wandered, looking for the shop, will be what I remember as ‘default’ Paris.
Two simple bookcases outside told me I was on the right track. A glance inside the door confirmed it – this was exactly the place I’d hoped to find! Shelves stacked ten-high and lined double-deep awaited me. Everything was impeccably organized, and I swear the shelves were beamingly-grinning. (That may have been just me. I probably bleached the first few rows of books I browsed through.)
I rambled through the shelves and stacks for a satisfyingly unknown length of time. In the Country section, I found a huge selection of Louis L’Amour books, including Jubal Sackett, one of the books I’d absolutely loved as a kid. In a rare lucid memory, I recall reading it in my favorite oak tree behind my grandparent’s house in Tomball. Whenever I’d walk by their bookshelf and see Jubal, I’d always feel that we recognized each other, somehow, the book and I, as if it would be fitting for us to give each other a wink, or a nod. I never took it home, because it belonged in Nana & Grandad’s bookshelf, and I liked seeing it each time I visited, that old friend.
Connection set. I picked up the book and didn’t put it down. I considered getting a second copy of Fair Blows The Wind as well, another I’d connected with when I was younger, but I had a well-worn copy back in Texas. I passed on several Paul Auster titles as well, content with the fact that I had an unread Brooklyn Follies at home in Hong Kong. However, to make good on a promise, I picked up a copy of The New York Trilogy. It’s a good one to give to writers and artists, one of the best accounts I’ve ever read about the struggle.
A trip back through to the general Fiction section, where I determined I’d look at every title if I could (and very nearly did!), yielded an early victory – what appeared to be a very old copy of a Dickens book called Life of Our Lord. This astounded me. Dickens has been one of my mainstays this year; we’ve been near inseparable since I was been blown away by his laugh-out-loud humor in the first ten-ish chapters of Great Expectations. His humorous short stories about ghosts had long since begun to be a huge influence on my stories. Previously, I hadn’t known much about his spiritual life or views; this book promised to make that clearer. It was apparently a published record of letters he’d made for his children, then young, in which he rewrote the gospels to make the life of Jesus more clear to them. I added this one to the list.
Then, I felt lost. I’d been so consistent in my choice of authors – George MacDonald, Dickens, Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Twain, Auster, Kipling, Forster – that I honestly didn’t know where to go next. I wasn’t ready to start on my mountain of Murakami, but I was ready to move a bit away from my primary go-to of British (and even in that, mostly English) writers from late 1800s to mid 1900s (excepting Twain and Auster). Luckily, there was a Wise Man near in the form of the store owner. He gave me his recommendations, though I’m blanking on the names now; one was something like ‘Yiddish Policemen Club’, I can’t remember now. I could Google it, but… eh. I added a couple of his recommendations to the stack.
He also shared with me a curious little story about his connection to Hong Kong. A lady had once walked into his store and asked him for 1,000 books. She said that he could select them, and when ready, she would fly him and the books back to her home in Hong Kong, where he would install what was apparently to be a bookshelf for the ages. I’m not sure how many were read, as I’m guessing their main purpose was for making her friends (read: me) jealous.
Five books in hand. Dickens, L’Amour, some newbies for me, and one Auster for a friend. Mission accomplished. The official account: The books left for me in Paris were waiting at a store called San Francisco Book Co. The Westerns and Mystery sections are particularly impressive.
I would also highly recommend going to a boulangerie immediately after you leave the bookhouse. Sweet-Lord-Jesus-of-all-things-baked, I’m going to miss those.