In his prize-winning memoir La Traversée du livre, Jean-Jacques Pauvert, the publisher of such literary luminaries as Sartre, Genet, Breton, Vian, Réage, Ernst and Bataille, recounts in vivid detail his meteoric rise to the top of the French book world. He began his career in 1942 working in the mailroom of the venerable publishing house run by Gaston Gallimard, rubbing elbows with the likes of Albert Camus and Raymond Queneau. The 16-year-old Pauvert soon broke into the rare book business as World War II and the Occupation rendered literature an increasingly precious commodity. After being arrested and jailed for three months in Tours by the Nazis for his role as a courrier in the Resistance, he returned to Paris and printed his first book under the imprint Le Palimugre: a slim essay by Sartre on Camus. A work by Gide soon followed, and by the tender age of twenty Pauvert had successfully published the complete works of the Marquis de Sade, which would lead to a protracted legal struggle with the French authorities. A similar firestorm erupted after he published Histoire d’O in 1954, a daring work by a (then) anonymous author that again drew the ire of censorship advocates. By the 1960s, when Pauvert’s publishing house had been firmly established, his name had come to be associated with the fight against censorious decency laws, the defense of freedom of expression, and the championing of provocative erotic and intellectually stimulating literature.
Pauvert’s lively memoir is full of charming tableaus, fascinating recollections, plentiful insights into his editorial decisions, unique photographs, photocopies of handwritten notes from famous authors, and pictures of Pauvert’s original first edition covers. La Traversée du livre is not only the captivating story of a young man figuring out how to be a publisher as he went along, but also an invaluable social history of art, literature, politics and Parisian life from World War II to the May 1968 revolution.