Shakespeare and Company, Paris

Shakespeare and Company, 4e Arrondissement

If you’re into modernist and Beat literature, the Shakespeare and Company bookstore has a lot to live up to. The original version of the store was opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919. Ernest Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Djuna Barnes, Mina Loy and Gertrude Stein all passed through its doors. While this version was closed during World War II and a second was set up by George Whitman, I’d still visit in the same way that people visit the Cavern Club despite it merely being a reproduction of the original. But the second store was frequented by a whole other host of later writers I admire too – Alan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Anaïs Nin and James Baldwin – supplying it with enough name drops to secure it status in its own right. If this wasn’t enough to make me romanticise the shop, the fact that they offer almost-free accommodation to aspiring writers in exchange for a few hours of daily work in the store has raised it even higher in my esteem. We all know that having high expectations of a place before visiting can end in disappointment and for a brief moment, Shakespeare and Company did. At the end of the day, you need to remember that it’s a small bookstore operating in a prime location in one of the world’s most expensive cities. If they sold well-loved second hand copies of niche works at a low price they’d surely sink into debt. So bear in mind that the majority of the works you’re going to see in there are going to be brand new standard copies of major works at about double the price you’d be able to find the book for online. Also bear in mind that you’re not going to get any French books in there, all works that I saw were in English. If you imagine the contents of Waterstones with a few pounds added to the price tag arranged into a quaint independent bookstore, that’s what you’re going to get. It’s as pretty as any other independent bookstore, with ladders to reach the higher shelves and what appeared to be a resident cat, but unless you’re genuinely planning to land yourself a free room as a tumbleweed guest or have a day to spend lounging about in one of the reading rooms, try to avoid romanticising it to the extent that most do and appreciate it for its history.

Shakespeare and Company is located at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie in Paris’ 4th Arrondissement. If you stand with your back to Notre Dame, it’s across the road on the left.