Time Was Soft There pleasantly surprised me, as much as life surprised its author. Mercer, who started his career as a journalist in Canada, found himself under a vendetta from a thug whose crimes he had reported. He fled to Paris and, not unlike scores of writers and artists who make a pilgrimage to the city, found himself out of work and homeless. Running out of money, he was offered a bed and a job by George Whitman, the proprietor of Shakespeare & Co., the legendary bookstore on the Left Bank. Mercer, who has a journalist’s crisp style and a good eye for human details, recognizes the real story is Whitman’s.