Sunday 5 July 2020

Book Stop #2

Book Stop is an occasional meme that allows me to travel and indulge in a good bookshop browse, during these strange, strange times when we cannot travel outside our home state, let alone the country. I plan to combine my bookish instincts with my itchy feet and explore the world via bookshops.

I have a number of bookstores on my to-visit wish list, if I am ever in that country, state or neighbourhood. This is the perfect time to share some of them and my reasons for wanting to visit (beside the obvious reason, of course!)

This edition of Book Stop will also be combined with Paris In July as we head off to Shakespeare & Company, 37 rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris.

In July 1991 I spent three days in Paris. Nowhere near long enough, I'm sure you will all agree. 

We arrived late afternoon and went straight to one of the camping grounds that ring outer Paris. The plan was to set up camp and drive into Paris at sunset so that our first view of Paris proper would be at night, all lit up with the lights that make it so magical. We boarded a Seine River cruise and ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the lights as we glided past all those famous sites I'd only ever read about until that time.

The rest of the evening was spent wandering around the Left Bank, trying to work out how to order and pay for pastries.

Paris was my very first experience in a foreign speaking country. I was 23 and travelling alone within a group. I was rather overwhelmed by the whole thing. So much of my time in Paris is a blur. My photos and a few brief notes in my journal are the only record I have. 

I know I climbed all the stairs up the Eiffel Tower. The lines for the lift were long, even first thing in the morning, and I was young and fit. So climb I did!

1991 was the middle of the Gulf War and we were told that the city wasn't as full as usual with tourists as the war was keeping the American tourists at home. (I had already enjoyed the benefits of this in London during the past 5 months. I was nannying and tripping around the country on the weekends. The weekends I stayed in London, I was able to access last minute tickets for all the West End shows by lining up half an hour before the start. Every show had oodles of returned tickets thanks to the no-show of American tourists. I saw some amazing productions at a great price. No-one likes to perform to a half empty room!)

I still experienced Paris as being busy with bustling, hustling crowds, but apparently, most years it was worse!

The other problem with 1991 travelling, was the smoke haze from the fires in the Gulf. At the top of the Eiffel Tower our view was greatly impaired by the haze. The haze followed us all around Europe that summer.

I also remember climbing all the steps up the belfry of Notre Dame Cathedral in the stifling heat. I tasted escargot for the first (and last) time. I loved buying little cheese snacks at the corner convenience stores. I went through the Musée d-Orsay, walked up the Champs-Élysées and did a dash around the Louvre. But generally, I wandered the streets in a bit of giddy daze. I promised myself that one day I would return, and take my time. I would stay in one of the nicer apartments (not a tent), I would have more money and be a more confident traveller.

When I returned home to Australia four months later, I started a travel wishlist. Whenever I watched a tv program, or read an article, or a book, I would note down places of interest that I wanted to see for myself.

One such note was for the Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

Describe by many as controlled chaos, a place for dreamers and poets, the Shakespeare and Company has a well-known history and an enviable list of famous patrons.

There’s Hemingway, flexing his fists from the boxing ring, stopping by to pick up a book. James Joyce never arrives before noon and usually needs to borrow money. The big woman with the white poodle is Gertrude Stein. By the stove, beautiful and tired, Djuna Barnes is talking about her novel Nightwood to T. S. Eliot.

Scott Fitzgerald likes to sit and read on the stoop in the sun, and Sylvia Beach has made up her mind to publish Ulysses, because no one else will.

Started by Sylvia Beach in 1919 and now run by George Whitman and his daughter, Sylvia, Shakespeare and Company has changed owners, address and been forced to close due to war and more recently Covid-19. It is now part of Parisian folklore and a must-see for many book-loving travellers.

I, for one, (if international travel ever resumes, and we can return to Europe without quarantining for two weeks), will make Shakespeare and Company my first port of call.

In the meantime, I will endeavour to read one of the many books written about this iconic bookshop.
  • Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop | Krista Halverson
  • Shakespeare and Company | Sylvia Beach
  • Sylvia Beach & The Lost Generation – The History Of Lit Paris In The 20′s & 30′s | Noel Riley Fitch
  • Time Was Soft There | Jeremy Mercer
  • Sylvia's Bookshop: The Story of Paris's Beloved Bookstore and Its Founder (As Told by the Bookstore Itself!) | Robert Burleigh & illustrated by Katy Wu 
  • Down and Out in Paris | The Guardian | 7th March 2009 | Jeanette Winterson


  1. Lovely! I had a few days in Paris in 1997 for my 25th birthday - stayed with a friend from Library School who was living there in the smallest apartment ever and walked a lot. Didn't go to Shakespeare & Co. though - how??

    1. I know! I was a book fiend/nerd even back then (I travelled around Europe with a copy of Herodotus for goodness sake!) but I didn't go to Shakespeare & Co. mostly because I didn't even know about it back then. My reading life hadn't led me down that path at that time - I was still stuck in Ancient Greece obviously! Although sitting on Piraeus beach in Athens and rereading the battle of Piraeus section was pretty special.

  2. Although it's only a kind of echo of its former self, I can see why Shakespeare & Co is still a tourist magnet.
    So full of memories! Also used books in English -- at least they used to have them. It's been quite a few trips since we stopped by there.

    I haven't heard how it is doing now that Paris is reopening, but I hope they manage to reactivate it. I don't know if they still let poor backpacking students sleep on the floor of the upper story of the shop; maybe that was also long ago, though the proprietor did once ask me if I wanted to, but luckily my husband & I did have a place to stay.

    I love your quote where all the famous left-bank characters are there at the same time -- which couldn't ever have really happened.

    be well... mae at

    1. Thanks for your comments Mae. I'm envious that you've been to visit Shakespeare & Co and Paris - not just once but several times!!

      The shop reopened recently, with the caveat, that hours could change at any time.

  3. I remember this spot well from my visits to France and oh, how I would love to return, go upstairs again and poke around. Such a haven! Your trip in the long-ago sounds wonderful -- I hope you get to return again.

    1. It was a wonderful trip and I hope we all get to return again one day soon.

  4. I had never heard of the bookshop when I was last in the city. Making a note though to check it out next time I go (when will that be I wonder!). Paris is very much like London, the best way to see it is on foot.

    1. That's one thing I do remember about my time in Paris in 1991 - I walked a LOT! I couldn't afford a lot of the admissions costs to galleries, museums, famous sites etc, but I could walk past as many of them as possible :-)

  5. I visited Paris in 1994 for a couple of days, and you are totally right, it wasn't long enough. We were supposed to go back again this year but that didn't happen. Next time I go I will be stopping by Shakespeare and Co for sure.

    1. I thought about going to Paris for my 50th a couple of years ago, but the long flight put me off. I choose Japan instead and never regretted it for a minute. Would return to Japan in a heartbeat. Maybe I should check out a special bookshop book stop for Japan...?

  6. I lived 21 years in Brussels and we never went to Paris during that time! Can you imagine? We did other tours in France. Now when we have time on our hands, I have an idea of renting a small flat in Paris for a month, or two, and walk around all the interesting places. The West Bank, Shakespeare and Co and many other places are a must. Now is not the time, but hopefully this pandemic will one day be over so we can travel again. Thank you for an inspiring post.

    1. Sometimes it's the close to home places that get forgotten when planning holidays. I still haven't been to Tasmania or Darwin or Alice Springs or many other well-known places in Australia. Perhaps one of the good things to come out of the pandemic may be the opportunity to rediscover the places around us, closer to home.

  7. My sister and I spent a couple of weeks in Paris last winter, just before the virus hit. Paris and I are like a little kid and Christmas. It was my third trip there, and yet I couldn't stop gawking at all the marvels I saw.

    I could have spent a day, a week, a month just at Shakespeare and Co. There were lots of twists and turns and tiny rooms and window seats and shelves and shelves and shelves of books. Everything I saw was in English. I spent most of my time with the children's books, my favorite thing. Someday I will go back to Paris and spend more time there.

    1. I suspected Shakespeare & Co was a bookshop that might require a nice LONG browsing visit.

  8. I was in Paris to start a European holiday a couple of years ago, walked everywhere, but only had one day before we headed south for the holiday proper. One bookish thrill was walking in the shoes of Maigret -the Palais de Justice, the Prefecture de Police; the other was the book stalls along the Seine, sketches of which we had had on our walls since my grandparents' first visit to Paris in the 1950s, which I now have on my walls, with a matching sketch from my own visit.
    Christina Stead, living in Paris in the 1930s, connected with the Modernist movement through Shakespeare & co. (Bill)

    1. Oh! a Maigret walk - now that would be fun - was it an organised walk or did you work the route out yourself?
      Mary McAuliffe has a series of books about the writers and artists in Paris during the belle Epoch, the 20's, WWII etc. I've ordered one in at work and if I like her style, I will no doubt be tempted to get the rest. Perhaps Stead will feature in the final book in the series?


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