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Thursday, April 22, 2010

The travelling bookcase: Shakespeare and Co (Paris)

Tuesday was a sun drenched, blossom littered, planeless day in Paris and after a few hours of meandering aimlessly around unknown department stores trying to replace a summer jacket that my husband has described as “really awful”, I gave up the ghost. It was one of those days when the weather had taken the city by surprise and school children and office workers were sunning themselves in small parks and church gardens. So, if the truth be known, it was too glorious to be jacket shopping and an excellent opportunity for me to check out Paris’ most famous English language book shop – Shakespeare and Co.

Shakespeare and Co is tucked in on the edge of the Latin Quarter – opposite Notre Dame and snuggled next door to St Julien le Pauvre. Like these two sights – it is quite woven into the fabric of the city. Originally founded in 1919, the shop was the frequent haunt of Ernest Hemmingway, Erza Pound, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce to name but a few. It was renowned for selling books that had been banned elsewhere such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Ulysses. The first incarnation of Shakespeare and Co was closed down during the German occupation of Paris in 1941 and booklovers had to wait for a whole decade for it to be reborn. The current shop has been going since 1951 and has been called a “socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore”. Most importantly, Shakespeare and Co is not a sterile seller of books – it is a living place. The shop frequently plays host to new writers for readings and discussion nights and even puts them up – there are 13 beds available for writers to live and work in the shop.

I found Shakespeare and Co to be a warren of tiny half separated rooms in which every spare corner contains a pile of books. Upstairs an eclectic selection of chairs and sofas are arranged in a well stocked reading room and a piano and a typewriter are available for travelling musicians and correspondents. The whole place teems with hoards of pilgrims (for Pilgrims they must surely be called...), all shuffling past one another, crouching in corners to read while another browses and saying “oh excuse me” and “oh sorry” etc. The books that are for sale downstairs are a remarkably intelligent selection of the classic and the offbeat – and the new and the second hand are all mixed up.

Although I was feeling a bit “off” shopping, I could hardly resist a spot of book buying. So – I have supplemented my shelves with three new acquisitions – a collection of short stories by the wonderful magical realist Gabriel Garcia Marquez called No one writes to the Colonel. Realising that I am a bit down on my Defoe, I also picked up both A Journal of the Plague Year and Moll Flanders. But then, who, having read the title page of Moll Flanders could possibly resist?

If you find yourself in Paris any day soon, you might like to look at the shop’s website.

Although it is busy and a bit of a comedy of manners within, Shakespeare and Co has definitely made it onto my list of favourite bookshops.

Do you have a favourite bookshop and where in the world is it?

35 comments:

  1. How exciting! I've always wanted to go there, and to Paris, to boot...one day!

    My favourite bookshop is Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road, right next to Leicester Square tube - piled to the rafters with books on all subjects and very cheap too. Plus totally second hand which is my favourite type of book!

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  2. Sounds wonderful Hannah. I have heard of this shop but didn't get to visit it on my last visit to Paris (much too long ago, however after reading this post I've decided I'm due for another!)

    Interesting acquisitions.

    Jeanne x

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  3. The photograph of the exterior is beautiful and Moll Flanders sounds like the best book, ever!

    My favourite bookshop is Leakey's in Inverness. It is housed in an old church and the cashier sits feeding a pile of logs into a huge stove. It sells books and old prints and nearly always has old green Viragos, orange Penguins and beautiful natural history books.

    Great cafe too!: http://foodanddrinkglasgow.wordpress.com/leakeys-bookshop-church-street-inverness/

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  4. This looks like a lovely place. I have to remember to look for it, if I ever visit Paris again (which I'm sure I will). I love the way you wrote about it, so atmospheric that it made me picture being there.

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  5. Lucky you - that is amazing! I have read the book and would love to visit.

    I went to a lovely bookshop yesterday in Woodstock for a talk - it's just new books but what a wonderful collection - all the latest contemporary literature, a good range of childrens books, Viragos, Persephones. I found it hard to pay attention to the talk as was looking so much at the shelves!

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  6. I love Shakespeare & Co.! I've visited it a few times and this post is brilliant because it makes me feel like I'm back there. I believe that Ulysses was not only sold here, but actually first published by the bookshop - would this be right?

    My favourite bookshop is Barter Books in Northumberland. It's an old train station with big roaring fires and a pretty amazing collection of second-hand books. I wrote a post about it last month:
    http://thevanishinglake.blogspot.com/2010/03/best-bookshops.html

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  7. I don't think any bookshop could beat Shakespeare&Co.
    But for rummaging, there's the wonderful Albion bookshop in Broadstairs which is piled high with secondhand books; impossible really, because you're always terrified of starting an avalanche!

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  8. Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pennsylvania deserves mention. They have more than mysteries, but not much. It's a tiny place, crammed with books, seating for reading or meeting, and a remarkably helpful and friendly owner. I think I shall start looking for bookshops wherever I travel.

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  9. I just visited The Strand in New York City over the weekend ... now I have a new favorite bookstore :-)

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  10. How very cool that you got to visit the store! I have heard amazing things about it as well, and good for you to have picked up Moll Flanders! I just bought that one a few weeks ago and can't wait to get to it! It sounds like you had a great time!

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  11. I'm so envious that you got to go there! If I ever went to Paris, I'd have to stop in and buy a book at Shakespeare & Co. My favorite bookstore is - oh, so tricky. It's one of two bookshops on Charing Cross Road, either that massive Foyles or Henry Pordes, which is a used bookshop. I love them both sooooo much.

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  12. Oh, I'm dying of envy right now :)
    My favorite bookstore? Hard to say. Maybe the Strand in NYC, maybe the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, possibly Green Apple Books in San Francisco. So many great ones out there. :-)

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  13. I want to go to Shakespeare & Co so bad!

    My favorite bookstore is in Archer City, Texas. Owned by Larry McMurtry. Almost all of main street is the bookstore. 4 huge warehouses chock full of choice stuff. Bliss.

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  14. Oh, to be in Paris in the spring. And at Shakespeare & Company too! Have you seen the movie Before Sunset - it opens in that shop. Thanks for letting us live vicariously.

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  15. The last time I was in Paris in 2003, I opted to go shopping at the galerie Lafayette instead of to Shakespeare & Co. which was on the other side of town. I'm still kicking myself for having made the wrong choice. Of course the shopping trip was horrible...it was a weekend and the galerie was super crowded.

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  16. This is absolutely my kind of favorite book shop! When I was in Paris, way back in 1997, we didn't have much time and unfortunately had to forgo looking into book shops. On my next visit, I'm definitely there!

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  17. That sounds a wonderful shop. I'd love to go there, if I ever visit Paris.

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  18. Thank you for all of your comments folks - what a wonderfully international list of favourite bookshops we have between us?!

    Does anyone have any different bookshops to recommend?

    Bon weekend

    Hannah

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  19. I would have to agree with 'thevanishinglake' and add Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland (my home county!). But, my feet are itching in readiness to set off for Paris and 'Shakespeare and Co.'. Thank you, Hannah!
    Aguja

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  20. This sounds like the ultimate in bookstores...I practically want to plan a trip to Paris simply to visit this establishment! I couldn't agree with you more about the Moll Flanders title page by the way...so tantalizing, no?

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  21. Sounds terrific - will add it to my list of places to go.

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  22. This place sounds wonderful. It is being added to my list of bookstores to visit around the world!

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  23. What a lovely post. I've never been to Paris so am fascinated to read about it. The Journal of the Plague Year is the best book I've ever read about The Plague. Amazing that is actually fiction when it reads like non-fiction.

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  24. I love love LOVE this place!! The first time I visited it was on a particularly freezing December night. My family usually ends up staying in the somewhere nearby, so I love to stroll up to this shop and have dinner at this little restaurant right next to it...Le Petit Pont. I love the atmosphere of this store! Would love to go back to it with a huge wad of cash :-D It's funny because I was actually intending to write a post on this one and my other favourite book store. My favourite in the entire world is the first branch of Landmark right here in Chennai. I have been visiting it since I was five. It ain't quaint, it is commercialized and filled with over bright halogen lights....but......I have bought some of my very first books here and I LOVE it :) Wonderful post Hannah, love it!

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  25. Sorry to spam Hannah, but I haven't been able to find Marquez's No one writes to the Colonel anywhere! Lucky you. I am going to trawl the internet now :)

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  26. Shakespeare and Company is on my must visit list for when I go to Paris!

    As for favourite bookshops, I was so impressed with Leakey's in Inverness. It's a used bookshop in a building that used to be an old church, and it's just marvellous.

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  27. Hannah, what a delightful blog - I am a follower!

    Also, this bookshop sounds SO good - and you certainly walked out with great picks. I love Garcia Marquez and Defoe!

    I will be in France in July and though I have only a day in Paris (we're visiting friends in Normandy mostly), I'm planning to check this store out!

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  28. I am so jealous! Here I am stuck in rainy Canada (today it was snowing, if you can believe it)...

    What a fabulous little bookstore. Not to mention some great finds!

    Great to meet you and thanks for visiting my blog,
    Lydia @ The Literary Lollipop

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  29. have never been but it's on my list!

    a few of my favorite bookstores are the strand in nyc, prairie lights in iowa city, and the northshire in manchester, vt.

    -nat @book, line, and sinker

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  30. I love Paris and I have been there, but I didn't make it to Shakespeare and Co. Well, maybe next time:)

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  31. I love this bookstore. It's one of my absolute favorites. When I lived in London I loved going to all the bookstores on Tottenham Court Road and Leister Square. Elliot Bay Bookstore in Seattle, The Strand in NYC and are a few other great ones.

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  32. Way cool! Adds new meaning to "reading in bed".

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  33. I'd LOVE to go to 'Shakespeare and Co'. Just being there, is bound to get the creative juices flowing!

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  34. I'm joining the party a little late here to second Shakespeare and Company. Not far from it, also in the Latin Quarter, Abbey Books is worth a visit. It has a big Canadian flag outside and the owner is really friendly, he'll greet you with a cup of coffee!

    My favourite bookshops are as follows:

    Gosford Books, Coventry
    It's worth visiting Coventry for Gosford Books. It's a bit like Shakespeare &Cie in that it's a warren of little rooms. It's a second hand bookshop and the books are piled high everywhere. The owner is marvellous - he leaves you free to browse while he plays chess or, a more common site recently, does a bit of archeology out the back. He discovered remnants of a medieval abbey in his back garden and he'll take you out to have a look. It's not one of those shops where you feel obliged to buy something, but I never come out empty handed.

    No Alibis, Belfast
    This shop is on Botanic Avenue and broadly specialises in crime fiction. They have some second hand books and a fair few non-crime novels as well, and a great children's section. There's always a cup of tea on the go (served in penguin classics mugs) and they host live music and poetry evenings as well. Again, the owner is brilliant.

    Armchair Books, Edinburgh
    I fell in love with Edinburgh when I first went, and lost my heart completely when I found Armchair books. It's another dusty and rambling second hand bookshop - the city is full of them, but Armchair has great character. It's got lots of those little library steps to climb, a brilliant bargain box and friendly and interesting staff.

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