English Bookshops in Paris

Around about the time that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda were living it up in Paris, there were at least 30,000 American expats recorded as living in the city. Their aimless existences, faithfully rendered in the pages of Fitzgerald’s greatest works, was summed up by Gertrude Stein’s remark: “you are all a lost generation”.

At the time there were only two English language bookstores: Galignani, on rue de Rivoli and Sylvia Beach’s legendary Shakespeare & Company 12, rue de l’Odeon. It’s not surprising then that Beach’s bookstore became a meeting place for the ex-pat literati. Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway were all members of the lending library Beach had set up as part of the store.

Today the selection of English-language bookstores, although dwindling, is still surprisingly rich, especially considering the rapid decline in publishing. Some of them remain meeting places for expat writers and their admirers.

Shakespeare and Company 37, rue de la Bucherie, 75005 Paris

A Parisian landmark and rightly so − this lively bookstore, often jam-packed with tourists is known the world-over. Shakespeare and Co. was originally called Le Mistral. Opened in 1951, by the American war veteran George Whitman, the bookshop was the meeting place for a different generation of American writer, namely the Beat Generation. Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs gave readings here and the tradition continues to this day. It was later named Shakespeare and Co. in honour of Whitman’s friend Sylvia Beach. International authors of renown often make the pilgrimage to Shakespeare and Co. as part of their promotional tours. Their collection of rare editions is particularly interesting

Galignani 224, rue de Rivoli, Paris 75001 Paris

A plaque on the elegant shop front of this Parisian institution states that it was the first English language bookshop on the continent. The lofty old-world interior certainly attests to this. It remains a family business − stretching back 6 generations. Its origins can be traced all the way back to Venice when it was established as a publisher in 1520. In 1882 the present shop opened on rue de Rivoli. During the Nazi occupation of Paris when English books were banned, André Jeancourt-Galignani had the bright idea of introducing an illustrated art book section, which remains a highlight. It’s for this reason that Chanel designer, Karl Lagerfeld, says it’s his preferred Parisian bookstore.

San Francisco Book Company, 17 rue Monsieur-le-Prince, 75006 Paris

Always worth a stop-off, this second-hand bookshop has a wonderful collection of quality hardbacks together with the odd collectable. The eccentric owner is always happy to give interesting recommendations.

The Abbey Bookshop, 22 rue de la Parcheminerie, 75005 Paris

This Canadian bookshop, which stocks both new and second-hand titles tends to be a bit cheaper than Shakespeare and Co. Just around the corner from its more famous competitor, it can be found on one of the most charming streets in Paris. The playwright Corneille is said to have died blind and penniless in the same beautiful building.

And the best of the rest…

The Red Wheelbarrow, 22 rue Saint-Paul, 75004 Paris

Lonely Planet said this bookshop “had arguably the best selection of serious literature in Paris”. Found in the heart of the majestic Saint-Paul neighborhood, it is certainly worth the detour and the staff here are as charming as the décor.

WH Smith, rue de Rivoli, 248 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris

Indispensible for their selection of international press, WH Smith’s newsagents and general bookstore stretches over two floors with more than 70,000 titles. It’s a one-stop-shop for everything from children’s books, the latest vogue, to a good holiday read.

I Love My Blender, 36 rue du Temple Paris, 75003 Paris

Situated in the heart of the Marais, this English and French language bookshop with its carefully culled selection of cult classics and cutting edge fiction is popular with the design-conscious locals.

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