As much as I try to become fully absorbed by French literature, my heart and mind will always prefer the more familiar English prose. Luckily, finding a good English bookstore in Paris is not as hard as it might seem. I’ve included only a few of my favorites, for when you decide to put aside your useless tour guide and reach for some Hemingway instead. Paris inspired him, after all…
Shakespeare & Company
More than a bookshop, Shakespeare & Co. is an institution. The shop is not only known for its dark maze of shelves, crammed floor to ceiling with books that are wedged in so deep it takes a good bicep to retrieve them. They also organize weekly events, a literary festival, and their own annual novella contest. The place has a history that makes it a historical landmark in and of itself.
But my favorite part about this bookstore is more personal. Over the course of a few months I participated in Anna Pook’s weekly Evening Writing Workshop
, hosted in the upstairs library of the store. It was a chance to discover the talents of other aspiring writers, explore our inner voices, and write, write, write. It is inspiring to write when surrounded by the hundreds of tomes by other writers, curled up on a bench that looks out on the view of the Notre Dame. It is a privilege to talk about books and stories, and the making of them, cocooned in a room that knows no outside reality for a couple of hours. You escape into a world that exists only between the words in your head and the ones on the page in front of you. In this way, for me Shakespeare & Co is always a magical place.
Shakespeare & Co.
37 rue de la Bucherie
Metro: St. Michel-Notre Dame
I Love My Blender
No, this is not a store dedicated to cookbooks and recipe holders. It is kitsch land for literature lovers. The bright, clustered window with its banners and streamers and random anime figurines is deceiving to the unobservant eye. At first I walked in thinking it was a gift shop, hoping to find something weird and pointless that I could mail in a brown paper package with a Paris post stamp on it. But what I found inside was much better: a bookshop split in half – one side dedicated to the English originals, the other side stocked with their Franch, translated versions. Most of the selection was made up of New York Times Bestsellers and contemporary must-reads, but there were also poets and newer authors in the mix.
And the smiling shop keeper was happy to give his undivided attention for the search of the perfect book. As I scanned the shelves and ogled over all the bright postcards that covered any surface not occupied by books, the owner was deep in literary conversation with the other two clients in the shop – recommending books in the way a friend would.
The best part is the sign on the door clearly stating the shop’s purpose: “No website… Not on Facebook, Twitter… No blog… Just a simple bookshop”
I Love My Blender
36 rue du Temple
There is something about this place that just makes me smile. Maybe it’s the fact that the door is always open, or that the owner eats her noodles from the neighboring Thai bistro on one of the white benches in front of the store. Or maybe it’s the cover art of all the beautiful coffee table books that line the window sill (the kinds of books you always find yourself handling more delicately and only wishing you could actually afford to buy). I walk past this shop every day on my way to work, and the act of seeing people stroll out with a bag of books in their hand automatically puts me in a better mood.
The shop is a box, crammed with random boxes of old magazines, tables piled with art books, and shelves tilting under the weight of everything else. While most of the books are in French, the selection is carefully curated and filled with, simply-put, beautiful books.
If you manage to weave your way to the back of the shop, a surprise little corridor will lead you to the “secret” gallery that lays beyond. The multi-purpose space is dedicated to relatively unknown artists, soirées, fashion events, screenings, live music, and contemporary exhibitions. Something for everyone can certainly be found here.
Ofr. Librairie, Galerie
20 rue Dupetit-Thouars