Shakespeare and Company, 37 rue de la Bûcherie, ParisShakespeare and Company is an iconic and unique Parisian bookstore, nestling on the Left Bank in Paris. It started out in 1951 when an eccentric American named George Whitman hoped to create a literary hub in the heart of the city. Meanwhile, it is not only a bookstore but it also doubles as the “Tumbleweed Hotel” for traveling writers.
As a communist, Whitman wanted to create a space to welcome all writers who needed somewhere to stay in Paris. On an inner door in the store, the bookstore’s motto reads, “Be kind to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.” Whitman named the writers the Tumbleweeds and his requirement for their stay was simple. They could stay in the bookstore on a first-come, first-served basis, but must write a biography and help out around the store for an hour or two each day.Even now, 13 beds are still concealed behind the bookshelves of Shakespeare and Company during the day. In the evening, it is still a wonderful place for traveling writers, looking for somewhere to stay in Paris. These days, Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia, runs the bookstore and the Tumbleweed tradition continues, with as many as 40,000 writers sleeping in the bookstore over the years.
Un Regard Moderne Bookstore, 10 Rue Gît-le-Cœur, ParisWhile Shakespeare and Company is a unique bookstore, so too is Un Regard Moderne. This counterculture bookstore is considered the cathedral of the international counterculture. Having opened decades ago, the store is crammed to the roof with some of the most subversive, unusual and intriguing art books, essays and comics that have inspired generations of bookworms. It was named Un Regard Moderne by its owner, Jacques Noel, and to this day is a place for independent publishers, underground artists and musicians. However, the tiny, two-room store can only accommodate a maximum of five people at a time. Meanwhile, its shelves are packed with fascinating books on surrealism, outsider art, fetishism, science fiction, graphic design and fanzines. It also contains censored books and visitors end up spending hours browsing through the collections.
National Library of France, 5 Rue Vivienne, 75002 ParisReturning to a more normal place of books, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France is located in Quai François Mauriac. This massive library houses one of the largest book collections in the world. Meanwhile, it also has the most storied and grandest collections of the printed word from around the world, including two examples of French Renaissance cartography.
The library was originally founded in 1368 by Charles V and has moved a number of times, with some of its collections lost along the way. However, until the late 1800s, the library remained the largest of its kind in the world, before other libraries expanded their collections.In modern times, the library has been rebuilt and expanded and is now home to over 10 million printed titles. Meanwhile, bookworms can enjoy a leisurely browse of books on many subjects. These include economics, the arts, languages, law, the humanities, literature, philosophy, technology and more. It would not be a cliché to say the library literally has something for everyone.
Moreover, the National Library of France also hosts an extensive collection of French, Roman and Greek antique coins. It is also home to more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts among its more antiquated collections. Other items on display include Louis XIV’s globes of the world. While previously they were stored at Versailles, after the French Revolution they were moved around before finally finding their place at the Bibliothèque Nationale.
Have fun browsing some of the world’s most fascinating collections of books on your next trip to Paris. Moreover, if you are a writer, become a Tumbleweed at Shakespeare and Company while you are there.