Opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 (after whom the current owner is named) as a library, publisher and boarding house for aspiring writers, ‘Shakespeare and Co.’ is located on the left bank of Paris right by Notre Dame.
Shakespeare and Co. is not just a bookstore, as it also enjoys a very special place in literary history. The original store was “the hangout” for expatriate writers and literati in the 1920s, and amongst other things served as James Joyce’s office, and it was notably featured in Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast. In 1922 Sylvia Beach also published Joyce’s Ulysses which was initially banned in both the US and UK.
The original store was closed during the Second World War and later reopened in its current location in 1951 by George Whitman, whose daughter Sylvia now runs the store.
hly recommended by the guide books, and ranked number two in things to do in Lonely Planet’s ‘Paris Encounter’, the bookstore has attained its celebrity by virtue of its appearances in films such as Before Sunset and Midnight in Paris, and it is arguably the best English language bookstore in Paris. With its vintage posters and sometimes chaotic shelving, it is a cosy little place with a great collection.
You may ask yourself why you should go to an English language bookstore in Paris, especially if you’re from an English-speaking country. Well, Shakespeare and Co. is not just an English bookstore: it is a cultural centre where you can, aside from buying books (which are very often second hand, and therefore cheaper) from an incredible variety of titles, enjoy tea parties, concerts, and even sleepovers – keen visitors require little persuasion to spend the night. The most attractive feature of the store is being able to relax and read among like-minded people.
The bookstore usually hosts readings once or twice a week on Monday or Wednesday nights, and this summer I have been lucky enough to attend a couple. In May I was able to hear two Australian writers – Alex Miller and Chris Womersley – who performed readings from their very differing books, Lovesong and Bereft.
In July, I attended a reading in association with NYU [New York University]’s summer creative writing program, where great contemporary American writers (who teach creative writing at NYU) shared their works with the audience. Performed outside in the warm sun to a gathering of friendly crowds, poet Rachel Zucker and fictional writers Nathan Englander and Helen Schulman read from their latest works.
The best was saved for last when Englander read the title story from his short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, his own spin on Raymond Carver’s famous story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
Englander’s reading inspired me to purchase a copy of his short story collection immediately. That is the real excitement to these readings; they expose you to great, fledging authors who you may not have discovered otherwise. It is certainly an experience I would recommend, and you can find out more information at shakespeareandcompany.com