“Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”
WRITTEN above the doorway to the reading library of Shakespeare and Company bookshop, this quote describes the foundation upon which George Whitman, the store’s founder, built his business. Having also described the store as a “socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore”, George was not a conventional capitalist, preferring to provide a place for book lovers to read, to write, and even to stay if necessary. Nestled among the near-overflowing shelves of books are beds, disguised as benches during the day, but brought out at night for the Tumbleweeds; people who choose to stay at the bookshop in exchange for reading a book a day, working a few hours in the shop, and providing a one-page biography.
These Tumbleweeds (now estimated to have numbered more than 40,000 over the years) included some of the great names of the Beat Generation. William S Burroughs consulted the medical section of the store while writing Naked Lunch, and Allan Ginsberg once stripped naked and recited his poem, Howl, there. More recent visitors have included Henry Miller and Anais Nin, Ethan Hawke, and Jeanette Winterson.
Since George’s death in 2011, his only daughter, Sylvia has taken over ownership of the store, although the appearance of technology, such as a telephone and a computer, suggested a gradual changing of the guard prior to that. Named for Sylvia Beach, the owner of the original Shakespeare and Company in Paris – a bookshop that reputedly closed after refusing to sell its last copy of Finnegan’s Wake to a Nazi officer – George’s daughter never wanted to take over her father’s store. Nonetheless, under her direction, Shakespeare and Company has expanded to include not just the original bookstore, but also an antiquarian book shop next door, a website, and a café. Readings, book launches, and even a literary festival have sprung up from the courtyard out front.
If you’re a lover of English literature in the midst of Paris, Shakespeare and Company is the place to be.
Physical address: 37 rue de la Bûcherie, Paris
Phone number: +33 1 43 25 40 93
Business hours: Main shop 10am – 11pm daily; Antiquarian 11am – 7pm Tuesday to Saturday; Cafe 9:30am – 7pm Monday to Friday, 9:30am – 8pm Saturday & Sunday
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