After the Catacombs I had to go pay my homage to the famous bookstore in Paris, Shakespeare and Co.
Every time I’m in Paris I have to pay a visit to this place. I first fell in love with the store when reading about it’s personal lore – A bookstore that let writers live and create in it.
The first location of this store was opened by American, Sylvia Beach, in November 1919. In 1922, the store moved to a bigger space at 12 rue de l’Odéon in the 6th arrondissement. During the 1920s, Beach’s shop was a gathering place for young writers like Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Djuna Barnes, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford. It closed in 1941 during the German occupation of Paris and never re-opened.
French writer Andre Chamson wrote about Sylvia:
Sylvia carried pollen like a bee. She cross-fertilized these writers. She did more to link England, the United States, Ireland, and France than four great ambassadors combined. It was not merely for the pleasure of friendship that Joyce, Hemingway, Bryher, and so many others often took the path to Shakespeare and Company in the heart of Paris . . .
The second bookstore – the one you can visit today – is situated at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th arrondissement. It was opened in 1951 by American, George Whitman. Whitman took this same welcoming, communal spirit from the first store and brought to this new store. He created a space for writers to write and enjoy the surrounding inspiration. In exchange for young aspiring writers and artists helping out around the bookstore, they could live for free at the bookstore. Wouldn’t that be a fun thing to do? Since the shop opened in 1951, more than 30,000 people have slept in the beds found tucked between bookshelves.
On my first visit to this store I bought a 2 euro brochure from George Whitman himself!!! I put my money out and he sighed and said, “aw let me give it to you for free.” Last year he passed away and I couldn’t help but remember our brief exchange. I still have the brochure he gave me and love to look at it’s pictures when I miss the bookstore.
The shop’s motto, “Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise,” is written above the entrance to the reading library. That feels fitting since it seems to envelope every visitor into it’s special dimension – giving the visitor permission to escape into the world of books. So many dreams, ideas, philosophies sit on these bookshelves. But this shop offers so much more than that. With it’s dead-ended rows of books, cozy corners, and winding staircases Shakespeare & Co. provides anyone a magical walk through it’s mysteries. You feel like you are on a treasure hunt.