Continuing my “bookish” theme from last week’s post on les bouquinistes (the antiquarian book vendors along the quays of the Seine), this week’s post is also about books.
It’s almost obligatory for book lovers to stop in at Shakespeare & Company bookstore at 37 rue de la Bûcherie (in the Left Bank’s Latin Quarter, across the river from Notre-Dame), at least once during any visit to Paris.
This veritable institution has been at this location since its American expatriate founder, George Whitman (1913-2011), opened for business in 1951 under its original name, Le Mistral. In 1964, George changed the name to Shakespeare & Company in honor of the “late great” Sylvia Beach (1887-1962), who had passed away about two years earlier.
Sylvia Beach opened the original Shakespeare & Company in 1919 at 8 rue Dupuytren, moving it to 12 rue de l’Odéon in 1921. She published James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in 1922, securing her place in the history of literature and bringing fame to her establishment. But the shop experienced difficulties during the Great Depression and closed during the German occupation of Paris, shuttering for good in 1941.
George’s reincarnation continued the spirit of the original in supporting and promoting new literary talent. George’s daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman (named for, but no relation to, the older Sylvia Beach), operates the shop today.
Nestled in its cozy corner, with outdoor benches for reading, a few trees, and its own Wallace fountain, the green and gold storefront itself seems to embody the shop’s motto (adapted from a Bible passage): “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”