Shakespeare and Company – Paris’ iconic independent bookshop
A « socialist utopia disguised as a library » – this is how G. Whitman, founder of the bookshop, described Shakespeare and Company. Nestled at the heart of the 5th arrondissement, this English-speaking library is an ephemeral home for book lovers from all around the world, and a personal favorite.
You never quite know what you are going to stumble upon when entering Shakespeare and Company. The place, open since 1951, is covered in bookshelves from floor to ceiling, and exudes warmth and discovery. It is an invitation to eagerness and serendipity, and a h(e)aven for book worms or curious wanderers. Featured in movies such as Before Sunset (R. Linklater) and Midnight in Paris (W. Allen), I believe it is definitely one of the most famous and picturesque bookshops of Paris. It is one of the first spots I think of whenever I am asked for advice regarding the city’s most unique places.
The ground floor constitutes the bookshop, where you can find one of the most exhaustive choice of English-speaking books in Paris. Shakespeare and Company pays meticulous attention to the choice of books they sell, ensuring every edition is beautiful, sober and carefully selected. If you want to buy an original gift, I highly recommend you pass by; they package it really nicely too.
Never hesitate to ask the sellers for advice – they are usually expert readers themselves and if the library is not too crowded, they will gladly spend time ensuring you find the perfect book. Other goodies are also available – it is not uncommon to spot a Parisian in the metro carrying a Shakespeare and Co tote bag. If you happen to be carrying yours too, I promise you an intense eye lock of complicity and amusement.
There is more to the place than meets the eye – I advise you to go to the back right corner of the bookshop. There, you will find tiny and cranky stairs. Climb them up and you access the first floor – a hidden library where you can borrow and read books on the spot. There, on the unravelling sofas and beds customers and tourists sit, work and read for hours.
I often go there whenever I am looking for a warm and half-silent place to rest and read. It is also the perfect place to study if you do not mind the occasional noise that is part of the vibrant yet cozy atmosphere.
Every month, they host several literary and philosophical events and conferences, where prestigious authors come and discuss their words and ideas. There are even reading events for kids sometimes. You can find the details of the month’s events on their website.
To my eyes, what makes this bookshop unique in Paris is its philosophy, best explained by its motto: “be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise”. The bookshop opens its doors to intellectual and artists who are welcome to stay and sleep, if they meet three conditions: read a book a day, help out the library-team and write a one-page autobiography when they leave.
Legend has it that the library has accumulated over 30,000 autobiographies from wanderers, and does not plan on stopping anytime soon.
There is also an almost out of tune piano on the first floor, where strangers come and play. It is not uncommon to find someone bringing their guitar and improvising and singing alone. I think the first floor of the library is an excellent spot if you are looking to meet and talk to people from all over the world. It is the perfect place to relax after a busy morning of sight seeing if you are a tourist passing through.
Aggie the cat at the bookstore – Source: Grey Geezer, Wikimedia Commons
People who read books are curious and will most certainly engage in a conversation if you happen to be reading a book they know. What is more, their artists and writers in residency add tremendously to the place’s effervescence and will often be glad to share a drink, walk or talk with you.
After grabbing your favorite Plath or Bukowski book or simply exploring the alleys of the library, I recommend you do not leave before taking some time to linger outside of the bookshop. A few walks away from the touristy Notre-Dame Church, the square in front of the library is frequently invested by musicians of all sorts. Dwellers stroll around the fountain and collect postcards.
If you frequently visit – or simply if you are lucky –, the library often gives out free books and disposes them on the square for wanderers to help themselves.
For the most curious, Shakespeare and Co also has an antiquarian shop next to the main entrance’s; the used books there are pricier, but it is not uncommon to stumble upon rare and precious editions reasonably priced.
Shakespeare and Company even has a coffee shop close-by to satisfy your post book-shopping cravings. It is a little bit on the pricier side, but their teas, pastries, scones, pies and Chaï Latte are worth it and exceptionally tasty. They serve freshly squeezed juices and mostly vegetarian food – some of them are even gluten free. Be careful, the café is not that big and its ideal location near Notre-Dame makes it often crowded– it is best to come visit in weekdays if you want to avoid the queue.
Prices correspond to their high quality ingredients used in the food they serve. You can snack on a green tea matcha chocolate cookie with your coffee for under 10 euros, but for more substanital savoury dishes it will be more.
Vegans and those intolerant to gluten are also welcome here.
Dishes at the café – Source: Shakespeare and Company Paris
There are several ways to live the quintessentially Parisian experience of Shakespeare and Co: swiftly passing by to get a gift; wandering endlessly through the bookshelves; climbing to the first floor and resting on the sofas while reading a book; attending one of their literary event; enjoying pastries and tea at their coffeeshop; or simply dwelling on the square in front of the shop. Food for the soul, for the mind, the stomach and the eyes – as I told you, this bookshop has everything you are looking for, and maybe much more.
Shakespeare and Company – Library
37 rue de la Bûcherie
7 days a week – 10 am to 10 pm
Shakespeare and Company – Café
37 rue de la Bûcherie
Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 7pm
Saturday and Sunday, 9.30am to 8pm