Quickly: Great Bookstore, Villainous Bookmen, and Bad Timing
Posted by: Keir Graff
A few recent news stories that have stuck in my head . . . .
At a time when independent bookstores seem like an endangered species–when even the chains that have displaced them are closing branches (see Bill Ott’s Back Page)–it’s comforting to read about an old-fashioned bookshop that is still thriving. In the Guardian, Jeanette Winterson (The Stone Gods) profiles the legendary Shakespeare and Company (“Down and Out in Paris“). It reminds me of a fictional bookshop, Sempere and Son, in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s novels The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game.
Perched above all this, like an old eagle, is George Whitman. He used to sleep on a mattress in among the books, but along the way he managed to buy the apartment upstairs, and now he lives his book-lined life with a bed, a sink, a bath, a table and an ancient stove, the stewpot steaming up the windows and fogging the view across to Notre Dame. George likes cooking for his family – he has only one daughter, but a big, boisterous, ever-changing family, and that’s the way it’s been since 1951, when the demobbed GI, who had chosen Paris as his home, decided to open a bookstore.
With more and more cases of rare-book theft making the news, Tim Richardson examines “What Drives People to Steal Rare Books” (Financial Times).
In newspaper reports of such crimes, epithets such as “gentlemen thieves” are liberally applied to men such as Hakimzadeh and Jacques. Typically, they are characterised as obsessed academics willing to do almost anything to obtain that ancient tome or map that will fill a gap on their bookshelves. Hakimzadeh’s defence revealed that he spent his wedding night polishing his beloved books, while Gosse offered his own love of books as mitigation for his crime. “I felt the books had been abandoned,” he said.
And this one just has me shaking my head. As reported by Kate Connolly (“Acclaimed German Writer’s Archive Lost in Building Collapse,” Guardian), after nearly a decade of negotiation, Heinrich Boll’s extensive papers were handed over to the official archives in Cologne. Then the building collapsed and everything was destroyed. And that’s not all:
The Böll documents are just a small part of the losses to the archives which contained almost 30km of files, including articles written by Karl Marx, letters by Georg Hegel, writings by composer Jacques Offenbach and edicts issued by Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as the minutes of city council meetings going back to 1376, which offer a fascinating portrait of medieval Cologne.