A great article on Michel Roethel, late proprietor of L’Île Mystérieuse, la librairie Jules Verne. I often walked by this bookshop, which is down the road from Notre Dame, and across the square from Shakespeare and Company. Since Jules Verne is one of my favourite writers, I always longed to go in, but it was always closed, and now I know why. I pressed my nose against the glass many times, too shy to wait and see if someone would open, but I doubt I could have afforded to buy any of the beautiful editions in any case.
Paris seems unique in having many of these wonderful small shops dedicated to one thing, and one thing only. It’s always sad to see such unique bookshops close, but luckily I believe the bookshop will still remain open, run by M. Roethel’s wife. It even has a website now!
Oh, also, how I found out about this article is the good people at LA Review of Books asked if they could use my photo of the shop, which I’ve blogged here before.
They didn’t end up using it for the article unfortunately, but they kindly posted it on their blog anyway. So be sure to check out the LA Review of Books for more interesting articles.
I’m writing this because I just found out that my favorite bookseller in the world, Michel Roethel, is dead. He was mysterious and his bookstore obscure. It was on the Rue Lagrange in Paris. It sold the works of only one author. And its proprietor didn’t like selling books at all: M. Roethel always seemed unhappy when a book managed to leave his shop.
Some years ago — it might have been in 1984 — I told a friend of my growing delight in Jules Verne, and how I’d so much like to own one of his books in its original format. Verne’s novels were first published in the middle of the century before the one before this one. The series was called Voyages Extraordinaires. The publisher and editor was Verne’s dear friend Pierre-Jules Hetzel. The bindings were intaglio’d with globes and alembics, elephants and balloons, harpoons and astrolabes. Though they were tooled leather, they gave the sense of dark wood, of hand-turned brass. They seemed not just of another era but of another world. To run your fingers over the cover of a Hetzel octavo was to go on an extraordinary voyage, a Braille of wonder.