Love for Shakespeare and Company

In Paris, there is a famous bookshop called Shakespeare and Company. During a September trip to the City of Light, I made it a point of visiting.

Kallen at Shakespeare and Company
Looking at the books was more important than looking at the camera. (Credit: Gary Kentner)

I love bookstores that sell used books. THey are treasure troves and wandering through rooms and dodging ladders makes a bookstore feel like the magical place it truly is.

France treats books like a national treasure and bookshops are plentiful. But even when you can walk past five bookshops in five minutes while strolling down a quiet street, Shakespeare & Co is special. It’s also an english language bookstore, which was nice. My french isn’t that great.

The bookshop was founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919 and although the original location beloved by Ernest Hemingway and other celebrated writers of the time closed during WWII, the place I visited was a charming little building where the love of books was palpable.

Shakespeare and Company store interior
I love me a library ladder. For such a small area, there were a lot of books.

Bookshelves took precedence in the limited space inside.

Some of the narrower aisles meant that one customer could not pass another customer browsing the shelves without switching to a different row of bookshelves.

Wandering through to the back of the shop, there was a narrow wooden staircase that led upstairs.

That area gave me yet another treat; The Sylvia Beach Memorial Library. A variety of older books were available for people to read and the room included a long cushioned bench and a small open window.

I took advantage of the area to write in my travel diary and after two days of running around Paris sightseeing, taking in the ambience was a restful break.

“From out the small window I can see the towers of the Notre Dame cathedral…. As I sit here writing, the bells are ringing and the sound carries through the square.”

—From Kallen’s travel diary, dated September 8, 2014

Of course, I couldn’t leave the shop without a book or two and I was excited to come across a copy of Dirk Gently’s Holistic  Detective Agency by Hitchhiker’s Guide author Douglas Adams.


I’d been dying to get my hands on it since I read What Makes this Book so Great and Jo Walton had this to say about it:

“What’s beautiful about it is the way the plot looks as if it’s bumbling along tossing elements into the blender and making a big messy stew, just like Hitchhiker’s, and then suddenly it gives a glorp and assembles itself into a perfect precise layer cake.”

—From The Perfect Plot of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Jo Walton.

Shakespeare & Co interior from stairs
The view from the staircase of the science fiction section.

After paying my handful of euros, they stamped the books, inserted a bookmark and I carried them out in a paper bag emblazoned with an Oscar Wilde quote; “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

I saw a lot of amazing things during my week in Paris, and although I was struck by grandeur of the Palace at Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, and the Notre Dame Cathedral, I will also remember the quiet bookshop tucked in a corner on a side street— a place where a visitor can sit and read or buy a few books.

Shakespeare and Company
Tel: 00 33 (0) 1 43 25 40 93 |

Open 7 days a week, 10am to 11pm

37 rue de la Bûcherie
75005 Paris

What’s your favorite bookstore? Stay tuned for more Bookstore Love stories!