Today, I am over the moon to share with you Kerri Maher’s latest creation, The Paris Bookseller. Maher brings to life the extraordinary Sylvia Beach. Beach is known for her famous English language bookstore and lending library, Shakespeare and Company which she opened in 1919 in Paris. But what many may not know is that she (Shakespeare and Company) was the first to publish the book, Ulysses by none other than Irish writer, James Joyce. Beach was THE champion for Joyce’s highly controversial book and made it her life’s work (at the time) to not only get it published by Joyce’s 40th birthday (February 2, 1922) but to fight for its seriousness in America where it was banned for so long. Beach was a force to be reckoned with leaving a huge literary stamp on the world for women, writers, and book lovers everywhere.
January 11, 2022
Dear Mr. Hemingway,
You are the gentleman I need to talk to, that’s for sure. I was giddy with delight when I ran into you in Kerri Maher’s book and equally excited to get to know your friend Sylvia Beach a bit more. I am very sure you remember her. After all, you were there from the very beginning of her literary adventure. You helped Sylvia move boxes when her new store, Shakespeare and Company was just born in Paris. You spent time with her reading, drinking, and even writing in her shop with fellow expatriates. You watched her work herself to the bone while trying to keep her business afloat while at the same time publishing her first and only book, Ulysses by James Joyce. You, my friend, are known for “liberating” her famous shop in person in 1944 when Paris was finally freed from the Nazis and the Second World War. How’s that for a greeting?
Everyone who knows me must realize by now that I have developed an absolute fascination with the writers and artists who make up “The Lost Generation”. You, of course, F. Scott Fitgerald, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein, and of course Silvia Beach. It doesn’t stop there though. The literary scene in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s was frothing over with artistic goodness. So many writers and book enthusiasts made their mark during this era and Sylvia Beach was one of the big ones. Because of this I instantly fell in love with Maher’s new book.
Maher dropped me directly at #8 Rue Dupuytren in Paris, the first home to Beach’s Shakespeare and Company. Her story follows Beach opening her shop and her fraught journey working with James Joyce and publishing Ulysses. Every great book needs a stellar backdrop and Maher delivers just that by illuminating the pages of her book with atmospheric prose that made me experience sitting in Shakespeare’s oversized chair amongst the dusty bookshelves and smoke-filled air. I love how alive Sylvia and the cast of characters felt as they engaged in the liveliest of conversations, drank countless cups of wine, and shared effortless Parisian fare. While Maher’s description of this grandiloquent time period set the overall vibe for this story, it was her portrayal of Sylvia Beach that not only stole the show but won my heart forever.
I was so delighted that Maher introduced her readers to Sylvia Beach the PUBLISHER. Yes, Shakespeare and Company was her first baby, but Joyce’s Ulysses was equally important to her. Beach was an American woman ahead of her time. Instead of marrying young and starting a family like so many women her age, she fell in love with a woman and started a small business in Paris. She fought with every breath in her body for Joyce’s work to be read. She painstakingly worked with him and his uneven personality and diminishing eyesight to make unremitting changes to his book. She went to bat for him countless times with printers, booksellers, and the US naysayers of his work to assure them that his words were truly innovative and worth the read. She drained her account for his mistakes, her personal life with Adrienne took a hit, and like so many of us modern-day women, she struggled greatly to find the ultimate work-life balance. Beach prevailed though and delivered the first published edition of Ulysses to Joyce.
Maher illustrated everything Beach endured with perfection. Beach’s passion for Adrienne seeped through the pages. I could vividly see her nicotine-stained fingers and teeth. I could feel her heart rate increase every time she met with Joyce. I related to her emotional strain of trying to “do it all” with only finite minutes in a day. I cheered for her taking on a male-dominated world when she was the one DOING ALL THE WORK. But most of all Maher introduced me to Beach’s ceaseless love for all things books and writing. At the end of the day, Sylvia Beach was the ULTIMATE BOOK INFLUENCER, and I am so very thankful for her.
Until next time my friend!
Your Biggest Fan (and Sylvia’s too),
P.S. If you need more of Sylvia, James Joyce, and Ulysses in your life, be sure to check out what I had to say about Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce by Nuala O’Connor RIGHT HERE!
***I received an advance reader copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are 100% my own. If I don’t like it…I don’t share it!