Posts tagged Shakespeare and Company

Shakespeare and Company by Mark Dodge Medlin 

I. Must. Go. Here!
Chillin’ at Shakespeare and Co. bookshop

Chillin’ at Shakespeare and Co. bookshop

What It's Like To Live At A Bookstore In Paris

Very Interesting.


The French Fight Back Against Amazon

Shakespeare and Company, arguably France’s most famous bookstore (photo by Megan Eaves, via Flickr)

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The French Fight Back Against Amazon

Shakespeare and Company, arguably France’s most famous bookstore (photo by Megan Eaves, via Flickr)

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The Shakespeare and Company bookshop - a “labyrinth of books” - on Rue de la Bûcherie in Paris. Opened by George Whitman (no relation to Walt) in 1951 as Le Mistral, the name was changed in April of 1964 to honor William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday. It was once the only free English lending library in Paris, and Whitman allowed traveling writers to stay in it as needed.  

This place is amazing. 

I really must visit this bookshop … soon!


Shakespeare and Co.
Paris, France.

I must visit this bookstore.


It’s actually a dream of mine to visit Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Yes, I’d go to Paris and visit a book store, that’s how much I love books.


Portrait of a bookstore as an Old Man Beginning

In 1951, George Whitman opened a bookshop-commune in Paris. George, 92, still runs his “den of anarchists disguised as a bookstore,” offering free, dirty beds to poor literati, cutting his hair with a candle and gluing the carpet with pancake batter. More than 40,000 poets, travelers and political activists have stayed at Shakespeare and Company, writing or stealing books, throwing parties and making soup or love while living with George’s generosity and fits of anger. Illustrious guests include Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Jacques Prévert, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, James Baldwin and Richard Wright. Welcome to the makeshift utopia of the last member of the Beat Generation.

Whitman passed away last December at the age of 98.

Watch the whole documentary on YouTube here:

Or Watch on Google Video here:


Samuel Beckett introduced me to George Whitman on August 15, 1983, in Paris. Or rather, I arrived in Paris on the morning of August 15, 1983, after finally finishing college, having been given by my father, the playwright Israel Horovitz, a one-way ticket and a date with Samuel Beckett.

The date with Sam was that same bleary morning. Café crème cigars cut with cups of actual café crème. Sam, inquiring how long I would be staying and who I knew in town, promptly suggested that I might go see George at Shakespeare & Company, a bookstore near Notre Dame. I hadn’t given any good answers to Sam’s questions about my prospects in Paris, and I suppose he was concerned that as a friend of the family he could end up being responsible for my well-being. This was not, it has been written, his strength.

“I’m here to see George Whitman. Samuel Beckett said to say he sent me.” I was corralled up to an apartment at the top of the building and handed over to a whisp of a man with a large dog and a small child. George’s first words to me were: “Hurry up, will you? Get this gingerbread made. The poet Robert Bly is coming to tea.” It was a Sunday and in those days at the bookstore there was a regular Sunday tea party (and nightly midnight snacks I learned a bit later). There was also an immemorially beautiful young woman named Felicity, mother of the small child, hurriedly cleaning mismatched glasses and teacups.

I didn’t know how to make gingerbread, but I was young—and good enough company and possibly even nice to look at (despite my unflattering Laura Ashley)—and I furtively managed to get someone to help me fix the cakes as George raced in and out muttering the word “Beckett” under his breath and occasionally looking in my direction. I didn’t know how much more to explain about myself but suffice it to say that when Bly walked in the door and said “Rachael, what are you doing here?!”—being friends with a famous writer was about as close to a secret password as you could get with George—I found myself locked inside the bookstore for the good part of the next year, which, well-known to those dear to me, became the best year of my life. 

George gave me a home in the writer’s room (except for the nights Ferlinghetti came through town), a job looking after the front desk, and after his equally arresting-as-her-mother daughter Sylvia, and usually Baskerville, the dog, too. George was a bookseller who lived on recycled scraps of food, habitually disappeared early in the mornings on his Mobylette, never saying where he was going or when he would be back. I spent afternoons with Sylvia in the park behind Notre Dame dreaming of Paris even though I was in Paris, waiting for George to come back to 37 rue de la Bûcherie, kilometre zero. I spent nights waiting for the midnight snack, which meant time with George. When he liked you, he had no clock, no attention deficit, no interest in the world other than the conversation he was having with you at that moment.

In those conversations, George made it clear that a non-literary life was unacceptable. He ordered me to write my autobiography. These talks were circular—his demands and my excuses—I was only twenty-one, for God’s sake. This went on for more than twenty-five years, my story still unwritten. I let him down and went into the film business. When I would return to Paris every May on my way back to New York from Cannes, I would nervously climb the steps to his door. Would he still want to see me? Would he be angry? Dismissive?

He never disappointed. He often gave me his own bed and sat nearby as we watched real movies on his old TV. He could not have been less interested in the films I was working on, which over the years included “Blue Velvet,” “About Schmidt,” and “Moneyball.” He was still my teacher, talking through the dubbed classics we watched together most nights till dawn, eating jars of peanut butter and drinking sweet tea. He was a presence like no other: handsome, witty, attentive, and sly. He thought Beckett was the star, but boy was he wrong. I will start my autobiography immediately.

With a cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, Shakespeare and Company is arguably the most iconic bookshop in the French capital. The building, a 17th century ex-monastery has become a landmark in the 5th arrondissement. Apart from being a bookstore, it also serves as a haven where aspiring writers can stay for free - Allen Ginsberg and Anaïs Nin have both been guests in the past. Originally established in 1919 by an American called Sylvia Beach, fellow expatriate George Whitman took over Shakespeare and Company after Beach’s death in 1951. meets with Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia to hear about the future of this historical, literary gem. Address: 37 rue de la Bûcherie, 75005, Paris.

I’ve posted pics of this bookstore from nearly every angle possible and have yet to visit the shop. It’s time to take a trip.

I’ve posted pics of this bookstore from nearly every angle possible and have yet to visit the shop. It’s time to take a trip.