I love Amazon.com. I can search for books and read excerpts whenever I want. But there is still something addicting about going to an actual bookstore. Flipping through pages from different books and scanning through them awakens me and inspires me to write. Bookstores excite me just as much as coffee shops do. It may sound odd to others, but if you’re a writer, I’m sure you know what I mean.
I prefer independent bookstores because they have a lot of character. This weekend, I went to a local bookstore in San Francisco called, Dog Eared Books. It’s got a great selection of used and new books. I could stay there for hours. I spent most of my time checking out their Hemingway selection, gazing over a few books from Fitzgerald and staring at James Joyce’s Ulysses.
After gleefully walking around for almost an hour and holding on to a few books, I narrowed them down to two and purchased them.
Dog Eared Books is a nice bookstore, but it’s not my favorite.
My favorite bookstore is actually one I’ve never stepped foot in. It’s silly, I know, but after I tell you which one it is, I think you will understand why.
It’s Shakespeare and Company. An English-language bookstore located at 37 rue de la Bûcherie in Paris’s Left Bank. It was opened my George Whitman in August 1951. It was originally called “Le Mistral” but later changed to “Shakespeare and Company” in 1964 as a tribute to Sylvia Beach’s bookstore. Sylvia Beach opened the original bookstore in a different location in 1919. It was where Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford and James Joyce frequently gathered.
Shakespeare and Company is a unique bookshop where you can find rare books, among others. It even has sleeping quarters for writers who would like to spend the night. George refers to them as Tumbleweeds. It is said that about 40,000 have slept in the bookstore through the years. Amazing.
Sadly, George Whitman died in the apartment above his bookstore on December 14, 2011. He was 98 years old. He has brought so many readers and writers into his shop and continues to welcome visitors around the world. A message that appears in his store says it all: “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”
I spent a week in Paris years ago and failed to visit Shakespeare and Company (I am still kicking myself for it). I didn’t know of it then. It was only after I came home and flipped through a book of Paris my dad had given me that I was introduced to it. A picture of the front of the shop grabbed me and never let me go. That was when my obsession with the bookstore and The Lost Generation began.
I promise to stop by, possibly even spend the night there the next time I go to Paris. There is something magical about the thought of thumbing through books that have been touched and read by so many. To be surrounded by the rich history of the place is something I would not want to miss.
What’s your favorite bookstore?