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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A New Bookstore's the Thing ...

"Sweet are the uses of adversity, Which ... finds tongues in trees, and books in the bubbling brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything," ("As You Like It," II.i.12).


Adversity has indeed struck the Moscow book world, in the form of the planned closure Saturday of the Post International Bookstore. But, true to Shakespeare's maxim of "good in everything," a new bookshop, Shakespeare & Co., is opening in late February to fill the gap.


"We want to create the bookshop in the traditions of the original shop in Paris," said Mary Duncan, the American co-owner and driving force behind the new bookshop. "It will be a place where writers and thinkers can meet, have a cup of coffee, and talk."


As for Post International, located at 1/20 Petrovskiye Liniy, the story of its demise is a classic example of bureaucratic problems of Gogolian absurdity. The business itself was going well, despite the store's proximity to Zwemmer's, which has held a near-monopoly on the foreign-language book market since it opened in November 1992.


It was over the question of the bookstore/cafe idea that Post International floundered; the lease didn't cover the store for cafe use, and the building's director refused permission. The investor, whose identity remains secret, backed out because the costs of relocating would be too high, said Post International's manager, Brenda Gray.


"In general, it's a great idea to bring English-language books to Moscow," said Gray. "The market is easily big enough for two bookstores at least. I wish them a lot of luck."


The first Shakespeare & Co. was founded in Paris in the 1920s by Sylvia Beach. It became a congregating place for bohemian literati such as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller and Anais Nin. It now has branches in New York, Rome, and Vienna, though, true to the bohemian traditions of the company, it is less of a multinational than a "family" of bookstores of the same name.


"George Whitman, owner of Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, is a close personal friend," said Duncan. "I've been going there for a dozen years now, and he encouraged us to use the name."


Duncan's partner and co-owner of Shakespeare & Co., Alexander Ivanov, has already set up a prototype for the new shop in the form of Ad Marginem, a Russian-language publishing house and bookshop in the same building as Shakespeare & Co. A philosopher by training, Ivanov publishes works of contemporary philosophy.


"It will be more of a cultural than a commercial venture," said Ivanov, 39, of the store to be located in the basement of 5/7 Novokuznetsky Pereulok. "We have to live within our means, and as yet our means are quite small. We want to start with only 1,000 titles, including used books."


If Ad Marginem is anything to go by, Shakespeare & Co. promises to be more of a bohemian hangout than the formal, upmarket Zwemmer's. The idea of Shakespeare & Co. is to transfer the Ad Marginem atmosphere to an English-speaking milieu. It was originally due to open last April, said Duncan, but was beset with customs problems.


"We don't want it to be snobby, but it will be more literary than other English-language bookshops in Moscow," said Duncan, a 52-year-old professor of political science at San Diego State University who will soon take early retirement to devote herself to Shakespeare & Co. "I don't want to call Tom Clancy and other bestsellers trash, but we'll only be stocking them if they come in secondhand."


Sadly, the legendary George Whitman of the Paris Shakespeare & Co. could not be reached for comment Wednesday or Thursday.


"He hates the telephone, and often doesn't pick it up," warned Duncan. "He's very bohemian."