Monday, March 9, 2009

A Parisian bookstore

For many readers, there's a certain magic to bookstores. It makes sense, after all. A bookstore is basically a huge room crammed with books. And while some have replaced this tangible bookstores with online stores, I think everyone can appreciate this story. It's a Parisian English bookstore (that sounds more contradictory than it is), one that "houses" writers and readers, and is home to a rich literary history. Jeanette Winterson for the Guardian:

Way back, in 1913, the original Shakespeare and Company was opened by a young American called Sylvia Beach. Her shop in rue de l'Odéon soon became the place for all the English-speaking writers in Paris. Her lover, Adrienne Monnier, owned the French bookstore across the road, and she and Beach ran back and forth, finding penniless writers a place to stay, lending them books, arranging loans, taking their mail, sending their work to small magazines and, most spectacularly, publishing James Joyce's Ulysses in 1922 when no one else would touch it.

Hemingway was a regular at the shop, and writes about it in his memoir A Moveable Feast. His spare, emotional prose makes a poignant story of those early days, when material things weren't so important, and if you could get time to read and write, and live on cheap oysters and coarse bread and sleep by a stove somewhere, then you were happy.

The theory of this alone should make Shakespeare and Company stand out. Presence to Hemingway, Joyce and Kerouac? This is a literal writer and reader's haven. In all honesty, this is rather like all those gadgets we secretly want but aren't willing to pay for - I'd fly to Paris just to enter this store, not least for the stacks of books. Then there's this passage from the Guardian article:
While there are plenty of readers who are not writers, there are no writers who are not readers, and one of the great gifts of this extraordinary bookshop is to keep writers and readers on the same creative continuum. Writers are not reduced to small-time semi-celebrities, and readers are not patronised as consumers. As Sylvia says, "We sell books for a living, but it's the books that are our life."
I rarely like linking and advertising without at least offering some new input, but this is just a story, and a nice one at that. And don't be fooled by the length either. This tale is well worth the time.


  1. I would fly to a place to be in the bookstore alone! I experienced this impulse when Lewis Buzbee wrote in depth about the history of The Shakespeare & Co. in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. Sylvia Beach helped save and release Ulysses actually. In the old days, bookstores deal with bulk orders, they rarely have random people browsing and purchasing a couple volumes. Transaction usually involve tomes of books of which the requests are sent via a courier.

  2. One of the things I look for when I travel to another city is to find their indepedent bookstores. It's my version of a tourist trap. I've been to Shakespeare and Company (stumbled into it while visiting the Notre Dame) and it is fabulous.

  3. I love visiting local bookstores when I travel- even the local Borders! I was in Paris as a teenager but didn't get to go shopping like this- I would love to now! :-)

  4. Like Marie, I make a point of visiting local bookstores (even the big chain ones) whenever I travel. I would love to visit the bookstore described in the article. It sounds like a marvelous place.


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