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I had long wanted a bookshop, and by now it had become an obsession. I dreamed of a French bookshop but it was to be a branch of Adrienne’s and in New York. I wanted to help the French writers I admired so much to become more widely known in my country. I soon realized, however, that my mother’s little savings, which she was willing to risk on my venture, would be insufficient to cover the cost of a shop in New York. Very regretfully, I had to abandon this fascinating idea.

I thought Adrienne Monnier would be disappointed to hear of the downfall of our scheme of a French place, a branch of hers, in my country. On the contrary, she was delighted. And so, in a minute, was I, as right before our eyes my bookshop turned into an American one in Paris. […..]  Moreover, I was extremely fond of Paris, I must confess, and this was no small inducement to settle down there and become a Parisian. Then too, Adrienne had had four years of experience as a bookseller. She had opened her shop in the midst of war and, moreover, kept it going. She promised to advise me in my first steps; also to send me lots of customers. The French, as I knew, were very eager to get hold of our new writers, and it seemed to me that a little American bookshop on the Left Bank would be welcome.

The difficulty was to find a vacant shop in Paris. I might have had to wait some time before finding what I wanted if Adrienne hadn’t noticed that there was a place for rent in the rue Dupuytren, a little street just around the corner from the rue de l’Odeon. [….] We hurried to the rue Dupuytren, where, at No. 8 – there were only about ten numbers in this hilly little street – was a shop with the shutters up and a sign saying “Boutique a louer.” It had once been a laundry, said Adrienne, pointing to the words “gros” and “fin” on either side of the door, meaning they did up both sheets and fine linen. Adrienne, who was rather plump, placed herself under the “gros” and told me to stand under the “fin”. “That’s you and me,” she said.

We hunted up the concierge, an old lady in a black lace cap, who lived in a sort of cage between two floors, as concierges do in these old Paris houses, and she showed us the premises. My premises, as without hesitation, I decided they would be. There were two rooms, with a glass door between them, and steps leading into the one at the back. There was a fireplace in the front room; the laundress’s stove, with irons on it, had stood in front of it. The poet Leon-Paul Fargue drew a picture of the stove as it must have looked and to show me how the irons were placed. He seemed familiar with laundries, probably because of the pretty laundresses who ironed the linen.

[…..] These premises – including the dear old concierge, “la Mere Garrouste,” as everyone called her, the kitchenette off the back room, and Adrienne’s glass door – everything delighted me, not to mention the very low rent, and I went away to think it over. Mere Garrouste was to think me over, too, for a day or two, according to the best French custom. Shortly, my mother in Princeton got a cable from me, saying simply: “Opening bookshop in Paris. Please send money,” and she sent me all her savings.

Sylvia Beach, “Shakespeare & Company: A Bookshop of My Own”

Isn’t it amazing how one woman’s dream would eventually make it possible for so many others’ dreams to have a chance of being realised as well?
I think we all have a great deal to thank Sylvia’s mum for, don’t you think? 😉

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6 thoughts on “Friday Feature : An American Bookshop in Paris

  1. It’s different now, but Shakespeare & Co. is still a great bookstore and an amazing place. (I’m continually surprised by how expat bookstores in non-anglophone countries often seem to have better selections and atmospheres than your average American bookshop.) We definitely have lots to thank Sylvia’s mum for.

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    1. I’m really looking forward visiting it (at last!) this September! I somehow managed to have missed it (how unthinkable!) during my last trip.
      I think the reason why expat bookstores seem to have better selections than the average American bookshop could be because the constraints that they face in sourcing & bringing in English books in foreign countries would have made them more careful and selective in their choices and decisions. Their target group is also probably more restricted, as compared to the mass markets that booksellers in the US or UK get to enjoy.

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  2. Ohhh. I went in search of the site of this bookshop when I was in Paris. It’s not entirely recogmizable, but it was moving just to stand where it was.

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