Getting out of the country even for a short while is a guaranteed way to be able to clear the mind and gain a broader perspective. It’s refreshing to see villages and cities with landscapes that are not filled with American chain restaurants and stores. It always prompts a conversation about what various cultures value — and work to protect.
A visit to Village Voice Bookshop, a Paris bookstore opened in 1981 by Odile Hellier to provide a quality selection of English language books and offer a venue for readers and writers, was one of the most enjoyable parts of our travels. On many levels, the conversation with Odile was a reminder why we love being in the book business and how we enjoy conversations with book people that quickly delve into matters of importance.
Not only did we pick up several books that were not likely to get much press in the U.S., we learned Odile’s story of what inspired her to open her bookshop thirty years ago. When Odile was a little girl growing up in the midst of World War II, her father and grandmother were taken from their home and shot by the Nazis. And, her father’s books were taken into the street and burned. It was an experience she would never forget, but one that would guide her decisions later in life.
After spending some time in the U.S. working as a translator, she returned to Paris and decided to open a bookshop. Today, you’ll find Village Voice Bookshop noted as the premiere Parisian bookshop, the center of the contemporary literary scene.
While we were talking shop with Odile, she said she was shocked to learn that Politics & Prose Books in Washington, D.C. was closing. She was relieved to learn that what she was told was rumor. The store had actually gotten interest from over four dozen interested parties and it looks promising that the store would continue as one of the country’s leading bookstores. Odile acknowledged that now she’s reached her late 60s that she, too, is thinking about the store’s next chapter.
Great bookstores have enduring value. They offer a sense of place for ideas, play, and just rest. Bookstores enrich our lives and are places we can’t imagine living without. So as much as the future of the printed book is about customers choosing to shop at bookstores, it is also about the people who will choose to own a bookshop as their life’s work. We are encouraged by the number of professionals who have spent decades building skills and gaining expertise, yet turn to owning a bookstore for their next step in life. It’s often later in life that we yearn for the experiences with enduring value.