Friday, October 23, 2015

Libraries and Bookstore Shakespeare and Company

Home libraries and bookstores are like old friends with lots memories and information to share. Now, in 2015 the internet is great for research and reading our Kindle is easy, we love the way you can increase the font size and eliminate the reading glasses. Books are different. They take up a lot of space but they can create a cocoon that can take you anywhere and still remain within its walls.

Hearst Castle was one of our day trips this summer. The library above was a warm cocoon and then the butterfly emerged in this light filled expanse below. I wonder how many years it has been since any of these books were handled and read and maybe held to a chest. So grand yet so sad, all tucked away behind doors.

Years ago when we were in Paris we stumbled into the bookstore Shakespeare and Company. In the early 1990s American George Whitman was still alive in the bookstore with a view to Notre Dame. We squeezed through rows and stacks of books, we climbed the old stairs to an amazing place where books had no prices, stacks of books were everywhere. Many hand written notes were pinned up.

What appeared to be a bed was covered with books. Another bed? More stairs. Suddenly I was uncomfortable, like I was not in a public bookstore but a book hoarder's hideaway. We made our way back to street level and I found a book to purchase. We left thinking it was a strange place and not knowing it was one of the most famous bookstores ever.

In recent years I looked up the bookstore Shakespeare and Company.  It now makes sense, the beds were for George's tumbleweeds, young writers needing a free place to stay for a few days in Paris. We read a little more and then a couple of books by people who spent time at the bookstore over the years. Hubby and I enjoy reading aloud together. We don't watch much TV, usually just Sunday evening PBS.

Earlier in the year we re-arranged our bookcases, switching the bedroom and living room bookcases. Now our living room is a wall of bookcases. We still have many more books and are sorting and eliminating those we no longer want. The shelves are arranged by subject, still to change.

We have three shelves of Dutch, Amsterdam and the Netherlands books and decided to do a Paris & Writers shelf. It includes books by American expatriate writers who spent time in Paris in the 1920s, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. The American, Silvia Beach, started the original Shakespeare and Company, her memoir is there also. Some shelves have artwork relating to the subject. At the front left is a framed photo with a scene in the bookstore. George Whitman let writers stay in the bookstore, in trade they had to write a one page biography of themselves, work two hours in the bookstore and read a book a day. In the morning they were to make the bed, put books back on the bed, that's what we saw in the early 1990s.

Over a door in the bookstore is his famous sign.

George Whitman died in 2011 at the age of 98 after 60 years of being a bookseller. His only child continues the legend.
For a short history of the bookstore here is an article in Vanity Fair.

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