Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Shakespeare & Company: 'A Destination, Far from Amazon'

Shelf Awareness

Shakespeare and Company, "arguably the most famous independent bookstore in the world, occupies a prime piece of real estate facing the Seine in Paris, not far from the Latin Quarter, Place Saint-Michel, and Boulevard Saint-Germain. The river is just a stone's throw from the front door," wrote Bruce Handy in his detailed exploration for Vanity Fair of the history and cultural impact of the legendary bookshop that "is a destination, far from Amazon."
"It is definitely Dionysus's favorite bookstore," observed actor and author Ethan Hawke, who "has been a fan since he turned up in Paris alone at the age of 16 and crashed at the store for five or six nights after wandering over, curious, from Notre Dame," Handy noted. The first impression of Dave Eggers, who first visited as a backpacker in his 20s, was of "an absurd place--almost down to the last crooked corner and narrow staircase, [it was] the bookstore of my dreams." (Check out Jess Levitz's illustrated map of the bookshop)

Even Frank Sinatra was a fan, offering this advice to a former pit boss at the Sands in Las Vegas, "Eddie you must travel and when you do, go to Paris, go to the Shakespeare bookstore. I know the guy there.... Go see the guy George [Whitman]--he's a guy that lives with the books."

Handy observed that Shakespeare and Company "remains a singular place," where Whitman's daughter, Sylvia, and her partner, David Delannet, "have done a remarkable job of preserving the store's DNA while modernizing around the edges and adding revitalizing touches of their own, such as an irregular series of literary and arts festivals, a 10,000-euro prize for unpublished writers (financed in part by friends of the store), and a vital, ongoing series of readings, panels, plays, and other events, including an annual summer reading series with N.Y.U.'s Writers in Paris program. 

A publishing venture is in the works, to be launched with the aforementioned store history, as is a Shakespeare and Company café, a longtime dream of George's, possibly in a commercial space around the corner the store is buying. (His other longtime dream, of stocking the wishing well with baby seals, has been abandoned for now.) 
A new website will be rolled out this fall, and the paid staff--who now number 22, up from 7 when George died--have some witty ideas about curation and customizing books as a way to compete, on Shakespeare's terms, with Amazon."

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