What have I been reading lately?

Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs – Jeremy Mercer

It was on Itchy Feet that I first read about Shakespeare And Company, the famous Paris bookstore, and its eccentric owner, George Whitman. I don’t know if it still does, but back in George Whitman’s days (he passed away in 2011), the bookshop was a place for homeless writers to stay, read, write, discuss and hone their creativity. Whitman truly believed in the adage ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise,’ and welcomed each new guest to the bookstore with his trademark eccentricity, love and trust. I LOVED the sound of the bookstore immediately, and added it to my bucket list. So, when I saw this book called Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer, a memoir of the author’s stay in the bookstore, I had to buy it immediately.

Jeremy Mercer was an investigative crime journalist, who ran into problems during the course of his career and had to escape Canada, where he used to live. He landed in Paris with no plans for his future and a supply of money that was fast threatening to run out. One gray winter morning, contemplating whether he would soon join the ranks of the Paris homeless and foodless, he walked into Shakespeare And Company, quite by chance. He got invited to a tea party there, one thing led to another, and soon enough, he found himself moving in to the bookstore, along with several other writers and poets. He felt as if his prayers were answered. Little did he know that the adventure had only just begun, that he was entering an entirely different world, that he was about to form several relationships that he would forever cherish.

Books, Baguettes And Bedbugs (also published in some countries as Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn At Shakespeare & Co.) is a beautiful book, a chronicle of all the events that shaped Mercer while he lived in the bookstore. Some of these events are strange, but, as Mercer puts it, that is the way they were. Some events were sweet and touching, while some were downright depressing.

I thought the book would be a romantic read, full of nostalgia and warmth. Nostalgia and warmth it does contain, but romantic it is not. The book is hard-hitting, but quite apparently written from the heart and truthful. Though the book turned out to be quite different from what I had expected, and though it hasn’t received many great reviews, I enjoyed reading it for what it is.

Would I recommend it? If you are looking for a fairytale-ish, romantic read set in a bookstore, this one is best avoided. However, if you want to read an as-it-happened account of a writer’s stay in what is a famous bookstore and his relationship with its out-of-this-world owner, grab a copy.

Parnassus On Wheels – Christopher Morley

Helen McGill is the ever-practical farm woman, who has spent all her life counting eggs, doing the laundry, baking bread and keeping house for her brother, Andrew. She enjoys the farm life, too, till Andrew writes a book that goes on to become famous, and becomes one of the ‘writer types’. Andrew begins to spend more and more time with his nose buried in a book or writing something or the other, and Helen begins to regret having approached middle age and never having had an adventure of her own.

Helen is going about her business as usual one day, when a horse-drawn, robin’s-egg-blue wagon suddenly appears in her yard, along with a short, red-haired man with a fiery temperament to match the colour of his hair. The wagon turns out to be a travelling library called Parnassus, which the red-head Roger Mifflin drives all over the countryside with his horse Pegasus, spreading the joy of reading. Parnassus seems to represent to Helen the adventure she has always wanted, and she buys it on a whim. Helen’s travels aboard the travelling library constitute the story of Parnassus On Wheels.

What is not to love about this book? Of course, I loved it. It is a light-hearted, simple read, quite a dreamy one at that. It is a novella that makes for a quick read, too. Helen and Roger are characters meant to be fallen in love with, and I went on and did just that. I would heartily recommend this book to everyone.

I have to thank The Conjecture Girl for recommending this book to me. I might have missed this gem of a novella, if not for her.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen – Paul Torday

Dr. Alfred Jones, UK-based fisheries scientist, is approached with a project to develop salmon fishing in the Yemen, a project that he is quick to reject as unfeasible. Weather and water conditions in the Yemen are not at all suitable to the breeding of salmon, and the task would be impossible to achieve. However, the project catches the attention of higher-ups in his organisation and the government, and Dr. Jones is forced into it. Slowly and gradually, though. Dr. Jones learns to love the project and his interactions with the people behind the scenes, and this entire process forms the storyline of Salmon Fishing In The Yemen. Moreover, there is the case of Dr. Jones’s on-the-verge-of-collapsing relationship with his wife, Mary.

Does the project ultimately succeed? What are the challenges that Dr. Jones has to face? How does the project change him, as a person? You have to read the book to find out.

Narrated through letters, memos, e-mails, interview transcripts and diary entries, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen was an absolute delight to read. It has drama, romance, wit and humour, all in the right proportions, ensuring that the reader never has a dull moment throughout his/her reading of the book. The author has beautifully etched out characters, poked fun at the flaws of some of the powers that run a country, and brought out the nuances of inter-personal relationships. The book has been expertly crafted, and the depth of the author’s research is clearly visible. It is, in fact, difficult to believe that this is the debut novel of a 64-year-old author who has spent years of his life in industry.

Mad Momma, thank you so much for recommending this book on your blog. I am so glad I read it.

I would greatly recommend this book to all of you. A light read that is thought-provoking at the same time, it is definitely a book worth relishing. You will fall in love with Dr. Jones in the process, too, I am sure.

Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts about them?

What are you reading at the moment?

11 thoughts on “What have I been reading lately?

  1. I had this book reading challenge which i took up setting 30 books at the least by the end of this year. Giving in to the diversity of the hobbies i had, i am seriously lagging behind.
    Your post gave me an idea on how to get into the reading mode again. I wish i implement it successfully. Thank you for the post.
    I dunno how i missed all these really cool n beautiful posts of yours. They were in my reader all the time. I will definitely read those books one day and cross check with your post again. 🙂

    Happy Reading.


  2. I have this dream of reading 30 books in 30 days, may be next summer when I am totally free 😀 😀
    I definitely want to read Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs..you got me all curious 😀


    1. @Ria

      30 books in 30 days is a bit much for me, being the slow reader that I am. I can read, like, 35 books in a year! 🙂 All the very best for realising your dream!

      Do check out Books, Baguettes And Bedbugs. I liked it.


  3. Yes! I had a gut instinct that you’d find Parnassus on Wheels adorable. [proud grin]
    Where on earth did you find the Jeremy Mercer book? I’v been looking for a while – no ebook, no (affordable) hard copy anywhere online 😦


  4. Ooooh! Haven’t read the first two (infact I am hearing of them first here!) but like I said, I have watched Salmon fishing in the Yemen and enjoyed it – different and thought-provoking, yes! I must grab a copy.
    I am reading One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest and the second part of Mistborn trilogy- been very good so far, both of them! 🙂


    1. @Kismi

      I so want to see the movie version of Salmon Fishing In The Yemen! I loved the book, and it would be great to see the movie version of it. 🙂

      I have come across One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest several times in bookstores, but it always seemed to me to be too depressing to read. 😦 The Mistborn trilogy sounds interesting.


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