Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cheap Thrill: Shakespeare And Company

(photo via

I've always longed for a place to go where I could read or write in quiet, away from home but just as comfortably, undisturbed, for as long as I want. I could never find the right place in Arizona or even New York... coffee houses are too busy, and bookstores often don't have comfy furniture or - my inner snob emerging - "the right vibe."

All I had to do was come to Paris to find it. It's called Shakespeare & Company.

It was begun by George Whitman, who wanted to provide a place for writers to come and stay in Paris. To this day, the store receives writers passing through, called "tumbleweeds," to have a place to sleep in exchange for working in the store during the day.

It's an English-language bookstore, which is a nice haven when I need the familiar tongue of my country. They have free writer workshops and readings each week, which satisfies the writer and reader (and listener) in me. But my favorite part of the store is the upstairs.

The store is absolutely tiny, crammed full of books, and the upstairs is like an in-place library. It's full of books you can read while you're there, as long as you put it back, and comfy chairs and couches and even a piano.

The air up there is richly quiet, hushed we could say, except for the whispers of travelers passing through for a look and the occasional echoing tickle of the piano. The air is thick, pale, nearly ashen with the dust of decades constantly rearranged by the pulling and placing of used books.

I have a favorite chair.

It's right by this window, which looks out to a funny little menagerie of plastic toys outside.

I've been there 6 times already. It's a good place to go for inspiration, or just to have somewhere to go, for free. Sometimes I'll go to just relax and write postcards, or to read from their old collection of old books.

My favorite thing to do is to sit in the back-back upstairs room, which faces out to the street, to the Seine, and to Notre Dame just across the river, to write at the little desk they have there and pretend I live in that room, and all I have to do is write in the quiet and listen to the muffled traffic below and the bells ringing from the church each half-hour.

Often I end up at the brasserie two doors down, which I'm sure is a tourist trap, but nevertheless possesses a wonderfully cheerful atmosphere by way of the very nice waiters, the live pianist who's always there and the lively French conversation happening all around.

My very own heaven, my own though not mine.

Shakespeare & Co.
37 Rue Bûcherie, 75005 Paris
Métro: M4 to St. Michele, M10 to Cluny/La Sorbonne


  1. wonderful post!
    but what's the title of the book you took pictures?
    is it from pierre daninos?

  2. Ooh, good question - unfortunately I never wrote it down! It was some kind of old guide to Paris from the 1960s, I believe. I don't think it could have been Daninos because the author was very clearly not French - I got the impression it was a British expat who wanted to share his knowledge and love of France with any audience that may happen upon the book (including a New Yorker 50 years later)!

    Thanks for reading!



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