George Whitman, Shakespeare & Company

One of the highlights of my trip to Paris several years ago was what I thought would be stop-off to see the most famous bookstore in the world on La Rive Gauche: Shakespeare & Company. We had visited Notre-Dame in the morning and had a light lunch on Ile de la Cite, and popped on over to the bookstore. Grandly funky, it’s what all great bookstores should aspire to. What a  treasure trove of books, and the glory was in the pursuit. Books are piled up every whichaway, and pulling one down might just reveal a cat staring at you. When I was there, the books were mostly available on the honor system:

This is the creed of Hotel Tumbleweed
Give what you can take what you need

This is the famous bookstore (the original one) where James Joyce, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound hung out with Gertrude Stein. Sylvia Beach’s bookstore was shut down by the Nazi’s in WWII and she never reopened it. But in the early 50’s, George Whitman did, at another location under a different name, which was later changed to Shakespeare and Company. And Whitman’s successor boasted it’s own posse of literati: Ferlinghetti, Corso, Ginsberg. Can you “beat” that? Baldwin, Beckett…

His daughter – Sylvia Beach Whitman – will continue to run the store.

George will be at rest in Pere Lachaise in good literary company: Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Appolonaire, and Colette.


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