<note: the owner attributed it to Yeats but it is a variation of a biblical passage>
I will begin by saying that for English speaking book lovers in Paris there are two must-do events … casually strolling the long stretch of bookseller stalls along the Seine trolling through the thousands of books … and visiting Shakespeare & Company book store.
Let me add that no matter where you are … we book lovers are snobs. And sometimes inhospitable. Not only to strangers but to everyone <who we don’t think reads books>.
The trouble is we can even be snobs and inhospitable to each other.
Shakespeare & Company is not just a bookstore … it is A bookstore.
The most recent owner <who just passed away> said: “I wanted a bookstore because the book business is the business of life.”
Overlooking the Seine and facing the Notre-Dame < at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, Paris>, the well-worn, well-used jumbled store spreads over three floors and has always been an eclectic open house for literary lovers. It has always provided a way station for aspiring writers and literary nomads providing food and uncomfortable little beds often letting them spend a night, a week, or even months living among the crowded shelves and alcoves. <if interested … here is an excellent short article about the book store:
It is an amazing book store.
And amazingly intimidating.
I love books … love reading … am a mediocre writer at best … but love writing.
However … walking into this book store makes everyone – even those who love the same things I do – feel inadequate.
I am intimidated every time I walk in there.
I know that someone will know more about books, be able to quote more things, be a better writer … or I imagine simply be more literary worldly.
And there are people within the store who can simply look at you and make you feel inadequate <and even more intimidated>. Heck. Hemingway hung out in this book store for gods sake.
That is what us quasi-intellectual wanna-be people do to each other.
But I imagine we <all of us> do it with each other … and places … and spaces … everywhere and in every situation.
Which of course leads me to the quote.
Be not inhospitable to bookstores, lest they be angels in disguise.
I imagine my point here is that not all bookstores are created equal.
Just as not all people are the same. Sure. They all have books. But each has its own character, scent, style, and distinct feel … a certain je ne sais quoi.
While I can honestly say that I have never walked into a bookstore and been unhappy … I can say that a certain type of bookstore can make me happier than another.
And I know I judge book stores by their façade, who I see walking in and out … as well as by a variety of other cues.
I am being stupid.
For while independent store lovers scoff at the big chain bookstores … and some people cannot tell the difference between one book store or another … and some people don’t even go into a bookstore <the magical world of online> … all bookstores have an angel in disguise within.
We are silly if we are inhospitable to any bookstore.
Which leads me to the people you share a bookstore with …
Be not inhospitable to patrons lest they be angels in disguise.
I chuckle when I think of this … we have an uneasy relationship with others in a bookstore.
We eye each other as comrades in arms … and yet keep each other at arms’ length.
We share some common desire to be near books.
Yet we are strangers in our own strange world.
It is easy to be inhospitable to one of the strangers should they infringe upon your space, physical or mental, as you peruse the titles hidden in dark shadowed corners.
And yet … they may be an angel in disguise lurking in the aisle gazing at another book.
In my ‘high & mighty’ literary view of the world I tend to believe there are more likely angels in disguise in bookstores than outside bookstores. And, yet, even knowing this … while courteous … I doubt I am as ‘hospitable’ as I should be knowing this <most likely because I forget>.
Which leads me to people in general … and to what a silly man I am.
What if angels don’t like books or reading? <a heretical thought to a book lover>
That thought suggests that the strangers we judge, as we so oft do, on the streets … outside bookstores … could really be angels in disguise.
I imagine this part is about giving someone the benefit of the doubt.
And a point about ‘environment’ and the fact that environment matters as we judge.
Just as I judge people who frequent bookstores differently than I judge others.
But should it matter?
Should I, or we, make judgments associated by some choice.
In other words … ‘they choose to be there and in doing ‘that’, ergo, we assume they are <fill in blank>.’
Sometimes circumstances choose the environment you meet or see someone. Do we think of that?
Typically not … we simply see the moment as indicative of all moments … judge … have perceptions … and look upon these ‘strangers’ that cross our paths in Life.
To be honest … we most likely are not hospitable.
Rather … more likely we are simply indifferent.
But the true question at hand.
Would we remain indifferent if we knew that stranger was an angel in disguise?
<a point to ponder in general>
I began this by pointing out there are multiple levels of inhospitableness.
And I did so to point out that we all share this space … not just in book stores … but in life.
And often in our tight time world we judge, create perceptions … and behave with those perceptions in mind.
To be honest.
I am writing this less to make a point to all my readers but rather to make a point to myself.
Far too often I imagine I judge strangers.
Which is too bad … lest they be angels in disguise.