Where to buy books in Paris

paris books

Paris is full of places to buy books. In fact, I think I saw more bookstores in Paris than in any other city I’ve ever been. There were the booksellers along the Seine and a Gibert Jeune on almost every corner. Paris also has small specialty shops for just about any type of book you can imagine, like the Librairie Monte Cristo, a shop full of beautiful hardcover books for children.

And of course the most famous shop of all is Shakespeare & Co. Sylvia Beach’s famous bookstore/lending library used to be located at 12 rue de l’Odéon, and it is at that location that writers like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein spent their time while in Paris in the 20s and 30s. It stayed open until 1940 when it closed under Nazi occupation. When WWII ended, Hemingway liberated the store, but it never reopened.

Shakespeare & Co

It wasn’t until 1951 when Paris got its Shakespeare & Co. back. This time the shop belonged to George Whitman and it was located at 37 rue de la Bûcherie,which is right across the Seine from Notre-Dame. Whitman supposedly received Beach’s blessing to change the name of his already existing shop, Le Mistral, to Shakespeare & Co.. Over the years, George apparently ran the shop in a pretty interesting way, doing things like “asking strangers to take over the till while he ran an errand or went off to read a book.” (Source: Vanity Fair) The shop is now run by his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman. When he signed it over to her he wrote a little something on the store’s wood shutters outside:

INSTEAD OF BEING A BONAFIDE BOOKSELLER I AM MORE LIKE A FRUSTRATED NOVELIST. THIS STORE HAS ROOMS LIKE CHAPTERS IN A NOVEL AND THE FACT IS TOLSTOI AND DOSTOYEVSKY ARE MORE REAL TO ME THAN MY NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS…. IN THE YEAR 1600, OUR WHOLE BUILDING WAS A MONASTERY CALLED ‘LA MAISON DU MUSTIER.’ IN MEDIEVAL TIMES EACH MONASTERY HAD A FRERE LAMPIER WHOSE DUTY WAS TO LIGHT THE LAMPS AT NIGHTFALL. I HAVE BEEN DOING THIS FOR FIFTY YEARS NOW IT IS MY DAUGHTER’S TURN. GW

I’d been to Shakespeare & Co. the last time I was in Paris, so this time around I also wanted to pay a visit to the original shop on rue de l’Odéon. It was a quiet street with a nice bakery nearby (of course). People walked by while I took photos of #12, some of them wondering why I was interested in the building, others knowing exactly why.

Shakespeare & Co Odeon
The “new” Shakespeare & Co. is a little bookstore with a huge reputation. It is usually packed with tourists looking to take a little piece of history home with them. There are many books to choose from, including some great second-hand finds. (Don’t miss the wishing well in the floor with a sign asking you to “Feed The Starving Writers”.) But no matter which book you choose to buy, make sure to get it stamped with the shop’s legendary imprint. And don’t be put off if there is a long line to get in. It’s worth the wait.

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