Despite the prophetic voices saying bookstores, newspapers and print is dead ... many of us love to hold, house and read a real living hard copy book. This is a great article from The Paris Magazine below.
The Right Kind of Electricity By Sylvia Whitman
The Paris Magazine was first published in 1967 by George Whitman my father when the bookshop had been closed by the French authorities because George’s papers were not in order. During the entire year that the shop was closed, he didn’t sell one book but remained open as an open house, free library and guest house for writers from abroad. There were readings, courses and debates on everything from great books to the war in Vietnam or LSD. Describing in the magazine how he came to be a bookseller George said:
Like many of my compatriots I am something of a tumbleweed drifting in the wind. I drifted into bookselling for no better reason than a passion for books except for the classical reason of all booksellers who are self‑employed because they doubt if anyone else would employ them.
Having now drifted into bookselling myself, but in a very different era from my father, I often find myself being looked upon apologetically as a representative of the old world, someone who believes in the book as a living thing. This usually happens when people are about to launch into their love of their newest technological purchase. In response, I find myself saying, ‘Well, it’s the touch, the smell, the sensual aspect of the book that we would miss,’ or even, ‘It’s the photos, metro tickets and notes you find among the pages.’ I then see in their eyes an image of me as a librarian, sipping Earl Grey quietly while reading Jane Austen at the till, with a cat rolled up keeping my feet warm.
But it’s more than that. It’s the spaces books inhabit, the people they attract and the character they exude. It’s the silent community of readers. What other business encourages you to sit, meet people, browse and read a book for hours? It’s also the personal contact when someone comes in and asks for a book, remembering neither the author nor the title — only that the cover is pink; or when you manage to recommend the right title to the right person, and it’s as if something intimate has passed between you; or reading a great story and sharing your copy, with all its folded corners at your favourite bits. And, of course, the topsy‑turvy aspect of the walls surrounding you and the towers of toppling books that may even drop the unexpected into your hands. In fact, if the editor of this issue, Fatema Ahmed, hadn’t been browsing in a London bookshop where she came across something surprising — the original Paris Magazine — this issue would never have found itself in your hands.
We house books of all sorts but we also try to house writers of all sorts. George always welcomed travelling writers, or tumbleweeds as he affectionately calls them, to bunk up between the rows of books. Some of them arrive as hopeful Hemingways, others leave sure that they will be the next Kerouac, but all of them at least experience a book‑lined home on the banks of the Seine. George wrote in the ’67 issue his own definition of a writer’s needs: ‘All the writer requires is a sensitive skin, a beard, the right kind of electricity in his brain‑waves and a world that is sufficiently disorganized to allow him to subvert it.’ We are still sufficiently disorganized and hope the writer and reader might find the right kind of electricity here. More than forty years after the first issue of this magazine, we are also attempting other new ventures, with a literary festival, weekly readings, a literary prize for the novella, writers’ workshops and many more projects to come. All of this is to create a living space for books, and to invite you to enjoy something local, personal and real. As my father says, the book business is the business of life.