Exploring the Left Bank : Paris’s Shakespeare and Company Bookstore

Paris’s Left Bank is home to many treasures: Notre Dame, deliciously awesome and cheap street food, The Great Canadian bar… the list continues. However, one of my favorite things the Left Bank has to offer is the English bookstore, Shakespeare and Company.

Sometimes overlooked by tourists gazing at the show-stealing Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company is not something that should be missed. Maybe it’s the fact the original store used to be the hangout of my favorite Paris expat writers like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein, or maybe it’s because the bookstore holds a strong ideal in changing the world. Either way, I find myself wandering over and exploring the bookstore any chance I get.

Although this shop was originally opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 and had several locations before calling Rue de la Bûcherie home, George Whitman opened this storefront in 1951 and continued supporting new writers much like Beach did. There are beds crammed into every crevice that will allow them and there have apparently been thousands of people who have slept there—a direct reflection of Whitman’s true support of the starving and struggling writer. All of those who stay help out around the shop in exchange for their free room and board at ‘Hotel Tumbleweed’ as George Whitman nicknamed it.

Photo by Zoe52

Entering the seemingly small bookstore, you are instantly surrounded by shelves bursting with books from floor to ceiling. The narrow passage way leads you to the maze of back of the store or up some stairs. The walls are plastered with letters, notes, and advertisements left by passers-bys or past residents. Once up the stairs you will find the children’s section and the Mirror of Love. The Mirror of Love is so completely covered in notes, hopes for finding one’s missed connection, and photos, that you can barely recognize it is a mirror. I could spend days looking at all of these scraps of paper.

Working further into the second floor, you can find aspiring writers diligently working, young bohemians and expats engaging in conversation, and tourists staring in awe at the overwhelming amount of books and quirky knick-knacks sprinkled throughout the bookstore. Painted above the doorway reads a WB Yeats perfectly fit for the ideals of Shakespeare and Company, “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.” Although George Whitman passed away a couple of years ago, his daughter Sylvie keeps his spirit alive at Shakespeare and Company.

Photo by Hanna Eliasson

There are frequently events that bring in a large expat crowd showcasing authors, promoting conversation, or other various activities. Check their website here for more information. Sylvie Whitman is also working on compiling the complete history of Shakespeare and Company for a book that is due out next year.

 

Shakespeare and Company Information
Address: 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris
Phone: 01 43 25 40 93
Hours: Mon-Fri 10am–11pm and Sat-Sun 11am–11pm
Metro stop: Saint-Michel

Have you ever been to Shakespeare and Company? What was your experience?

3 Replies to “Exploring the Left Bank : Paris’s Shakespeare and Company Bookstore”

  1. I am so glad you decided to blog about this truly amazing place. A must see in Paris and so full of history. I will never forget the feeling I had standing upstairs amongst all the childrens books (my favorite section) and wishing I could travel back in time to the 1920s. It is places like this that make the price of the airline ticket worth every penny.

  2. I too love this store! Thank you for enlightening me on some of the history behind it. While I was aware of authors working/living there, I did not know it had other locations prior to the current one.

    I have a question: I assume it is the original owner that Hemingway writes about in ‘A Moveable Feast’ when he talks about borrowing books because he could not afford to buy them. If so, that means Hemingway was at the original location. Do you know if he was ever at the current location?

    One of the coolest things about the store, other than the history, the people associated with it, the sheer number of books, and the organized chaos, is the writing outside of the store. As I remember it, it is written on two chalkboards. I have pictures of it, but I do not recall if it is from Whitman to his daughter or from his daughter to the dad (can you tell me?) Anyway, I remeber it being a good message – I think I will Google it or find my picture and see if I can read what it says. For some reason, it struck me as profound, but maybe I was just caught up in the momment and it was just jibberish – guess I should check into it further.

    But I digress…

    The bookstore is a great place to visit and explore. The selection is eclectic. The atmosphere is unique. Once again, you have provided an excellent suggestion for the traveler!

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