James Polchin is a Master Teacher of Writing in Liberal Studies. He is spending Summer 2012 in Paris, where he also recently taught for two years.
A Bookshop in Paris
In Paris this summer, the big news (or at least the big news for many American and English expats) is the closing of the Village Voice Bookshop. I first read of its closing in a short article in The New Yorker just a the week after I arrived in Paris for the summer. It was a shock really, like some dear friend has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. But then it was not unexpected.
During my two-year appointment as a visiting faculty member at Liberal Studies-Paris, the Village Voice Bookshop, on Rue Princessa, was an anchor for a rich inventory of smart, English language books. The place was small but often quiet. It pleasantly lacked the chatter and crowds of tourists you often confront at the historically famous and more centrally located Shakespeare and Co. just across from Notre Dame. But at the Village Voice Bookshop, there was also a mixture of French and English patrons, which is rare in this city that seems always to keep a bit of distance between the Anglo-American community and the native Parisians. Almost every reading I attended in the small upstairs room held this mixture of French and English readers. The bookshop, owned and managed with love by the elegantly French Odile Hellier, became over the years a center for this exchange of ideas. Beyond losing the tables of new releases and shelves of literature and philosophy and the large back section of poetry, it is this cross-cultural literary salon that is the biggest loss here.
I recently paid my respects to the shop on a Sunday afternoon. The blue façade was somber—or maybe I was just projecting this. But it did contrast severely with the busy café next door, buzzing with conversation. I browsed the thinning shelves (all the stock was half-priced) looking for something to buy. One last book from the shop, I thought.
On the wall leading upstairs, there were six large yellow posters that listed all the writers who had given a reading at the shop since it opened in 1981. The lists were a who’s who of late 20th century literature, and a testament to the way this small place did more than sell books.
Upstairs, I found five copies of Bruce McCall’s Fifty Things To Do With A Book (Now That Reading Is Dead), a satiric series of cartoons poking fun at the demise of books. (In one cartoon a man readies a rifle while off in the distance a friend throws books into the air, turning them into ideal objects for target practice.) Somehow McCall’s satire wasn’t so funny at that moment.
I did buy Old Man Goya by Julia Blackburn, a biography of the painter’s later life, when, after a severe illness at the age of forty-seven, he went completely deaf. It seemed the most fitting story to take away in this twilight of a bookshop that has been so dedicated to a cross-cultural conversation about books.

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Tamuira Reid is a faculty member in Liberal Studies; she is a creative nonfiction writer turned screenwriter who is currently writing a novel. She writes:
Professors make fast work of the summer months. We go to conferences, research articles, scour various archives. For some of us, it’s the time we set aside to build our masterpiece, to making “that” work, the one piece we’ve dreamt about our entire lives. The one that potentially defines who and what we are.
No pressure.
Back in my college days, I always imagined professors having these fabulously indulgent summers, shuttling off to some exotic tropical island, barefoot and sipping on margaritas, wearing ugly shorts on a golf course. I never thought that they might actually, like, work.
Writing takes time. Lots of it. Insane amounts of it. Hours upon hours until you have no idea what day it is or what the weather is like or when the last time you ate something other than coffee was. When I became a mother in the summer of 2010, my world shifted entirely. Days became longer, better, harder. Time wasn’t something I took for granted anymore.
Luckily, there’s this little nagging voice that wakes me every morning before my son, Oliver, gets up or keeps me in my office long after the last student leaves. It says, simply, “write something”. So I steal time. Steal moments, opportunities, pockets of minutes here and there. I’ve learned to write on planes, subways, in the dark, half-awake. I have wallpaper made out of post-it notes and ink spots cover my hands and stain my clothes. Oliver has somehow grown molars between chapters 2 and 3.
I sleep a lot less than I used to. My house is a mess and my laundry is piling up into a heap that strangely resembles the leaning tower of Pisa.
But, when it comes down to it, sleep is overrated. At least that’s what the voice keeps telling me.