Monday, August 3, 2009


After four years of university, I did what any reasonable post-graduate does—I packed my backpack and headed off to Europe for a two-month sojourn. I visited the anglo-speaking countries first, and then trotted off (or should I more appropriately write that I glided on a high-speed catamaran) to
the mainland. While I loved seeing all the sites and tasting all the delectable foods, something was amiss. In only a few days of touring Paris, I found that I had already read all the books I brought with me from home. Here I was, in a foreign-speaking country without a book to sink my eyes into and the glorious world of downloadable books on Kindle had not been born yet. I was frankly in a panic.

We take for granted how easy it is to look practically everything up on the web, but in the eighties when I first came here, iPhones, laptops and the seemingly never-ending source of information coming from the internet did net exist yet. So, I couldn't run to my keyboard and ask Google if there was a bookstore that catered to the English-speaking population. Thankfully, my hostess at the time loved everything American and she informed me that Gibert Jeune on St. Michel had an English language section. Lady Chatterley's Lover to the rescue!  I would soon discover that Gibert Jeune has many outlets around the city, but the one I visited first on St. Michel is this book lover's favorite.

It is now twenty years later and I am not just here for an eight-day excursion.  I live here.  Needless to say, I find that I am in need of a good book on a regular basis. Thankfully, the search engines have provided me with a slew of appropriate book sellers for me to visit in the Paris area—and visit them I have certainly done.

WH Smith, for example, is an English bookshop located on rue de Rivoli. It is the closest thing to a Barnes & Noble this side of the Atlantic. This two-storied shop is filled with nothing but the newest books. If they don't have what you are looking for, not to worry. They have a whole department upstairs in the back dedicated for special orders. I have spent many hours emailing my requests for must-have books. Just a word of caution, you will inevitably receive an email that they only accept firm orders. Stiff them once and I am sure they will not offer this service to you anymore.

As an avid reader, George Whitman found himself with too many books and in 1951 decided to open the doors to the now famous Shakespeare & Co. Located on rue de la Bûcherie, across from Notre Dame, this standard is a must visit. Peruse through both new and used books.  Additionally, there is a library upstairs overlooking Notre Dame. It is the perfect spot to kick up your feet and sit for awhile, luxuriating in the words from one of the many old books waiting to be held. Please note, that the volumes stored in this room may be read only while you are in the library. They are not for sale. So, read up while you can.

Furthermore, evening readings from various authors as well as writing workshops are a staple at Shakespeare & Co. Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a reading of The Secret Life of France, by Lucy Wadham. Her perception of the cultural differences between France and her native England, as well as America, lent for a long line of signings for this charming expat-author.

The Canadian-owned Abbey Bookshop located at 29, rue de la Parcheminerie, also sells new and used books. So if your trying to lighten your load by pawning off your already read books this is the place for you. Be prepared to be inundated with books in this tiny shop. From floor to ceiling, they are stacked in every conceivable corner. It's a book lover's haven.

So, on your next trip if you don't feel like weighing down your suitcases with extra books, there's nothing to worry about. There will be plenty to choose from at a book store near you when you arrive.

For a full listing of English-speaking book sellers, please go to: English-Speaking Books in Paris.

For a list of monthly readings and events, please visit Jennifer K. Dik's blog (author of Fluorensence) at Paris' Monthly Readings and Events. Note that if you are here in August, there isn't much going on except at Shakespeare.

Thank you for reading and bonne journée!