Bookstores rarely reach iconic status, or become an integral part of literary history. But when a “store” becomes the unofficial office of James Joyce, or the regular haunt of Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Ezra Pound, then you’re not dealing with a mere book merchant, but an icon.
To call the Shakespeare and Company a bookstore is only technically true. Yes you can buy books here, but that’s not really what it, or its history, is all about. Former owner, George Whitman, described the store as a “socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore” and nothing has changed with the passing of the years except that the utopia has transformed into a living and breathing part of Paris’s history… still very much decided in keeping its bookstore front.
And that is for the best, because even in the age of the Kindle and the audiobook, there is a unique sense of magic about the haphazardly stacked novels, a sense of discovery that leads you to think that every book you pick up might be a hidden gem… and though you might not be far off the truth, we’re sorry to burst your bubble but the true relics aren’t on display but are available on the online store. Fancy a copy of the first edition and first printing of the catcher in the Rye? that’ll be 4000 EUR thank you.
Under the management of Whitman’s daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman, the store has slowly been donning the garb of the 21st century and is getting more tech savvy and less bohemian (only 6 of the 10 beds are up for grabs now) but it is still a crossroad of cultures and a beacon for English speakers in the midst of Paris and unmissable if you are a fan of literature.