Every writer has heard about this bookstore in Paris, some have even bunked there, lots of articles have been written, from Wikipedia to The Guardian, but the most interesting story can be found at several pages of the current issue of Vanity Fair magazine.
Twice the Same Name
It all started with the first store and library in 1919, named "Shakespeare and Company" by the founder Sylvia Beach, an American expatriate. Her bookstore and lending library became a hangout for Lost Generation writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, whose Ulysses was first published in its complete form by Sylvia Beach because authorities in Britain and America deemed it obscene. She closed up shop during the Nazi occupation and never re-opened.
New Bookstore in 1951
Years later, another American, George Whitman, opened the present store at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, near Place Saint-Michel, just steps from the Seine, Notre Dame and the Île de la Cité.
The shop has become a popular tourist attraction, even Frank Sinatra bought books there, and was featured in the Richard Linklater film Before Sunset and in the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Jacques Chirac were later customers too. "Shakespeare and Company" and the late owner George Whitman have been the subject of Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man, a 2003 documentary film.
Writers who logged time at the current "Shakespeare and Company", sometimes even sleeping there, include Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Lawrence Durrell, Anaïs Nin, James Jones, and Ray Bradbury.
Sylvia Whitman, the founders daughter, continues to run the store in the same manner as her father, allowing young writers to live and work there. Nathan Englander, the American novelist, was even married here in 2012. Do read the companys "Le Blog" about current events.
Characterizations by Writers
- C. J. Flood, a British writer whose first young-adult novel was published earlier this year: “I didn’t get as much writing done during my time there as I intended, but I certainly like a writer.”
- Dave Eggers: “an absurd place—almost down to the last crooked corner and narrow staircase, it was the bookstore of my dreams.”
- Ethan Hawke: “It is definitely Dionysus’s favorite bookstore.”
What a Personality!
Lots of fun to read in Vanity Fair about the life of the late George Whitman, such as when he saved a writer who ran from the Riot Police in Paris after a demonstration, or how he arrived in Paris after serving during the war as a medic in Greenland. Whitman came to Paris in 1946 to study at the Sorbonne on the G.I. Bill, and used his G.I. book vouchers to start a lending library, but also started selling books. When he opened the Shakespeare and Company bookstore he mentioned to his parents: "a niche where I can safely look upon the world’s horror and beauty.”
A MUST When Visiting Paris
After reading the Vanity Fair feature In a Bookstore in Paris, about George Whitman and his literature obsession, you might as well buy a ticket to fly over and visit "Shakespeare and Company". For sure more fun than ordering e-books online.