Paris, the love capital of the world hosts some of the most iconic buildings and architecture, the Eiffel tower being what springs to mind first, and then you may think of the great cathedral of Notre Dame, made famous by the book ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ by Victor Hugo. The gardens that surround it are filled with young aspiring musicians singing about their tales of love, to couples holding each other in their arms. Paris definitely was where George Whitman found love as he set up a small gem that is hidden from many tourists under the shadow of the Notre Dame, the famous book shop: Shakespeare and Company.
When you visit Paris or pick up a guide book one of the things you don’t look for or expect to find is a bookshop that you can sleep in. Whilst this may be common knowledge in the literary world it is not necessarily on the itinerary of the regular tourist. Huge pity because this looks like an absolute must for all those who spend hours losing themselves in bookshops.
It appears that many famous authors have visited the English speaking bookshop, Shakespeare and Company which can be found in the shadow of the Notre Dame at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, Paris. It was originally established in 1913 by an american, Sylvia Beach, for English speaking writers in Paris and reopened following the occupation by George Whitman a former GI who settled in Paris after the war.
It opens from 10am to 11pm, seven days a week. The deal if you want to stay, is that you sleep in the shop on tiny beds, which double up as benches in the daytime, hidden among the bookstacks. You are expected to work for two hours a day and help out with the running of the place including reading a book a day, all the way through, as well as producing a one page of autobiography for George’s archives. Those that choose to stay and work stay between two weeks and two months. Tumbleweeds named after rolling thistles that ‘drift in and out with the winds of chance’ is the name that George gave his guests.
The newest addition to the bookshop is the cafe which is situated in an ideal spot, giving customers picturesque views of the historic Notre Dame. With this upgrade, young aspiring writers can sit down and enjoy a delicious cup of coffee while they work on writing the next bestselling novel topped off with a slice of Lemon Pie from George’s original recipe.
It is said that thousands of people have come through the doors and the values and ethos haven’t changed over the years. It is now run by George’s daughter Sylvia, named after the original owner, who, to move the shop forward with times have taken out a bed to replace it with a computer, started a biannual literary festival and a publishing business. Every Monday night there’s a free reading from a published writer and Faber UK combined with the present owner offering creative writing weekends.
Due to start in the spring of this year Shakespeare and Company books is a new publishing company, being at the forefront of new ideas and ambitious young authors it is only right to include a publishing company into the works. The first book to be published will be a book about the history of the shop: Shakespeare and Company, Paris: The rag and Bone shop of the heart, They have also now recently come out with a new idea of have a countryside retreat just outside Paris. The retreat would be situated on a farm with similar rules applying, if you stay you read and help out on the farm for a couple of hours but for now we will have to wait and see what the future has to hold for the shop.
The most inspiring thing about the shop is that with around 30,000 tumbleweeds said to have stayed since the shop first opened, there are about 30,000 autobiographies posted up on the walls of the shop and there is no sign of slowing down. Documented on the walls are stories of people’s lives from all over the world with one thing that all these thousands of people have in common: the love of Literature.