Standing just opposite the river Seine with the most picturesque view of the Notre Dame behind you, sits this tiny, unassuming bookshop. While Shakespeare and Company’s history may not be as long or grand as the building across the river, this little shop has its own kind of appeal which pulls people from around the world into its courtyard and through its front door.
This trip to Paris was not my first, so only a few years earlier, I stood yards away from this historic bookshop and never realized what I was missing simply by not looking behind me. I don’t think I can stress enough how close these two major attractions are for travelers to Paris—basically, if you get to visit Paris and the Notre Dame, take five minutes (at least) across the river and you won’t be sorry.
On four large panels in the middle of the storefront, beginning with the worlds “Paris Wall Newspaper January 1st 2004”, you can read the building’s history through the voice of the building itself as it watched the world change around it, setting the tone of the experience you encounter within the space—It really is a place out of time.
Made famous by the major literary cohorts of the 1920s and 1960s who hung out in and around the shop, Shakespeare and Company isn’t a bookstore for the modern world, but a shop that transports you back in time through the construction of its tiny passageways and alcoves to the grand history of the large range of books filling them.
This small, English language bookshop still seems a draw in and serves as a haven for literary expats like myself which was unexpected, yet a nice change from the bookshop I’ll talk about next week; I was able to look through the books as I explored without looking too lost since I can’t speak or read French. While it definitely seats you within the historically American patronage throughout the history of the store (from both its 1920s and 1960s storefronts—remember, the building did change locations though still claims its rich history), I found myself a little lost in placing myself in another country as well as the time discussed, as this shop felt almost like a satellite nation—a tiny piece of American and English space and history connected to its Parisian roots and yet separated from them.
All in all, it was an interesting place to be especially when you stopped to really place yourself in it.
In an almost constant stream, you will see tourists pick up books from the small stalls outside the building and pose/sit, pretending to read, on the benches in a mirror of all those figures who came before them as friends snap photos to send home. There are no pictures allowed inside of the shop—a beneficial scheme for them as it limits the congestion of photographers in the small alleyways within the store as well as creates a little extra money through picture postcards you can collect for 1 Euro each—but the outside of the building and it’s square are fair game.
I loved the inside of the shop and know I will not be able to give it its proper due through my descriptions alone—I feel it’s a place that needs to really be experienced in all its Book Nerd glory to fully appreciate. My favorite feature to note, however, was the poetry alcove sitting past the twists and turns of the sections, in the furthest back and left quadrant of the main store. This is a tiny, three sided alcove covered—almost floor to ceiling—with books of poetry. This alcove is set down a few small steps and it’s entrance is decorated with a small iron gate that can be closed and padlocked giving you a sense of a world apart, a separate sphere to be recognized separately from all the other wares in the store. I was so tempted to take a picture of this particular detail but you really can’t get away with it—there are workers and the all seeing eye of security cameras pretty much covering the entirety of the store.
Other little things to note for you book nerds while you are there are the pictures and quotes hanging and painted on the walls—seriously the building is worth checking out for these detail besides just looking for great books and shopping!—but what I really loved was the literary nod of the raven sitting high in the widow next to door.
Anyway, to wrap up this week, Shakespeare and Company is a huge MUST on my recommendation lists for anyone visiting Paris—book nerds and non-readers alike—for a place of history and art and a unique quality you won’t find anywhere else. So if you are around, spare the time and, I promise, you won’t be sorry!
This is Leave on the Wind, helping you Soar.