My So Charmed Life

So Charmed

Quite Possibly the Most Wonderful Bookstore in the Entire World

05.18.10

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The BF is a serious student of the early 20th century lesbian art & literary salon society of the Left Bank area of Paris and has read many books about the likes of Natalie Barney, Kiki deMontparnasse, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes and founder of the best bookstore in the world, Sylvia Beach. Shakespeare & Company–the colorful history of which reads like a history of modern 20th century art & literature–opened in 1919 and was located at 8 rue Dupuytren. In May 1921, Beach moved the store to a larger location at 12 rue de l’Odeon, where it remained until 1941. The shop was often visited by artists of the “Lost Generation,” such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Man Ray and James Joyce among many others. Closed in December 1941, due to the occupation of France by the Axis powers during World War II, it was allegedly ordered shut because Beach denied a German officer the last copy of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. The store at rue de l’Odéon never re-opened.

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In 1951, another English-language bookstore was opened in Paris’s Left Bank by an American, George Whitman, under the name of Le Mistral. Much like the original Shakespeare and Company, the store served as a focal point for literary culture in Bohemian, Left Bank Paris. Upon Sylvia Beach’s death, the store’s name was changed to Shakespeare and Company.

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Jeremy Mercer, of the Guardian writes eloquently: “George Whitman has been running what he calls “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore” for 50 years. His store has long been a literary hub, attracting the likes of Henry Miller, Richard Wright and William S.Burroughs. More importantly, George has been inviting people to live in his shop from its very first days. There are now 13 beds [sic] among the books, and he says that more than 40,000 people have slept there at one time or another. All he asks is that you make your bed in the morning, help out in the shop, and read a book a day. After living here for five months, I was inspired to write my own book about the place.”

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The shop is every bit as magical as it sounds. The tiny rooms (nooks and crannies, really) are crammed from floor to ceiling with an incredible selection of books and although the store is small, I had the distinct feeling that I could spend a lifetime there in blissful discovery of worlds unknown to me. History and greatness seem to seep from the very walls as one notices book after book to add to one’s must-read list. My favorite nook is pictured above, a dusty blue old velvet chair that calls me to curl up forever… reading and dreaming.

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