Message in a Bottle

Message in a bottle

On Friday I managed to tick off an item on my bucket list. Except I don’t have a bucket list, but you know what I mean: a much cherished hope, dream or ambition. For some my little tick would seem a bit tame but for a book lover or any author, it was a real thrill. I went to a bookshop. Not just any bookshop but a world famous bookshop.

Shakespeare & Company in Paris, less than fifty yards from Notre Dame cathedral has been on my personal radar for some years now. Working in Paris several times a year for umpty-ump years, I’ve never had any personal free time where I’ve felt it was possible to slip away for half an hour. Not even for five minutes to just take a photo and look longingly at the window like a kid at a sweet shop.

But last Friday I did. I managed it. You aren’t allowed to take photos inside so I must tantalise you with a shot or two of the exterior.



They have a Lucky Dip selection where for five euros you can buy a book, sight unseen, boxed neatly in a cardboard box with their famous stamp on it. Books are more expensive in France than in the UK, so taking a risk for a small sum was all right. Alas, my Lucky Dip was not (for me) lucky, as I got a James Joyce.

But I went in and had a browse. Floor to ceiling shelving, slightly dishevelled by the number of customers who have taken books out and put them back only to pounce on the next offering, and the lovely smell of books old and new: paradise. I heard customers asking for specific books: “Do you have a copy of The Prophet?” “Yes, I believe we do!” “I’m looking for The Bell Jar…” I catch the eye of the assistant and ask sotto voce, “Do you supply it with Prozac?” and she giggles discreetly as she goes to help the customer find it.

I looked, and found I was overwhelmed by the sheer mass of brilliance, of skill with words and with ideas, of the authors whose works surrounded me. I wanted to buy a book, a proper book, something I’d never normally find. Something different. After only a tiny bit of scanning of shelves I found a novel by George Sand, a little known work called Laura: the Journey into the Crystal. I had only a very short time to decide, so I bought it and the Lucky Dip and returned to my working day.

Yet a part of me remained with those shelves of books, those repositories of voices, some long, long dead. It made me realise my own voice was there, too, somewhere, on the shelves of those who have bought my books, and on the virtual shelves. George Sand would not have imagined that her books would still be being read more than two hundred years after her birth; she would surely have been delighted to see a modern woman seizing with delight one of her lesser known books.

My books are my messages in bottles, cast into the vast ocean of literature. Where they end up, I will never know. I’d like to think that they will pitch up somewhere rather than sink to the bottom of the sea. The act of casting a message in a bottle into the sea is an act of faith, and for the finder, an act of grace.

Perhaps I need a little more faith to keep chucking them out there, and believe that they may wash up on the right beaches, one day.

14 thoughts on “Message in a Bottle

  1. Ever since reading Hemingway’s sojourn with his debacle with Scott Fitzgerald I have wanted to visit Shakespeare and Company. So deep envy! Unlikely for me now. Apropos George Sand I was reminded of ?Koestler’s remark that he would rather write a book that one reader would read in a hundred years time than one read by a hundred in its first year! Take heart then. Great post to cheer up a Monday gloom.


  2. enjoyed that post – immersion in books. And I suppose a hopefulness on your part about your work
    I working yesterday near a weekend market that has a huge book stall. I went in twice – I was looking for Joyce’s Ulysses! They had some other Joyce… I bought several lovely books at an amazing price.


    • I hope to review it once read, for sadly she’s better known for her relationships with famous men, and therein lies another, longer, angrier post!


  3. Thanks Viv, I really enjoyed this post. I wasn’t aware of George Sand but have downloaded a book on her. Not sure I understand your point about James Joyce :>) Completely get your point about Sylvia Plath.


      • But this is FUN Woody Allen. All the artists and writers of Paris in the 1920s, and Shakespeare and Company plays an important part. And Carla Bruni steals the show as tour guide. You don’t have to like Woody Allen movies to slobber all over this one. I did.


  4. Hi Viv, Oddly enough, our family’s summer home is in a little mountain town by the name of Highlands, in North Carolina. Tucked in the corner of a tiny, out-of-the way plaza ringed by a few shops is a place called, you guessed it, Shakespeare and Company. Three summers ago when my newest book was published I held my first public reading there. The owner, Elizabeth, was the wife of the previous owner of the original shop in Paris, and has some neat stories about it. Apparently when she and her husband parted ways, she retained the rights to the name; hence, Highlands is the American Mecca of aficionados!

    Another interesting synchronicity: several years ago I bought a large painting titled “Portrait of George Sand.” It hangs in my foyer. It’s not meant to be a portrait, but to capture the essence of an elegant woman with several strands of beautiful pearls around her neck, some of which are falling off. A woman who’s having to forfeit part of her feminine Soul to gain respect in a patriarchal world? Perhaps….

    I enjoyed your post. As you can see, it has brought up many memories and associations. Jeanie


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