Sunday, September 2, 2012

Shakespeare & Company, Paris

My first priority in Paris last week was to visit Shakespeare & Company book shop. I was determined to go here since Elizabeth Welsh mentioned the store on my post about drool worthy Faulkner House Books in New Orleans.

Unfortunately you're not allowed to take photos inside the store, so I wrote some word pictures instead and snapped off plenty of real ones from the street.

Shakespeare & Company is an appropriate name for a building that could be a carbon copy of the bard's actual birthplace in Stratford upon Avon. The mosaics on the floor, the faded once black beams punctuated by the whitewashed ceiling and the tight, cramped spaces are what every bibliophile dreams of.

Books are crammed into every available space, archways included. A ladder leans against a shelf piled high with Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast; on the other side of the room sits a little seat with a note taped to it that reads "a moveable stool."

A girl perches on a wooden chair in one of the shop's many crannies, reading with such ferocity it's as if she's determined to devour the books piled on her knees in a sitting.

From the tiny, well used staircase (the carpet is worn through to the wood), I hear the clanging lilt of an old piano. The tomes up here are ancient, and they smell of that somehow delicious scent of rotting paper that's particular to second hand book shops.

Next to a window that overlooks the Seine is a poster of the original cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and next to that is a gilt edged mirror, which reflects two men reading on a wooden bench.

Out another window, in a neglected space that separates two rooms, toys are frozen in time, ready to resume their busy lives as soon as you stop looking. Miniature Godzilla-esque dinosaurs tip over a parked car while amazed gnomes stare at the planes that zoom overhead (rigged on nylon.) In the middle a procession of wild animals makes its way across the concrete desert and dolphins jump through gaps in some chicken wire.

I allow myself George Orwell's slim volume of essays entitled Books vs Cigarettes and walk away, as always, with a dull heart ache over all the books I have to leave behind.


  1. Awesome to see you visited Shakespeare & Company, Amy! I, too, left with just two books - a Sybille Bedford & Gaston Bachelard. Aren't suitcases silly for being so small? If you're in London anytime, flick me an email - we should meet for a coffee :)

  2. I loved it Elizabeth! Thanks for letting me know about it - a visit to Paris wouldn't have been the same if I hadn't been there! I would've loved to catch up for a coffee but am back in New Zealand now. Another time!