Spanning Time and Worlds in Paris Bookstores
Storytelling by Fred Blake
I choose fiction above all else, preferably in paperback form. Out of the past 30 books I’ve read over 16 months, 26 have been fiction. While I get questions from my friends on consistent selections, I’m always confident in my answer. I choose fiction because it allows me to gain perspectives across race, religion, gender, time periods and enter worlds and realms that don’t exist as we know it. I especially am drawn to magical realism, and books that transcend time or place.
Don’t get me wrong, I occasionally opt for non-fiction pieces such as The Devil in the White City or Over the World’s Edge and while I enjoy learning about the world I live in, it doesn’t captivate my imagination as much as fiction does. A good non-fiction piece uses primary sources to convince the reader that events are described as close to the truth as physical possible. While the stories can be enthralling, the sources are typically journal entries and newspapers and interviews, which are scattered throughout the narrative. Between the two, I choose fiction.
[Not] Lost in Translation in Paris: New and Used English Bookstores
Living in Paris has opened my eyes to used bookstores as well. In the 5th and 6th arrondissment, there are a multitude of options of English bookstores. Shakespeare & Co is the most famous and has a historical past, tied to authors like Hemingway and Joyce, but it’s also the priciest and mainly new books. The Red WheelBarrow has a nice selection of new books, yet at a more reasonable price point. My favorite bookstore I’ve found though is San Francisco Book Co., a used bookstore in the 6th arrondissment (and it’s next to a good beer bar called Le Mousse et La Robe). All the books are used and each book is typically €4-€9. The shop has thousands of books to choose from across all genres – sometimes I’ll go in and immediately find the book I went in for, other times I’ll spend 30 minutes wandering around until something piques my interest.
It’s quite fun not knowing what story I’ll be jumping into next. While it’s easy to use a Kindle and get any book immediately, going into the book store is a gift and I’m never sure what book will be unwrapped next. It’s also a sustainable option as it’s re-using what already exists as opposed to buying something new. Next time you’re searching for a book, I suggest visiting a used bookstore, where you can jump right in and get lost in a new world.
Fiction over non-fiction?
When I find a good work of fiction, I’m entirely absorbed in this new world. While the characters and events are made up, I lose sight of facts and become engorged with the stories no matter how outlandish or impossible they may seem. I love trying to imagine the way a character looks or speaks, and the setting in which they live. It’s fascinating to me that every reader will interpret a character differently, but that is the pure beauty of it. For example, until you watch a movie, the shared image of a character is impossible as no two people would be able to imagine a character exactly the same features. When I close my eyes and think about Harry Potter, my mind now goes to Daniel Radcliffe as he portrayed Harry Potter, but for books that do not have movies, the options are limitless! My Dr. Kinbote from Pale Fire will inevitably be different than your perceived Dr. Kinbote. The biggest problem I find in fiction: how do you choose a new book?
There are some good lists of top 100 books in various rankings (e.g. 20th century or American or British), but I rely on goodreads.com to guide my selections. Typically I’ll sift through Top 100 book rankings to gauge top books I have yet to read and then research if it seems like something I would be interested in. There are rankings that I disagree with, such as Mignight’s Children ranked too high, while other favorites such as 100 Years of Solitude or East of Eden ranked too low. I typically like to have an idea or 2-3 books before I head to the bookstore so I can parous the shelves with somewhat of a direction, but other times I’ll just show up until something jumps out at me. The beauty of shopping in used bookstores means you could leave with something slightly unexpected.
Where to start in fiction
I’ve recommended a couple books to help you get started below. When you’ve read all nine, let me know if you’re hooked on fiction like me.
Starters That Everyone Should Read:
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Great Gatsby
Next Level Reads:
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Kite Runner
The Song of Solomon
Favorites, but not for the faint-of-heart:
East of Eden
100 Years of Solitude