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Living with Books in Paris


“A socialist utopia covering as a bookshop“ – that is the way George Whitman used to describe the place he named Shakespeare and Company, a store near Notre Dame at the river Seine in Paris.

Shakespeare and Company seems to be an English language enclave in Paris. It mainly features publications from the Anglo-Saxon world and serves bibliophiles who are either natives to Paris, expatriates or tourists. It is a place packed with books from the floor to the ceiling. However, the bookstore functions simultaneously as a library with working places for writers.

What is more, Shakespeare and Company is also doubling as a hotel and haven for writers and book lovers alike. Accepted guests can live in the bookstore and work on their pieces as writers-in-residence. The price for a night: helping out for one hour a day in the bookshop. Some guests stay for a week or less, some for years.

Having traveled for many years, the American George Whitman settled down in Paris and founded a bookstore named Le Mistral in 1951, which he later renamed to Shakespeare and Company inspired by encounters with the bookseller Sylvia Beach. Sylvia Beach ran a bookstore many years earlier under the same name and became famous among writers such as Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce.

George Whitman, son of the poet Walt Whitman, died at the age of 98 in December 2011. His daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, currently runs the bookshop and organizes many activities such as the Paris Literary Prize, Sunday Tea, poetry readings, reading circles for children, musical performances and writer’s meetings.

Image: Screenshot taken from video. Video with courtesy of Crane.tv.