Quite possibly the most interesting book shop in the world resides at the Parisian home of Shakespeare and Company.
Nestled on a tiny street opposite Notre Dame Cathedral, this beautiful little shop is brimming with history, creativity and inspiration.
What makes is so special? It is an address that has played host to some of the most extinguished writers in our history and one that is determined to help support and cultivate the talent of tomorrow.
At first glance this place seems so unassuming. Set over two tiny floors with books stacked in every corner against every wall, it sometimes feels difficult to manoeuver yourself around as you negotiate the tourists and natives packed inside, feverishly reading or exploring this historic site!
The shop’s name is a tribute to the original Shakespeare and Company bookshop owned by Sylvia Beach in the 1920’s. Her shop was a place where artists of the Lost Generation such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound and James Joyce, Gertrud Stein and F.Scott Fitzgerald would gather, but it closed in 1940 during the German occupation of France.
The store was a special place where literature was considered sacred. One could buy D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover here when the UK and the USA had banned its sale! Ulysses by James Joyce (which was banned) was also published by Beach and Shakespeare and Company was affectionately mentioned in Hemingway’s A Movable Feast! It is said that the store never re-opened because Sylvia Beach refused to hand over the last copy of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce to a German Officer!
In 1951 the bookshop on 37 Rue de la Bucherie was opened by George Whitman. He was determined to continue the work of Beach and it wasn’t long before the new Beat Generation, with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs found themselves using the store as a meeting point, in the same way their predecessors had in Beach’s haven. Whitman’s store was originally called Le Mistral but when Beach died in 1964 he changed the name to Shakespeare and Company in her honour, describing it as ‘a novel in three words!’
Whitman died in 2011 but his daughter, who is called Sylvia Beach Whitman ( yes really!) runs Shakespeare and Company with the same passion and motivation.
In addition to the plethora of English books that one can buy here at very good prices, what makes it extra special are the spaces that have been created to encourage writing and reading. Upstairs you will find beds where up and coming authors can sleep! They are given lodgings in the store as support and to help them with their need for inspiration. In return, they stack the shelves!
There is a super cute children’s section here with a narrow bed for small book lovers. The store is equipped with typewriters, a piano, and a library – the owners have thought of everything in order to keep the memory of Beach and her vision alive.
Looking slightly battered and bruised on the outside, Shakespeare and Company is a smart and well put together book emporium. An extremely special place and probably the only bookshop in the world which has such a wonderful heartfelt story.
If you want a taste of literary history shared with nothing but the love of it. Then this is the place you should visit.
Love MLP x
Shakespeare and Company – 37 Rue de la Bucherie