Books, like alluring strangers, can unexpectedly sweep you off your feet. Still, I hadn’t expected to be seduced and fall in love.
A month or so ago, I picked up The Little Paris Bookshop while browsing at a somewhat unfriendly bookstore (it’s hard to believe that such places exist, it seems contrary to the nature of books, but sadly they do) as I mulled around a display of new releases. Francophile that I am, and having attended culinary school in Paris, I lean towards almost anything francais: food, music, language, books, etc.
I read the cover synopsis, and though it had a couple of things going for it right from the outset — Paris, the south of France, a bookseller, a journey — I wasn’t hooked. Frankly, I don’t read much fiction these days, and I thought the story might be a bit too precious and whimsical. While I’m not fond of the tragic or dark, neither do I like ‘fluff’. I decided to pass … for now.
A couple of weeks later, I read the first ten pages in a preview online, and decided that I liked the writing and would take the plunge. I rang my local bookseller in Carmel-by-the-Sea — a small, friendly, independent shop called Pilgrim’s Way — and asked them to order it for me.
Aside note: I tend to browse for books and read their reviews on the Internet, and then order from my local bookshop. Amazon’s objectionable business practices, both inside the industry (the Hachette affair being just one example) while undercutting all other competitors, means that authors earn much less per book sold. Yes, it costs more to pay the actual cover price at a non-corporate, independent seller, but when you do you’re not only supporting local business and keeping money within your own community, you are putting a higher percentage directly into the writer’s pocket. [Author steps down from soap box and places hat back on his head.]
My order arrived in just a couple days and I trotted down to pick it from Cynthia, chatting for a bit and savoring one of those “life in a charming village” experiences that warms the heart. I appreciate that she keeps my book The Bones and Breath in stock on her shelves, and I’m happy to support her business rather than the corporate big guys. Later that evening, alone in the quiet of our cottage as I listened to rain pattering softly on the roof and skylight, reading the first chapters I found myself smiling, delighted that I had opted for Paris after all.
From the book jacket cover:
A warm and charming tale of love, loss, and the power of reading.
Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by a heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter that he has never opened.
After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books and showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.
Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people’s lives.
Written by Nina George, a German author, and originally published as Das Lavendelzimmer (The Lavender Room), the book became a bestseller in Europe in 2013 and has since been translated into 33 languages and sold more than 800,000 copies. Its French title is La Lettre oubliée (The Forgotten Letter). In the States, it has hovered high on the Indie Bestseller list for hardcover/fiction, as well as the New York Times bestseller list.
Early in the pages, Monsieur Perdu tells his young author friend, “You see, I sell books like medicine. There are books that are suitable for a million people, others only for a hundred. There are even medicines — sorry, books — that were written for a single person only”
“Oh, God. One person? A single person? After all those years of work!”
“Of course — if it saves that person’s life!”
This little exchange landed directly in my heart, comforting me like an embrace. So often as writers we labor, trudging uphill while invisible to the world, struggling to get our words into print; we send them into the firmament, but never really know how they are received or whom they have benefitted, if anyone. When a reader reaches out and responds, says thank you, this touched me, it somehow makes all the work worthwhile. Yes, most of us dream that our books or writings will reach large numbers of people, that they will be a success (whatever that means), but if our words changed even one person’s life for the better, would that not really be enough…?
On my own journey, I have often reminded myself of this. Sometimes daily. I may never be ‘successful’ and read by thousands of readers, but I do know that I have touched at least a few people deeply and made a lingering impression and impact. It’s sufficient to keep plodding onward, a paragraph or a page at a time, offering something that glimmers with light from the soul.
Each of us has something essential and creative to offer the ‘more-than-human’ world, even if it is for only just one person or being.
There were multiple moments in this dear book that felt as if it were written just for me, as Monsieur Perdu claims. And I could only shake my head that Jean Perdu’s journey takes him to the Luberon, the region of Provence that I love best, to one of my favorite hilltop villages whose narrow, winding streets I have strolled with my beloved, where we have lingered at a small café and gazed out over the tapestry of French countryside, with a glass of apricot-hued vin rosé in hand.
Despite my earlier trepidation that it might be a bit too contrived, I loved this book right from the beginning. Ms. George’s writing is affable and engaging (give a nod to an obviously fine translator), splashed with color and keen insights, and it transported me effortlessly back to a place that I love and often yearn for.
You certainly don’t have to be writer to adore this tale, but it helps if you love books and stories. It doesn’t hurt to enjoy France either, though you’ll be charmed nonetheless. Here is a journey of the heart that invites you to consider passion — the places we find it, and the way we either invite it to kindle our days or close the door against it. (Tango, anyone?)
What will each of us bring to the world in our own unique way?
Honestly, it seems unfair to compare books and authors, for they are utterly different from each other. To judge this against my perennial French favorite, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, is to weigh apples against oranges. I can only tell you that I love The Little Paris Bookshop; like the porridge in the children’s tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the book isn’t too much of this, or too much of that, but just right.
Repeatedly I smiled and held it close to my heart, enchanted. I wept. After the final page, I sat quietly on the couch, candles flickering and two English Whippets asleep on either side of me, and gazed out the darkened front windows to the silvery brilliance of a great pearl of moon. I felt utterly content, a field of Provençal lavande blossoming in my heart.
It has been far too long since I found myself in the bittersweet position of thinking, what can possibly follow that?!? And I am overdue to read a book aloud to my beloved (our dogs like story time too, curled up alongside), but now I have found just the right one, and will be delighted to savor it again.
Danke schön & merci beaucoup, Nina George, je vous remercie de votre livre. A thousand thanks for taking me on such a lovely, affirming journey.