Shakespeare and Company, one of the most emblematic libraries in Paris, opened its doors in 1951 when George Whitman decided that there was the need for a bookstore for readers and writers of the English language. Since then, this bookstore has welcomed all sorts of crowds and has hosted a variety of events such as book readings, concerts, book discussions and lectures.
Located in the vicinity of the Latin Quarter, this bookstore has a shrine like environment. It is the center of attention around the streets nearby the Left Bank opposite Notre-Dame. It is a place to venerate the written word and to get lost in piles of printed literature. This book shrine has grown from a bookstore into an institution. It has been featured in films such as Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunset” and in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” Its veneration dates back from the 1950’s when writers from the Beat Generation such as Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and William S. Burroughs frequented it regularly.
The night that I had the opportunity to visit, the writer Lucy Wadham presented her latest publication “Heads and Straights.” Wadham who has lived in Paris for 20 years wrote this book about her own experiences growing up in England in the 1970’s. Her oeuvre fit perfectly with this space, since her writing can be found in a crossroad between French and English culture comparing and contrasting both worlds. Along with her presentation, The Bookshop Band played a selection of their book inspired songs. Formed by Poppy Pitt, Beth Porter and Ben Please the soothing sound of their music naturally filled the corners of this bohemian space.
This independent bookshop where the walls seem to be built up solely by books invites visitors to take a book either physically by purchasing it or empirically by reading and absorbing its pages while seating on a comfy couch. Everywhere one turns there is a volume of the classics in literature as well as current and rare publications. The warmth of the book padded walls invite readers to sit on any of their wooden stools or comfy chairs and cuddle up with a good book. Also, for many locals or visitors, the corners of this eccentric bookstore become a forum for the exchange of ideas in literature and other disciplines as well.
If the first floor is filled with many nooks and crannies to find a book, the second floor is charged with more books as well as with old fashion paraphernalia in connection with the making of literature. Gadgets such as typewriters, inkwells, writing desks and journals make up an ambiance for the art of writing. In addition, all sorts of hardcover antique and vintage books are available for reference. There is also a charming room overlooking the Notre-Dame cathedral that is furnished with a small size couch and few upholstered chairs. In this room, people may doze off from reading or just muse about the renowned writers that have made this bookstore its destination in Paris.
Currently, George Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, is continuing his father’s legacy and runs the store in the way her father used to run it, allowing young writers to live and work in the bookstore. In the same building where the bookstore is located, there are also rooms destined to house novel and inspiring writers. In the future, to complete this book shrine and institution Sylvia Beach Whitman plans to incorporate a coffee shop and exhibition space for visual arts as well as independent film cinema.