Across the world, there are stacks of knowledge waiting to be opened, quiet people flipping through novels, staff members re-stocking in between pointing and saying some version of, “Over there, on that far aisle to the left….” to a customer asking about a particular genre.
In Paris, take a moment away from the nearby Seine, the Île de la Cité and Notre Dame to see the slightly rumpled but charming Latin Quarter landmark Shakespeare and Company bookstore, a polyglot collection of mostly English-language books and mostly English-language people, all effortlessly looking like a movie set for bookish thriller.
It’s been a center of literary culture since it was founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919, became a haven for Moveable Feast-era authors like Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce, was closed during World War II and then re-launched by George Whitman in 1951, who wanted to carry on the spirit of the original. Whitman’s daughter Sylvia runs the shop today.
While there, we bought a copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, mostly as an excuse to get one of the bookstore’s famous “Kilometer Zero” stamps inside the front cover (there is a plaque in the ground nearby called “Kilometre Zero” that is considered the official center of Paris.)
One of our Paris guidebooks mentioned the stamp; this is why I tend to read the Shopping section of those books cover-to-cover. I’m all about finding small, surprising but cheap travel souvenirs.
If you plan to visit Shakespeare and Company, check the website first for special bookstore events, reading groups, literature classes and musical performances (listed under workshops and held in the upstairs library) and the annual literary festival which is usually held in June.
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