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Posts Tagged ‘George Whitman’

Tales from the Void

April 17, 2015 | by


A drawing by Le Gun to commemorate “Tales from the Void.” Click to enlarge; see below for a list of references.

The art collective Le Gun (Steph von Reiswitz, Neal Fox, Chris Bianchi, and Robert Greene) has mounted “Tales from the Void,” a stealthy takeover of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, that Parisian mainstay. Their installation comprises hand-drawn “sculptural books”—many with fake but disarmingly plausible titles like Encyclopedia of Beatnikism and The Minotaur of Montmartre—hidden among the shop’s shelves. You’ll find some favorites below.

They’ve also completed the large-scale drawing above, a sprawling tribute to the history and culture of the bookshop that depicts various writer personages, including—count them all—George Whitman, Michael Smith, Ezra Pound, Gregory Corso, Olympia,
 Lawrence Ferlinghetti, James Joyce, Paul Auster, Frank Sinatra, Colette the Dog, Martin Amis, Henry Miller, Aaron Budnik, Richard Wright, Sylvia Whitman, Lawrence Durrell, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, James Baldwin, Sylvia Beach, Ray Bradbury, William Burroughs, Dionysus, James Jones, Zadie Smith, the “generic spirit of Beatnikism,” Anaïs Nin, and Kitty, the shop’s resident cat. Read More »

Another Bartleby, and Other News

October 23, 2014 | by


Constantin Meunier, Pays noire (Black Country—Borinage), ca. 1893, oil on canvas.

  • “On a winter’s day in 1482 a scholar had an embarrassing disaster, leaving a blood-red blot of ink on the pristine page of a valuable book. He then compounded his crime by confessing, adding a note in the same red ink still legible after 532 years. On the desecrated page of the Historiae Romanae Decades, printed in Venice in 1470, he wrote: ‘Ita macula’—this stain—‘I stupidly made on the first of December 1482.’ ”
  • On George Whitman, the eccentric founder of Shakespeare and Company: “He could be welcoming. He could be gruff. He could be charismatic. He could be aloof … This was, after all, a man who on occasion expressed himself by throwing books at people, sometimes affectionately, sometimes less so—a love-hate gesture, or so it sounds, not unlike Ignatz Mouse hurling bricks at an eternally besotted Krazy Kat.”
  • Novelists, here is your picaresque, contemporary Bartleby: an Italian coal miner who shirked work for thirty-five years and is now collecting his pension. “I invented everything—amnesia, pains, hemorrhoids, I used to lurch around as if I was drunk. I bumped my thumb on a wall and obviously you can’t work with a swollen thumb … Other times I would rub coal dust into my eyes. I just didn’t like the work—being a miner was not the job for me.”
  • Let’s trade fossil casts: “In the first part of the twentieth century, casts of fossil specimens were key to paleo sciences. Because actual fossils were too valuable and rare to ship to international researchers, casts of fossils circulated in their stead … Paleoanthropologists would offer to trade casts of ‘their’ fossils to other researchers in different areas of the world, who had different looking specimens—the casts became a social currency.”
  • In praise of reading plays: “A great published script makes you understand what the play is, at its heart. Not just what a certain production was like, though it also ought to do a good job of that. It makes you understand how the play feels as a living work of art—how it sounds and behaves inside your head, a mental effort that matters more in reading a play than in reading any other kind of literature.”


On the Shelf

December 21, 2011 | by

A cultural news roundup.

  • RIP Václav Havel. An essential reading list.
  • RIP George Whitman. A video tribute.
  • RIP Christopher Hitchens.  An unusual officemate.
  • You can no longer kiss Oscar Wilde’s grave.
  • “The state of publishing—in particular of the kind of fiction which is politely called ‘literary,’ meaning not ‘easy reading’ as in ‘easy listening,’ or necessarily story-led, not bestselling before it is published—is dire.”
  • In happier news: McSweeney’s launches a poetry imprint.
  • Mowgli’s mixtape.
  • The secret lives of Smiley.
  • Picture books? There’s an app for that!
  • And Gosling does Scrooge. God bless us, every one!

    George Whitman, 1913–2011

    December 14, 2011 | by

    George Whitman.

    It is with sadness that we mark the passing of Shakespeare & Co. proprietor George Whitman, a good friend to this magazine and to literature generally. Whitman played host to literary giants and hundreds of itinerant travelers. A living legend and a certified character, he for decades managed to balance the demands of an artistic institution and a popular tourist attraction. He’ll be missed and remembered—as he is in this bittersweet reminiscence by Alexander Nazaryan.



    Busker; Deposition Delivery

    September 13, 2011 | by

    Jean-Francois Millet, Peasant Spreading Manure (detail), 1855, oil on canvas.

    Most dust jackets list only literary accomplishments, but I’ve always been a fan of offbeat author bios. So I asked some of my favorite writers to describe their early jobs.

    Glen David Gold: The summer I was seventeen, I delivered depositions for my uncle, who had an office in midtown Manhattan. My uncle was a lovely fellow and was very kindly trying to find work for an unemployable nephew. I recall spending many long hours sitting quietly in front of his desk while he looked at piles of paper and then finally said, “Go to Macy’s.” To summarize, perhaps to the point of inaccuracy: some of his work came from writing “cease and desist” letters when, say, a belt manufacturer had a dispute with a designer over unpaid invoices or copyright infringement. So I would bring a scary-looking document to a boutique asking them to stop selling some kind of merchandise until the legal problems were cleared up.

    Delivering the subpoenas themselves was an adventure every time. For instance, Bloomingdale’s—it turns out they’d had subpoenas delivered before and were prepared for me. I walked to the information desk and asked where the legal department was. Fifteenth floor. I went to the elevators. Which stopped at twelve. After ten minutes of investigation, it turned out that the employee elevators went to fifteen. When I got to the fifteenth floor, I pulled out my subpoena and the receptionist, without batting an eye, said, “Room 1532.” Need I say that there was no room 1532? I walked the rectangle of that floor for what felt like an hour, asking where room 1532 was. It wasn’t. The legal department was now locked and no one answered the door. Finally, in defeat, and wanting to prolong my return to my uncle’s office, I went to take the stairs down. I opened the stairwell, and there it was: Room 1532, where they received subpoenas. I took mine from my pocket and extended it like it was a fucking sword. Ha! The guy behind the desk—that’s all it was, a converted maintenance closet with a desk in it—wiped the mustard from his chin and looked up in surprise. “Wow,” he said. I took that as a compliment.

    Michael Moorcock: I got into publishing at the age of sixteen, writing features and stories for a national weekly juvenile magazine. I later edited the magazine, but before that I sold my collection of toy soldiers to buy my first guitar. I left the magazine job to travel to Paris, where I busked outside George Whitman’s shop, then called Le Mistral and now called Shakespeare & Company. George didn’t mind, since I spent pretty much every cent I earned in his shop. Later I got a gig in Montmartre singing familiar songs for tourists in a little cabaret, and, when I went back to England, I continued to take whatever work I could get playing guitar. My best job was working for a madam called Mrs. Fox, who paid me to perform at parties she organized for groups of men. She supplied the ladies and the drink. I supplied the music. I performed for Icelandic sailors, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and a couple of soccer teams, among others, and became very friendly with Mrs. Fox’s ladies, who were all very sweet and kind to me, perhaps because I was far too shy to make a pass at anyone. They told me some wonderful, sometimes frightening, stories. It was great experience, and stood me in good stead when I came to write my first adult fiction at the age of seventeen.

    Chris Flynn is the books editor at The Big Issue and the fiction editor at Australian Book Review.