The Shakespeare and Company bookshop is not just any old bookstore, it is a lasting magical portal into the hearts and lives of every writer, or every person with an idea they once thought they might share, who has ever walked the streets of Paris in search of inspiration. This is an absolute must visit for any writer, even secretly an aspiring one, or just a lover of literature, stories and history. This bookshop will open its arms, take you in, and remind you why you live, and why you write about it afterwards.
Shakespeare and Company started out in the 20’s, owned by an American, Sylvia Beach. Beach welcomed strangers and friends to stay and write in her shop, including Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, and James Joyce to name a few. The shop rapidly rose to fame, a dream writing destination for poetic and literary artists world wide, but had to close because of WWII, and when the war ended, Beach was not able to reopen. A few years later a stranger stepped in to continue the legendary hub for wandering writers and readers. George Whitman has owned the shop ever since, though now his daughter Sylvia, named after Sylvia Beach, runs the show, since George is in his 90’s and mostly stays in his apartment above the store.
Flickr photo via Vassil Tzvetanov
Things are essentially just the same as they have been. Tourists crowd the shop daily, giving and taking from the ever rotating ceiling high stacks of second hand books, searching for a little insight, a creative awakening, or maybe the start of a vision. Writers are still welcomed to stay over night for free, cuddled up in chairs or leaning on bookshelves, most stay a couple of days, but some stay months and rumors float of a man who stayed for seven years. To George’s dismay, his daughter Sylvia has evoked a two-hour-per-night work for stay rule. George’s, and the shop’s, ardent philosophy and mantra is “give what you can, take what you need,” and he’d rather give writers a work-free stay since he doesn’t feel they need the help, he believes any time not curled up writing hidden amongst the endless books should be spent exploring Paris for creative stimulation, but alas, Sylvia makes the calls now, and it’s still a better than awesome deal.
If you go to Paris and stay at the bookshop, upon completion of your stay you will be asked to submit a one page autobiographical life story along with a photo of yourself. It will be stored with all the rest since the beginning of Shakespeare and Company, in an annually categorized shelf in George’s living room upstairs. If you stay at the bookshop, you get to become part of it.