And sometimes you end up lost on a street in Paris and stumble into a bookstore. This was the case earlier this Friday evening, when an attempt to correct a misreading of directions to a wine bar brought me to the excellent bookstore Les Cahiers de Colette. We wandered in to a sharply designed, cleanly-lit space full of handsome, well-designed books. (New Yorkers: I think McNally Jackson would be the closest match to its aesthetic.) For a trip that had so far involved numerous trips to English-language bookstores in non-English-speaking cities, including the Shakespeare & Co.s of both Paris and Vienna (both, for what it’s worth, are highly recommended), it was a welcome glimpse of the flipside of this.
On the table featuring new releases by the front door, I spotted a copy of a new book from Manuela Draeger, Herbes et golems. I’d greatly enjoyed the collection of some of Draeger’s work that The Dorothy Project released stateside earlier this year, In The Time of the Blue Ball; though my knowledge of French hasn’t been updated much since 1995, I figured I’d pick it up. It seemed to be a book worth brushing up on my grasp of the language.
While I was eyeing the Draeger, my girlfriend — who knows the worlds of bookselling and literary criticism quite well — struck up a conversation with one of the booksellers there. Among the topics discussed were the recent New York Times article on the state of French bookstores. We were briefly introduced to Olivier Cohen, head of Editions de L’Olivier and the French publisher of books from the likes of Jeanette Winterson, Raymond Carver, Richard Hell, Donald Antrim, and many more. We chatted briefly with Cohen before heading back on our way. “Getting lost was just a ploy to get us in there, right?” my girlfriend commented as we walked back out on Rue Rambuteau. I wish I was that clever, but I can think of few instances where losing my way led to such a rewarding destination.