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  • Writer's pictureMme Vanessa Williamson

Nostalgia of Paris bookshops

Updated: Mar 20, 2021

Shakespeare & Co 100 years of writers & dreamers.

A great news piece in the Guardian newspaper today wrote about the famous English bookshop; Shakespeare & Co in Paris. The journalist wove tales of the 100 years of ex-pats & visitors making their very personal pilgrimage to this Parisian home of English language literature, writers & readers. Today visitors still dream of the romance of the bohemian Rivé Gauche of the 1920s. This time in Paris is defined by the writers & their books; raw modern novels at the heart of life and the passion for the written word.

Today in this age of é-books, & newspapers read online, why does this cramped bookshop still hold as a place, a must-visit destination. Home to books & paper, reading corners, a shop at times so cramped you can’t pass into the next tantalizing alcove where you are sure your next must-have book is hidden. It’s pure romance, a glimpse into the long past of once decant Paris. Yet for travellers on yearlong world journeys or tourists in Paris for a few days, it is a refuge of reading in English, of English language books. Books become portable mementoes for travellers and ex-pats, reading refuges during long train or bus trips. A point of conversation with other travellers, who read your English language book cover, a light in a world of European languages. A new friend who also speaks their mother tongue. A book can be exchanged with another traveller, left behind in hotel rooms, fit in your handbag, and hold loneliness at bay.

The joy for me on my last visit to Paris was finding French history books in English. Enabling me to continue my discovery & learning about France my new home. I sought out a Madame de Pompadour biography, a penguin classic by a British novelist was quickly pulled from the tightly packed bookshelf. Then further up the bookcase, I spied a just-published history novel about the 18thc French Queens Embroider, once opening the dust cover my attention was instantly engaged. After a debate with myself about the cost of spending precious euros on more books, I clasped my prizes tightly & wandered further into the depths of this way too crowded bookshop. My eyes glanced up at the wonky ancient timbers of the very low doorways, leading through to sudden corners, and the maze of low ceiling small rooms with bookshelves all filled beyond reason with new books. I contemplated climbing the steep ancient narrow staircase to the next floor & the reading nook window overlooking Paris; a coveted spot for regulars.

Deciding my coat was too bulky and my hands were too full to negotiate the stairs. I left it to the younger ones to enjoy. From the maze, a glimpse of the large entrance window came back into view. Glowing like a light at the end of the tunnel, I joined the cashier line of gossiping customers comparing their finds. I felt satisfaction as the young American shop assistant picked up the Shakespeare & Co stamp, imprinting the mark onto the first page of my books. Smiled as the new paper bookmark was slipped in between the pages. A bookmark that would never leave that particular book. Yes, I wanted the iconic signature calico bag, a gift for me this time. My last given to my daughter. I had not just purchased a book, but a token embodied with layered memories of my February 2019 visit to Paris. A special visit as we had no Embassy meetings or friends to catch up with or anything really.

A visit to Paris just to be, eat winter French onion soup layered with bread & melted cheese. A meal fit for a king & enjoyed on a chilly deep blue sky day. So, a book is not just a book, and this Paris bookshop not just a shop. It takes people with a passion for life to build special places. It’s that which people seek when arriving at the Shakespeare & Co bookshop in Paris. SUBSCRIBE

Thank you for reading

20th November 2019

Vanessa Williamson Contact or comments— E.

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