Paris Shakespeare & Company
16 February, 2016
When one thinks of Paris, one of the first images that springs to mind is that of an aspiring writer, secluded in an attic, waiting for the Muse of inspiration to make her appearance. Paris is pure poetry and, as such, it houses some of the world’s best bookstores, like Shakespeare and Company. We are going to relive the fascinating history of this book shop and tour the most select Parisian literary venues.
Shakespeare and Company
Sylvia Beach had been in Paris for 20 years when she realised the need to open a shop where readers could find works in English. Shakespeare and Company opened on the rue Dupuytren in 1919 and subsequently moved to rue de l'Odéon, near Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The bookstore founded by Sylvia Beach – who was soon to embark on the publication of one of the great works of universal literature; James Joyce’s Ulysses – almost immediately caught on as a meeting point for English-language writers during their stay in Paris. There must have been some memorable literary gatherings within those walls between such illustrious figures as Man Ray, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and Samuel Beckett, among others.
In 1941, during the German occupation, Sylvia Beach refused to sell the first copy of Joyce’s novel, Finnegans Wake, to a German officer, an act of defiance which led her to be arrested and incarcerated in a concentration camp. She was released six months later, but never opened her book shop again. Sylvia Beach died in 1962 and a year later, another American, George Whitman, acquired her publishing list.
George Whitman had his own bookstore, Le Mistral, which was little more than a study full of printed pages on the rue de la Bûcherie, at the intersection of Saint-Jacques, alongside the Seine and opposite Notre Dame. Fascinated by the life story of Sylvia Beach, and as a tribute to her legacy, he changed the name of his store to rekindle the legend of Shakespeare and Company, the most famous bookstore in the world. This literary venue is well-known, among many other reasons, for providing accommodation to writers who come to Paris in search of inspiration free-of-charge on the upper floor of the shop. In exchange, they are expected to help stack the new releases that keep coming in, as well as serve and chat with customers. A huge number of literary figures have slept over in that loft – George Whitman estimates they number some 40,000. They include both anonymous enthusiasts and those who have ended up becoming paramount figures of the literary world. Prominent among our own literary figures is Terenci Moix who in his autobiography dedicates some passages to George Whitman and his stay at Shakespeare and Company (37 Rue de la Bûcherie).
Another of the most endearing bookstores in Paris is Abbey Bookshop. Located just a stone’s throw away from Shakespeare and Company, it is run by a Canadian whose warmth and friendliness are simply beyond words. The store is notable for its endless list of works in English (29 rue de la Parcheminerie).
Located on the bucolic Canal St Martin, Artazart is a must-visit spot for design lovers. There, they will be enthralled not only by a stunning range of books and magazines on the subject but by some of the most outlandish design objects, on sale in the shop (83 Quai de Valmy).
“The Most Sophisticated Books in the World” is the motto of Assouline Publishing. With branches in New York, London and Paris, its venue in the Saint Germain des Prés quarter features a boutique where you can purchase their publications, if you can afford them (35, rue Bonaparte).
In the centrally located Place Saint-Michel, rather than a single bookstore per se, Gibert Jeune has several premises scattered around the square, each devoted to a different subject: literature, history, biography, etc. It can take up a whole afternoon’s browsing – and even two! (Place Saint-Michel)
A store featuring rare books, its major appeal lies in its boundless collection of titles dedicated to cinema, photography and art in general. In addition to books, the shop carries a huge selection of posters, acetates and promotional photos. A film-worthy experience for visitors (13 Rue Gerbier).
L’Écume des Pages
A bookstore purpose designed for those who cannot go to sleep without first reading for a while. At L’Écume des Pages, you will not manage to exhaust their wealth of titles, despite the shop staying open until midnight, except for Sundays, when they close at 10 p.m. to get a break (174 Boulevard Saint-Germain).
Freedom, fashion, design, Paris, elegance, class, youth, vibrant cultural urge… these are the words used by Ofr. to describe their publishing policy. A bookstore and exhibition gallery geared to art, design and fashion targeting the modern set, hipsters and other contemporary birds. Welcome to your Parisian intellectual gymnasium! (20 rue Dupetit-Thouars)
If Paris is just your first port of call on a long journey, make sure to drop in on Ulysse, one of the best bookstores in town and anywhere as far as globe-trotters and other migratory species are concerned (26 rue Saint-Louis en Île).
16 February, 2016