“No,” Monsieur Perdu said again the following morning. “I’d rather not sell you this book.”
Gently he pried Night from the lady’s hand. Of the many novels on his book barge—the vessel moored on the Seine that he had named Literary Apothecary—she had inexplicably chosen the notorious bestseller by Maximilian “Max” Jordan, the earmuff wearer from the third floor in Rue Montagnard.
The customer looked at the bookseller, taken aback.
“Max Jordan doesn’t suit you.”
“Max Jordan doesn’t suit me?”
“That’s right. He’s not your type.”
“My type. Okay. Excuse me, but maybe I should point out to you that’s I’ve come to your book barge for a book. Not a husband, mon cher Monsieur.”
“With all due respect, what you read is more important in the long term than the man you marry, ma chère Madame.”
She looked at him through eyes like slits.
“Give me the book, take my money, and we can both pretend it’s a nice day.”
“It is a nice day, and tomorrow is the start of summer, but you’re not going to get this book. Not from me. May I suggest a few others?”
“Right, and flog me some old classic you’re too lazy to throw overboard where it can poison the fish?” She spoke softly to begin with, but her volume kept increasing.
“Books aren’t eggs, you know. Simply because a book has aged a bit doesn’t mean it’s gone bad.” There was now an edge to Monsieur Perdu’s voice too. “What is wrong with old? Age isn’t a disease. We all grow old, even books. But are you, is anyone, worth less, or less important, because they’ve been around for longer?”
“It’s absurd how you’re twisting everything, all because you don’t want me to have that stupid Night book.”
The customer–or rather noncustomer—tossed her purse into her luxury shoulder bag and tugged at the zip, which got stuck.
Perdu felt something welling up inside him, a wild feeling, anger, tension–only it had nothing to do with this woman. He couldn’t hold his tongue, though. He hurried after her as she strode angrily through the belly of the book barge and called out to her in the half-light between the long bookshelves: “It’s your choice, Madame! You can leave and spit on me. Or you can spare yourself thousands of hours of torture starting right now.”
“Thanks, that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
“Surrender to the treasures of books instead of entering into pointless relationships with men, who neglect you anyway, or going on crazy diets because you’re not thin enough for one man and not stupid enough for the next.”
She stood stock-still by the large bay window that looked out over the Seine, and glared at Perdu. “How dare you!”
“Books keep stupidity at bay. And vain hopes. And vain men. They undress you with love, strength, and knowledge. It’s love from within. Make your choice: book or…”
—Nina George, The Little Paris Bookshop