A Memoir of an Unusual Parisian Lifestyle: a Review of Jeremy Mercer’s “Time Was Soft There”

Anya, grade 12

"Time Was Soft There" written by Jeremy Mercer is a memoir that features Mercer, a lonely journalist from Canada, who buries himself into his job and uses alcohol as a way of escaping his problems. He initially betrays the trust of a powerful criminal, which makes that person threaten him with violence, thus encouraging the narrator to flee to Paris. On impulse, he buys the ticket and runs away. When he gets there, he finds the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. The bookstore contains an eccentric group of people living in its walls. George Whitman, the owner of the store, is a large believer in communism and is severely against wasting resources and money. George values creativity and resourcefulness and often chastises those working and living in the store for slacking off or for wasting any form of food. However, considering that the majority of those living in the bookstore are poor, they don't have much food to waste in the first place. Those who had been living in the store for longer taught the narrator how to get the cheapest deals for food: waiting until the outdoor market closed and taking the produce that didn't sell or buying day-old sandwiches from cafes. The bookstore becomes a place for its residents to call home and form a community of sorts. Even though they all come from varying backgrounds and life experiences, they come together and bond over literature and living in Paris. One of the main themes of the book is belonging, and it shows up in a few unusual ways. The narrator at first strives to feel a sense of belonging within Shakespeare and Co. by appealing to George’s every whim and trying extremely hard to please him. When he feels as if he has fallen out of favor with him, he falls into despair and does everything he can to fall back into favor. However, as the narrator changes and grows as a person, he slowly grows out of the bookstore as well. The magic of living in Paris and being a part of a community of writers helped the narrator see the world in a different light. It helped him be more carefree and content with life, as well as getting out of his bubble. He became excited about his life, despite the hardships of having no money, and learned that there was more to life than possessing experienced things. My favorite person in the bookstore was Nadia because of her quiet confidence and the way that everyone in the room was immediately drawn to her. She is also extremely talented and sets her goals high. Overall I’d recommend this memoir to any enthusiasts of the Parisian lifestyle or adventures who are curious to learn about a unique style of living.