Oh, The Places You'll Go: Shakespeare and Company
There are plenty of reasons a MODA reader might visit Paris, from food to fashion to amazing art and architecture to the Instagram opportunities and nightlife. Allow me, however, to leave all this aside for a moment and point you to my favorite place in the city of light: just across from the Notre Dame on the Left Bank is the bookstore of any literary nerd (or aesthete's!) dreams. Welcome to Shakespeare and Company.
Shakespeare and Company is actually the second bookstore of its kind in Paris. The original bookstore, founded by the bookseller Sylvia Beach in 1919, was a haunt of some of the greatest literary names of all time, from Gertrude Stein to Earnest Hemingway to T.S. Eliot. Today's Shakespeare and Company, founded in 1951 by George Whitman, has also seen its fair share of literary giants (James Baldwin or William Styron, anyone?).
The bookstore has a history of incubating writers by quasi-employing them as "tumbleweeds"—people who must help in the store for part of the day, contribute a one-page autobiography, and read a book every day. The "tumbleweeds" embody an important tenet of Shakespeare and Company, summed up in a Yeats quote modified from the Bible: "be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise." It's an axiom that's deeply relevant to George Whitman's life and work—and also exemplifies Shakespeare and Company as a haven for rational discourse, civility, and intellectualism in a time like ours.
If you go, be on the lookout for the resident bookstore cat (name unknown) and the Sylvia Beach Memorial Library. Check out the photos and articles papering the walls, the vegetarian cafe next store, and—of course—the store's impressive selection of books from the Lost Generation and Beat Generations.
Thumbnail image via Unpacking the Bookstore.