So. I’m an idiot. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that before. I now remember hearing about Shakespeare and Company – a popular English book store – long ago and thinking if I’m ever in Paris again, I need to go there. And then when I knew I was going to Paris… I forgot about it. Yep. That sounds like me. Thanks to a co-worker who reminded me about it, I added it to the small list of things to do during our free time in Paris. It turned out to be the first thing we did in Europe, even before we checked into our hotel.
Visiting Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare and Company sits on the banks of the Seine River, across the water from the Cathedral of Notre Dame and surrounded by the quaint streets and alleys of Paris’ Latin Quarter. The current iteration of the shop opened in 1951 and has been a venue and haven for writers – famous and up-and-coming alike – ever since. This and the original, which operated in the interwar years, hosted Hemingway, Whitman, Burroughs, Durrell, Joyce and more.
We didn’t have a lot of time to investigate the shop, having just four hours to explore before officially starting our tour at dinner. We walked an hour along the banks of the Seine to the shop. It’s probably a good thing, really, because I could have spent an obscene amount of money. Which would have required me to also buy a suitcase. And pay for overweight luggage. So I went in with a plan and went straight to the appropriate section. I wanted a book featuring Parisian street photography, preferably by Henri Cartier-Bresson, for my photographer friend as a thank you for driving me to the airport.
I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but decided on his book “The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers“. And I maybe bought a copy for myself as well. It was a hard choice for my own purchase. I left “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War” by Lynsey Addario (along with so, so many more books I wanted!) on the shelf.
After making my purchase, we went next door to Shakespeare and Company’s cafe and sat in the window watching the people on the street, Notre Dame standing tall in our view, and drank our lemonade.
The Shop and Cafe
The staff I spoke to were a mix of native English speakers, or French with perfectly fluent English, which makes sense in an English book shop. The selection of new books on the ground floor were a mix of literature and non-fiction, a fitting combination for the centre of Paris. Upstairs, in amongst cots and cats and writing desks; writers and readers and ‘dreamers’, is a wonderful collection of used books.
It really is a paradise for writers and book lovers.
The cafe is just as quirky and cozy as the shop; the staff just as friendly. As I mentioned, we had a lemonade, but they had all kinds of drinks and wonderful-looking snack and lunch options. I regretted not buying soup when I saw a bowl delivered to a nearby table. Our drinks, although not freshly squeezed, were made to order and herbed, which was new to me, but so very tasty!
A Sort-of Review
Shakespeare and Company is definitely worth a stop on your tour of Paris. You’re going to visit Notre Dame anyway, right? Well, this is just across the street. Stop and have lunch while you look through your brand new (or new-to-you) books. Spend some time wandering through the streets and alleys in the area before moving on to your next stop.