18 January 2005

A Nice Place to Spend a Rainy Afternoon

One can't spend much time in Paris without hearing about the Shakespeare and Co Bookshop, but for several weeks after I arrived, I avoided going to it, perhaps wanting to find my way around without the really touristy things like that getting in my way. But since I ended up spending a lot of time in the Latin Quarter, I quite stumbled on the store, like many of my other favorite places. The first time I went in, I was stunned-- not by the floor to ceiling bookshelves, the wishing well, or even the smell of books--but by the people speaking English. Being in the middle of French studies, English can sometimes sound harsh, loud, and very foreign, and I was almost more interested in the people in the shop than the books. There were college kids backpacking their way around France, students who needed a quick English-language fix, French teachers and students of English, and then there was me.

I didn't buy anything the first time I was there; I just wandered the front room, not quite brave enough to wander farther back and explore the other sections. It was only after I made it past the wishing well that I noticed the smell and colors of the books that line the walls like tiles in a mosaic. I wasn't close enough to tell what the image was, so I had to come back.

This next visit was a dreary day, and I was wandering the Latin Quarter with one of my friends. Drawn by the 3€ Penguin Classic bin, we spent much of the afternoon there. I hadn't realized there was a second floor, up a steep and narrow staircase, covered in a worn-out rug, but we ended up there, in the reading library. It was very fun, browsing the titles that aren't for sale and listening to backpackers arrange stays at the Tumbleweed Hotel, since it's possible to stay at the shop (yet another thing I didn't know). This time, I also ended up finding some C.S. Lewis and Henry James. The books are a bit expensive, but I can see how it's become such an important place for anglophones. And in any case, I'll go back, to read more upstairs, maybe meet travellers, and just spend rainy afternoons lost in a book.

If you have never been to Shakespeare and Co., here is a Virtual Tour of the shop!

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