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Keeping Company with Shakespeare

July 23, 2013

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I know that the Shakespeare and Company bookstore on the Left Bank of the Seine is not the original. It does still have a great deal in common with its predecessor, including an impressive selection of books crammed into a very tiny space. The bookshelves themselves are ancient, rich with the character of another time. Even the woman who currently owns the store is named Sylvia, after the original store’s founder–the impressive Sylvia Beach.

Ms. Beach was knows for hosting the likes of Ernest Hemingway, George Bernard Shaw, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. Sylvia also published James Joyce’s “Ulysses” when no other publisher would go near it. Her shop became a center of great literature, intellectual discourse, and readings from some of the most important writers of the twentieth century. Put another way–there was no way I was going to spend a week in Paris and not visit.

It did not disappoint. The ghosts of the great writers and history it contained appeared present in the store, and most customers seem to sense this. Bookstores tend to be quiet places, but browsers moved through the stacks in what I can only describe as a reverent silence. Climbing the ancient wooden staircase to the top floor revealed a room full of used hardcovers, and down the hall a group of children enjoying an enthusiastic reading of “Alice in Wonderland” (sadly, not by Lewis Carroll).

I emerged with a charming collection of John Keats’ poems. As many of you know, Keats is a particular favorite of mine. Indeed, I titled one of my screenplays “Season of Mists.”

A couple of other touches remain from the old store: you can rent an old manual typewriter to work on your manuscript. Where would you take it? The rooms upstairs are still let out at little or no charge to working writers.

Hmm. I think I’ll be coming back to Paris.

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