Friday, July 24, 2015

The Most Wonderful Bookshop

I'm hanging out at one of the most wonderful bookstores in the world


Sylvia Beach opened her bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, in Paris in 1919 and it became the centre of anglo-American literary culture until it was closed by the Nazis. Hanging out at the bookstore were luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, Scott Fitzgerald. James Joyce used it as an office. Beach helped out many writers including Joyce. She published Ulysses and lent money to the impecunious writer. (He never paid it back). But after the shop was closed down in 1940, it never reopened.
            After the war, book seller George Whitman’s shop Le Mistral became the literary focal point frequented by beat generation writers such as Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg. Henry and Anais visited often.
In 1958, Sylvia Beach publically announced she was giving Whitman the use of her company’s name, and in 1964, Whitman re-named his store Shakespeare and Company as a tribute to her. Whitman called it “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.” The bookstore has sleeping facilities, with 13 beds, and Whitman claimed that as many as 40,000 people have slept there over the years.
From 1978-1981, a group of American and Canadian expatriates ran a literary journal out of the upstairs library, called Paris Voices. The editor-in-chief was Kenneth R. Timmerman and the editorial team included Canadian Antanas Sileika among others. Sileika went on to become a well-known Canadian novelist and presently heads the Humber School of Writing.
The building is a maze, a treasure chest, a place to get lost in and perhaps never found. It carries all the best new works and most of the old. You can perch on the spiral staircase and read forever and no one will bother you. Better if you find a cosy chair in the library. You can browse outside and in but don’t step on the cats. You could ask to volunteer as a worker as many have done. The store is now run by Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman.
I grabbed Orwell's Dairies and The Dawn Chorus by Canadian Helen Humphries. Both good travelling books.

May this wonderful place  go on forever.

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