Despite all the beautiful art, amazing architecture, and historical ruins we saw during our 3 weeks in Europe, for me, one of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the legendary Shakespeare and Company, an English bookstore in the heart of Paris.
Unfortunately, this Shakespeare and Company is not the original Shakespeare and Company of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, etc. of the 1920s, which closed down during WWII and never re-opened.
The original Shakespeare and Company, owned by Sylvia Beach was a haven for English writers struggling to get their novels published in the early 1920s. Most of the novels which could be found in Shakespeare in Company at the time were banned elsewhere, like James Joyce’s Ulysses and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover.
Shakespeare and Company was more than a bookstore and library. It doubled as an office and haunt for the likes of Joyce, Hemingway, Ford, etc. Today, Shakespeare and Company is still a favorite of literary tourists and residents of Paris alike.
Despite its reputation for being a watering hole for now literary giants, the bookstore itself is an interesting site to see. Outside one can read insights from owner George Whitman written on a chalkboard. There are also chairs, tables and books where one can sit and read after a day’s walk around the city. Inside, the small cozy room is filled with books stacked from floor to ceiling. There is not a single table, chair or surface which is not occupied by books.
When you purchase a book, you will be given an option of having it stamped with a Shakespeare and Company seal. The friendly staff will also share their insights and opinions on books they’ve already read and will help you find what you are looking for.
We were informed by our tour guide that the entire building was owned by the store, and because of that, those who are interested can stay in the apartment rooms for free, provided they help out in the store a few hours a day, and they can finish one book a day. I don’t know how reliable our tour guide is, but had I known sooner, I could have been living in one of the best rooms with one of the best views in the city for free!
I don’t believe in the existence of heaven or hell, but if there really is a heaven, it would probably look like this!