Laissez-Nous Lire (Let Us Read)
Voltaire once said, “Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” If you’re a central Kentucky native like myself, when you hear the name “Shakespeare and Company” you immediately picture a unique cafe that is filled with antique furniture and serves delicious food. However, while in Paris, I discovered that there was another Shakespeare and Company. While it is entirely different than the one I am accustomed to, it’s just as endearing as the one back home.
In 1919, Sylvia beach opened Shakespeare and Company, a book store in Paris that became a gathering place for then-aspiring writers, such as Ezra Pound (Hugh Selwyn Mauberley), James Joyce (Ulysses), and Ernest Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises). However, due to the Nazi occupation in France, in 1941 Sylvia closed her shop and never reopened. In 1951, George Whitman opened a bookstore of the same name in Sylvia Beach’s honor.
While in Paris, I had the chance to visit the quaint, little bookstore. You can find it tucked away on a little street across from the Notre Dame Cathedral at 37 rue de la Bûcherie. Inside, the walls are covered completely from floor to ceiling with books. There are books lining the edge of stairs and on tables under staircases. It is overwhelming in the most beautiful way possible. Even though it is so crowded due to the throngs of people scouring the shelves, you feel in no hurry to leave. You are welcome to browse and to enjoy the works of countless authors who have tried to leave their mark on the world.
I found Shakespeare and Company to be one of my favorite places in Paris, not necessarily because it’s a bookstore but because of what it represents. Above the reading room, are the words, “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.” Shakespeare and Company was, and still is, a place for aspiring artists. While most authors never become F. Scott Fitzgerald, just like most kids that play basketball in middle school never grow up to be Michael Jordan, it’s imperative that there is someone or some place that fuels their passions and inspires their dreams. Shakespeare and Company is a safe haven and a hallowed ground for such creativity and passions.
Shakespeare and Company truly warmed my heart. History was, and could still be, made in this shop. From the outside, it’s nothing special. It is not the Notre Dame Cathedral or the Eiffel Tower, but it stands just as magnificent as other Parisian landmarks for the magic that happens inside the walls.
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