Shakespeare and Company
Nestled on the shore of the Seine across from the Notre Dame is possibly the most famous bookstore in the world. Established in 1951, Shakespeare and Company was a creative nook for writers of the Beat Generation, and continues to attract artists from all over the world to its hallowed shelves. During the day, tourists pour in and out, eager to sit where Burroughs sat and breathe the air that Wright breathed. These artists did more than sit and breathe and write in the building across from the Notre-Dame- they were also invited to sleep in the single cots squeezed between book shelves upstairs in exchange for helping around the shop! George Whitman, the owner, described his business as a “socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.” It is estimated that 30,000 people have graced these cots since the store’s opening.
The bottom floor of Shakespeare and Co. is a meticulously-stuffed bookstore, where even the tiniest of us must watch to avoid bumping into shelves. At the back of the store, though, is a creaky, narrow set of stairs leading to where the real magic happens. Upstairs there are an infinite number of books too old and too precious to buy, but ready to be read. There’s a typewriter that sits overlooking the Seine and the Cathédrale beyond. There’s an old, slightly out-of-tune piano with a note on it that kindly entreats the player to play softly after 8pm. And there are letters climbing up the walls from visitors worldwide who have felt the urge to leave their mark on this historic place.
At night, Shakespeare and Company is a haven of warmth with the glow of yellowing pages. Open until 10pm, the tourists and their noise are shuffled out by nightfall. Only the stable energy of the books remains, and you can feel why this was the centre of bohemia for the entirety of the 20th century.