SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY – JUST AS GOOD THE SECOND TIME
When we started writing this book, I told Paul the one thing we have to do, the one place we have to read is at Shakespeare and Company in Paris. For the entire time we were writing I kept repeating this wish. It is not only the most famous bookstore in the English speaking world, it is the most magical.
If you doubt these claims, pick up a copy of this month’s Vanity Fair and you will see what I mean. Or just click here and read about it.
I got to read my last book there and it was the highlight of my book tour.
So last night Thursday night Paul and I made our way through the heavy Parisian traffic to 137 rue Bucherie to the fabled Shakespeare and Company.
We were greeted not only by owner Sylvia Whitman but a packed room and some people who had driven as far as seven hours to see us.
There is a protocol all writers follow. When you first arrive you used to be taken across the street to the cafe for a glass of wine. Now they have transformed the third floor into an office/ apartment. So you sneak up the rickety back stairs and have a quick drink before you go on. I had a glass of wine, Paul had water. Then you make your way down the stairs and enter through a side door to the reading room. It is long and narrow and goes back into a second room. It’s a sea of faces and books.
There is something that takes over the second you walk in. It could be the ghosts of all the people who have read there, and sat there and read and written. It could just be that Shakespeare and Company is just one of those places that the universe kisses and it’s hard to pinpoint how and why.
You stand or sit in the window, with Notre Dame behind you, where so many literary giants have read their work. And you do the same thing you do most everywhere else on a book tour; Only somehow it’s different. For a writer there is nothing quite like it.
After the reading you head downstairs to Poet’s Corner where two chairs are set up, and you sign your books and chat with the attendees. It’s the same format every time. And it has been that way for decades.
If one carries on about who has read there and what it feels like it starts sounding braggy or portentous. But those who have come before have left their magic behind. And there is a reason it is considered the most famous bookstore in the world, the combination of geography, history and and unwillingness of George and now Sylvia Whitman to compromise the authenticity of it for something more contemporary has allowed it to retain its intellectual glamour and wobbly mystique.
It is an honor and a privilege to be a tiny part of its history in any way. It’s not about flogging product or brand, or selling or advertising your book, it’s about sharing what you have done and somehow planting it in the soil where so many extraordinary works have grown and flourished.
It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of this wonderful world of literature if only for a few hours. But the truth is everyone who has read there leaves a little part of themselves behind and Shakespeare and Company keeps those memories alive.