The Shakespeare & Co Bookshop

October 24, 2011 by

Free Things To Do, Sightseeing, Things To Do

The Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris - photo courtesy of Beggs via Flickr

The Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop place is one of my favorite haunts in Paris. It has a wonderful location on a small street, Rue Bucherie, beside the Seine, within eyeballing distance of Notre Dame, and close to the crepes and red wines of the Latin Quarter.

While one of the reasons to visit is the huge selection of books in English, and staff who speak fluent English and will guide you on what to read including lots and lots of books about Parisian lives and adventures, the other reason is the bookshop’s ethos. The shop was opened by Georges Whitman in 1951 with the motto: Turn no one away lest they be an angel is disguise. Thus, the bookshop is dotted with beds (which are covered in books during the day) and more than 50,000 people have bedded down there during the last half century (including me). Most notably many famous Beat writers such as Laurence Ferlinghetti have slept here.

The shop is not the original Shakespeare and Company opened by Sylvia Beach who was famous as a patron of Ernest Hemingway and friends with Gertrude Stein, but it is named in homage to that shop. There’s a library upstairs where you can sit and read, meet fellow travelers and chat in English – a relief in a city where the locals can be less than accommodating to those of us with barely survivable language skills. The library is also the scene of many readings and writing workshops, and in summer writers give talks outside the shop on balmy nights.

George, who still lives upstairs, and his daughter Sylvia, are keen to encourage both writing and reading, and the shop organizes The Paris Literary Prize for novellas. The store also buy secondhand books so you can sell what you’ve finished and buy something new for the rest of the journey.

Philippa Burne

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