Paris in the 20s, Shakespeare & Co.

The BBC has a video and short article on the history of Shakespeare & Co, the famous Paris bookstore, and the writers who went there in the 1920s. … d-bookshop

I visited there long ago and it struck me as the perfect bookstore, cluttered with books of all sorts. If you’ve been there, what did you think?

I saw the exterior of the bookshop a couple of years ago. But the person I was with knew my habit if permitted of spending hours in old bookshops (“fossicking” is the term used by a friend in a book title), and wouldn’t let me enter.

A second disincentive was that I understood then - and still believe to be true - that this is not the original Shakespeare and Company shop patronised by Pound, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 20s. That closed during the Second World War, and never re-opened. It is however the one patronised by the Beat Poets in the 50s.

A couple times, I slept in the hotel over the current shop (Esmeralda, maybe?). I heard the place was much loved by Serge Gainsbourg, and the hotel attendant was William Dafoe (at least, he looked exactly like him). Last time I was in Paris, a few months ago, the hotel was closed, probably for renovation.

The bookshop is lovely and in a lovely place, probably in the most iconic place of a non-totally-predictable-touristic Paris (between Notre-Dame and the Quartier Latin, with the Tour Eiffel not in sight). Not far from there there is a small square with a tree in the middle, and under it a bench where to sit reading. Sometimes, the bookstore exposes some shelves with used books in front of their door; I guess I purchased there my Laforgue and Villon in some very aged editions.

I’m not sure, however, the current shop is the one where the British and American writers met, at the age of Sylvia Beach.

It’s interesting to compare this bookstore with Ferlinghetti’s City Lights in San Francisco. As packed and apprently casual is the former, as clean and rational appears the latter. Maybe they represent quite well the town they are hosted into?


Many thanks for the recommendation of the small square with the tree in the middle.