Image: Boiling Point Photography
Text: Guillermo Martinez de Velasco Escobedo
I don’t think it would be polite of me to state the number of hours I’ve spent at Shakespeare and Company. Surely, I’m not the only Parisian who has spent ridiculous amounts of time in that nook that hangs around to the side of Nôtre-Dame. This tiny Anglophone bookstore, to me, was something that I could rely on as a new arrival to the city, and even now, in times of hectic trouble I run to Shakespeare and Company. There’s something about those stacks of bound pages, some dusty, others pristine and shiny, all surrounding me that makes me feel at home. This is something I can get used to. I can walk in, and, as soon as my nose picks up on the wood, the pages, and the ink from my favourites: Beckett, Kerouac and Miller; I let go.
I did not see the bookstore live throughout the decades, mind you. I only discovered Paris a year ago. However, I heard the stories: Of how you stored your Francs in-between the pages of the top back library room and then forgot about their exact location. Of how you’d met all of my heroes and helped create some others. I never had the chance to meet you. Although as a bookstore volunteer, I almost used your bathroom one day. And your daughter Sylvia, I think might’ve known me only as the guy who rearranged the books on the staircase so as to make room for a magic section. I guess that’s what happens when you create something that benefits so many people. I can imagine it being impossible to keep up with everyone. But I never really cared. I knew the amazing creative figure that was Mr. Whitman, always upstairs.
“What happens when you can’t fit any more books on the shelf?” I asked on one of my first days as a volunteer. “Oh, just find a spot on top and cram them in there” was the answer provided. The way Shakespeare and Co. runs, is not like any other bookstore I’ve seen before or since. It is a place that runs on unorthodoxy and kindness. I cannot thank you enough for this vital part of Paris. If you follow a straight line, you come across the city’s pillars. Hôtel de Ville, Nôtre-Dame and of course, that physically crooked bookstore of yours. I’ve become a better writer thanks to Saturday’s ‘Other Writers’ Club’, to Sunday’s ‘Instant Writing Workshop’, to Monday’s guest speaker, and to the books that I occasionally was paid in for my shelfing and re-shelfing. The testament of what your labour has done for English literature can be found in every contemporary bookstore and school curriculum on the globe. Your little bookstore on the Left Bank meant and means, the world to countless people like me.
Thank You George.