What’s in the box?

An old suitcase full of books, sheltered from the rain in front Shakespeare & Co. in Paris. And not just any books. Unknown, mysterious books in sealed brown cardboard boxes. The key to unlock a box’s mystery? Five euros. Who can resist? Not us!

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I felt like a kid at Christmas as we picked up different boxes, giving them a shake, feeling their weight. Is a heavier book a better book? Hmm, how to decide… In the end I went with the first one I’d picked up. Reasonably weighty. No second guessing–let’s do this.

We took it inside, slapped down five euros and ran up the stairs with our prize to one of the funky reading rooms. The sign on the suitcase had promised “classics & mysteries.” What would ours be?


And….. it’s a Stephen King novel I’ve never heard of. Given how many books he’s written and how few I’ve read (two, I think), it’s not a big shock that it’s one I’m unfamiliar with. Not sure it’s a classic or a mystery–but it’s probably mysterious.  It’s gotten decidedly mixed reviews on goodreads, but after I get through my current pile of reading, I’ll give it a try.

In the evening we went to our church’s community center near Châtelet for Creative Night. The girls enjoyed a painting lesson as well as working on decorative letter kits we’d picked up earlier in the day.


My creativity definitely trends toward the written and the musical (and I’d already spent the afternoon rehearsing), so I was happy to chill out with friends at the event while the girls had fun being artistic.


Audacious writing week

Put on the coffee, log off Facebook, and get the laptop charged up–it’s time to write. A lot. Yes, it’s time for an audacious writing week (came up with that myself). Okay, maybe that’s a bit much. Maybe aiming to write a whole mess of words doesn’t quite fit the mold of “showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks.” After all, it’s just writing; it’s not like I’m going to be swimming the English Channel or climbing the Eiger. But it does mean putting everything else aside, putting in the hours, and putting down the words.


Here’s a distraction I can handle: a lovely view of Notre Dame from Shakespeare & Co.’s new cafe.

Why now? Well, Merideth is off to D.C., the girls are on a ski trip with their school (gotta love the schedule of vacances scolaires in France!), so for me, it’s the perfect opportunity for a mini-NaNoWriMo of my own.

Now, I could use the time to get out of Paris to see another part of France; I did that in the fall and had a great week in Colmar and even got some good writing done. But doing that also means a lot more planning and energy spent finding places to write. So this week I’ll stick to Paris and see how much I can get done.

Planning the work, working the plan

Planning for this week has already paid off. Leading up to it, I spent time going through the manuscript, evaluating which parts need the most work, where the gaps are, and seeing what I could hope to get done in a focused week of writing. Suffice to say, I’ll have no shortage of material calling for my attention.

Having some specific writing goals helps, but the real enemy to getting the writing done isn’t found in the writing itself–it’s in all the distractions that clamor for my attention. (Like blogging, maybe? Hmm…) So, the more important planning I’ve done for this week has gone into how I’m going to organize my time, such as:

  • Getting to bed at 10. No binge-watching Netflix and noshing on Cheetos (can you even find those abominable things in France? I hope not!) and then waking up too sleepy and sluggish to get the writing started.
  • Getting up at 6 and getting ready for the day. (So far so good!)
  • Planning out some reading to give my brain a break from writing, since I can’t just write for eight hours straight. I’ll be starting each day with a chapter from 1 Peter and then dip into The Elements of Eloquence throughout the week for some writerly inspiration (I blogged about finding this fantastic book here. Check it out. Everyone who writes should read this book!). I’ve got a couple other books cued up as well.
  • Being intentional about exercise and meals and even chores.
  • Planning some lunches and coffees with friends and even a game night. I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done, but I still need to see other human beings!

So: here’s hoping for 15,000 words–or more–this week. I’m already more than 10% of my way there.

And now it’s time to get back to it. The next chapter is waiting.


Where to write

If you’re going to write, you might as well find a beautiful place to do it. I’m happy to write at home, on the couch, on the floor, at the dining table, or even at a desk, but I also love to get out and find new places. It’s Paris, after all; time to make the most of it!

Coffee conundrum

Coffee shops here, sad to say, can’t really compete with what we’ve got going on in America. Expensive joe in small cups in places that aren’t terribly laptop friendly. And even most cafés that are good for setting up the computer don’t have the greatest coffee. So, while I never imagined it happening here, Starbucks has become my friend. I’ve found a few I like (and they’re just like you’d imagine), but I’ve got my sights on one that I just learned about that’s nothing like what’s back home in the States. Stay tuned.

One great coffee place that recently opened is run by the famed Shakespeare & Co. (which also has a room in the bookstore where you can read or write or hang out as well). Good coffee and views of Notre Dame? Absolutely!


Writing very quietly

If the coffee isn’t that great, why not just hit the library? Why not, indeed! We have a membership at the American Library in Paris, which is great for checking out books (I just picked up three by Ray Bradbury) and videos, but it’s a bit sterile as far as the writing environment goes. But this is Paris, so have no fear, an opulent library isn’t far.

Today I joined the Bibliothèque Mazarine, fifteen euros for a year’s access. If you’ve been to Paris, you’ve probably seen the dome of the building it’s housed in:


View from the Pont des arts (the Love Lock bridge–although the locks are gone now)

It’s full of old, rare books and is run with military precision. You must clear security, check in, and then are assigned a specific place to sit. Don’t even think about talking or eating or drinking or taking photographs unless you want to lose your visa and be on the next flight to wherever the French dump enemies of the state. But once settled inside, it’s a wonderful place to work. I think I’ll be spending more time at the library than ever before.


Don’t worry, I found these photos online. I didn’t want to lose my privileges on my first day!

The Elements of Eloquence


I chanced to pick up this book today from one of the shelves lining the narrow stairway at Shakespeare & Co. as people were crowding up behind me. I literally glanced at the cover, snatched it off the shelf and pushed my way on up the steps to the reading room, found a place on one of the ancient couches and opened it up to read:

“Shakespeare was not a genius. He was, without the distant shadow of a doubt, the most wonderful writer who ever breathed. But not a genius. No angels handed him his lines, no fairies proofread for him. Instead he learnt techniques, he learnt tricks, and he learnt them well.”

With that opening gambit, I was hooked. The author, Mark Forsyth, goes on (skipping a bit) to say:

“Shakespeare got better and better and better, which was easy because he started badly, like most people starting a new job.”

An astonishing assertion, perhaps, but he makes a good case for his position (which I won’t trouble to quote here). At which point he declares:

“Shakespeare got better because he learnt. Now some people will tell you that great writing cannot be learnt. Such people should be hit repeatedly on the nose until they promise not to talk nonsense anymore.”

Yes, yes, yes!

Forsyth then gets into the meat of his introduction, laying out his program for the book, which is to elucidate, chapter by chapter, the various “rhetorical figures” that form the basis of great writing. Not sure what the rhetorical figures are? You’re not alone. While Shakespeare learned (or learnt if you’re British) them in school, they don’t get taught much anymore. But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter, that they don’t work, or that they’re somehow irrelevant.

“The one line from that song or film that you remember and don’t know why you remember is almost certainly down to one of the figures, one of the flowers of rhetoric growing wild.”

Again, yes.

Do you use words? Do you do any writing? Any writing at all? Then read this book. How wonderful it would be if facility with words wasn’t just the province of the chosen few, the so-called geniuses, but something ready to hand for all who wish to communicate. Read this book. At the very least you will be entertained, for Mr. Forsyth knows his craft. I’ve been by turns amused, enlightened, impressed and amused once again with each successive chapter (and did I mention that I just picked it up today?).

If you write, read this book.

(I’ll save you the web search: find it on Amazon here.)

Bibliophiles in Paris

If you speak English and you like books, you have to go to Shakespeare & Co., just across the Seine from Notre Dame. Everyone knows this, which is why the little warren of narrow corridors and the single stairway among the stacks and stacks of books is a perpetual human traffic jam. If you suffer from claustrophobia, just take a picture from outside and move on.

We’ve seen plenty of bookshops in Paris, but it was a pleasure to find one full of ones we could read. I picked up a copy of Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (I read most of it in a day–you can see my review on Goodreads) and had a nice chat with the American from California who sold it to me. He’s also a writer who came to Paris–and decided to stay. Hmm…

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The cat that lives in the shop


Looking across the Seine

Perhaps even better than visiting Shakespeare & Co. was getting to the American Library near the Eiffel Tower and getting a membership. Like Shakespeare & Co., they’ve packed as many books as possible in their rows and rows of shelves. We promptly checked out eleven books.


Crossing the bridge to get to the library

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The stacks and our stack

We were at the library on Saturday, a big day for weddings; crossing the bridge back to our side of the river we passed two different couples getting photographed as well as a modelling shoot (I didn’t get a picture of that).

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