ATG Book of the Week: Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart

Title: Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart
Editor: Krista Halverson
Hardcover:
ISBN: 979-1096101009, $34.95.
Imprint: Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 2016

This first-ever history of the legendary bohemian bookstore in Paris interweaves essays and poetry from dozens of writers associated with the shop–Allen Ginsberg, Anaïs Nin, Ethan Hawke, Robert Stone and Jeanette Winterson, among others–with hundreds of never-before-seen archival pieces, including photographs of James Baldwin, William Burroughs and Langston Hughes, plus a foreword by the celebrated British novelist Jeanette Winterson and an epilogue by Sylvia Whitman, the daughter of the store’s founder, George Whitman. The book has been edited by Krista Halverson, director of the newly founded Shakespeare and Company publishing house.

George Whitman opened his bookstore in a tumbledown 16th-century building just across the Seine from Notre-Dame in 1951, a decade after the original Shakespeare and Company had closed. Run by Sylvia Beach, it had been the meeting place for the Lost Generation and the first publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses. (This book includes an illustrated adaptation of Beach’s memoir.) Since Whitman picked up the mantle, Shakespeare and Company has served as a home-away-from-home for many celebrated writers, from Jorge Luis Borges to Ray Bradbury, A.M. Homes to Dave Eggers, as well as for young authors and poets. Visitors are invited not only to read the books in the library and to share a pot of tea, but sometimes also to live in the bookstore itself–all for free.

More than 30,000 people have stayed at Shakespeare and Company, fulfilling Whitman’s vision of a “socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.” Through the prism of the shop’s history, the book traces the lives of literary expats in Paris from 1951 to the present, touching on the Beat Generation, civil rights, May ’68 and the feminist movement–all while pondering that perennial literary question, “What is it about writers and Paris?”

 

Even if you have never entered Shakespeare and Company, this book evokes redolent mustiness, the creaking and crinking of readers shifting in their chairs, the sound of iconic authors turning pages as they read to a rapt audience. It is the familiarity of imagination transporting you to times and places you may or may not have been, and in doing so a sense of this place’s personality becomes undeniably present, so much so that you might feel you were there too when Italo Calvino and Pablo Neruda drank wine from empty tuna tins. (Buzz Poole Lithub)

 

An English-language bookshop founded by George Whitman on the banks of the Seine in Paris has been hosting writers and selling the occasional book for 65 years. Krista Halverson explores the history of a countercultural institution and the legacy of Sylvia Beach. (The Guardian)

 

…affectionate tribute…makes you long to live la vie bohème in Paris. (Newsday)

 

…the biography reads like a multi-faceted oral history and is told in many layers: colored photographs, tumbleweed biographies, recountings from former employees and writers-in-residence. The story it tells is as varied, unique, and romantic as the shop is. (Kelsey Ford The Millions)

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