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Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare & Co’

Two bookstores with Bay Area roots help literary life thrive in Paris

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on July 31, 2015

Reprinted from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Berkeley Books of Paris, 8 rue Casimir Delavigne, Paris.

Berkeley Books of Paris, 8 rue Casimir Delavigne, Paris.


By John McMurtrie
July 27, 2015
Updated: July 30, 2015 9:04pm

No visit to Paris, for any book lover, is complete without a pilgrimage to Shakespeare and Co., the creaky, cozy bookshop on the banks of the Seine that has been a home away from home for so many writers, among them James Baldwin, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Robert Stone and many others.

But stroll 10 minutes to the south, in the Latin Quarter, and you’ll find two other, lesser-known but invaluable English-language bookstores — both of which have deep ties to the Bay Area. In fact, their very names say it all: They are San Francisco Book Co. and Berkeley Books of Paris.

As it happens, these two Left Bank stores are only a block apart from each other. Not surprisingly, given their names, they have common roots. And they’re competitors.

San Francisco Book Co., 17 rue Monsieur le Prince, Paris.

San Francisco Book Co., 17 rue Monsieur le Prince, Paris.


San Francisco Book Co. is the older of the stores. It was co-founded in 1997 by Americans Jim Carroll and Phil Wood. Carroll, a former San Francisco bookseller who once owned Carroll’s Books in Noe Valley (it closed in 2004), eventually bought out Wood’s share of the business. Wood went down the street, opening Berkeley Books in 2006 with Richard Toney and Phyllis Cohen, who used to work at San Francisco Book Co. Wood then sold the store to Cohen.

“We’re not bosom buddies by any means,” Carroll wrote in an e-mail, “but healthy competition is good, and the more the merrier.”

Jim Carroll, owner of San Francisco Book Co.

Jim Carroll, owner of San Francisco Book Co.


Vanishing bookstores

The more the merrier is right, especially given that Paris, like other cities around the world, has lost some of its treasured bookstores to rent increases and the rise in online book sales. Just last month, La Hune, a famous Left Bank bookstore frequented by the French intelligentsia, shut down after more than 60 years in business. Also gone are the English-language bookstores Village Voice, the Red Wheelbarrow, and Tea and Tattered Pages.

There is no doubt that the Latin Quarter, the student district centered on the venerable University of Paris (founded in the 12th century), has lost much of its bohemian allure as real estate prices have risen. But as the accompanying interactive map of the Left Bank shows, there is still a thriving literary culture in the city’s 5th and 6th arrondissements. San Francisco Book Co. and Berkeley Books of Paris fit nicely into that tradition, keeping alive the rich history of Americans and other foreigners contributing to the literary life of Paris.

“Paris is a great city for books, and I really enjoy life as a book dealer here,” Carroll wrote. “My shop is just a block from the original Shakespeare and Co., where ‘Ulysses’ was published. This area of Paris, close to the Sorbonne, has always been a prime location for bookshops, publishing houses, agencies, authors, critics, printers, binders and anyone else drawn to the world of books.”

This cat has been coming in to San Francisco Book Co. to escape the heat. Asked about the cat’s name, bookseller Richard Aldersley said, “Here’s one, off the cuff: Penelope.”

This cat has been coming in to San Francisco Book Co. to escape the heat. Asked about the cat’s name, bookseller Richard Aldersley said, “Here’s one, off the cuff: Penelope.”


‘A bit messy’

San Francisco Book Co. is a small store, with roughly 12,000 to 15,000 mostly used titles (and about 8,500 online), but Carroll said the shop has good walk-in business. San Francisco visitors frequently pop in, lured by the store’s exterior, painted in international orange, the color of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“It’s also a bit messy inside,” wrote bookseller Richard Aldersley, “with books stacked on the floor and on spare counters for lack of shelf space, and we like it that way because people go through the books and handle them, and everything is much more approachable and comfortable and unsterile.”

The store even has its own cat. “It’s been coming in during the recent heat wave to lay on the cool tiles under the fan,” Aldersley wrote. Asked about the cat’s name, he added, “Here’s one, off the cuff: Penelope.”

Berkeley Books of Paris also gets its fair share of visitors from Northern California. “The Bay Area people always seem chuffed with the bookshop,” Cohen wrote. “We named the shop in honor of the great bookshops of Berkeley. I tell them stories about Moe’s and Cody’s, and show them my wall of homage, covered with bookmarks.”

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The store also hosts art exhibitions, concerts, poetry readings and lectures, and Cohen said a lot of its patrons are professors, students, artists, writers and musicians.

“Many bookshops have gone under for reasons of real estate — those famous spikes in rent,” Cohen wrote. But, she added, “This is not specific to bookshops. People are still reading, and as far as I can tell, many of them actively miss bookshops that are long gone. Some have closed because Amazon and all that entails, but these shops mainly sold only new books” — unlike Berkeley Books, which sells only used books.

“Good old hand-selling and book swapping,” Cohen wrote. “There are quite a few loyal customers who frequent the place, and who have known me as their bookseller since 1999. Some of them are so attached to the bookshop that they’ve made me promise to stay open forever. Which is sweet, don’t you think?”

John McMurtrie is the book editor of The San Francisco Chronicle. Twitter: @McMurtrieSF

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Posted in bookstores, life, Paris, San Francisco, Shakespeare & Co | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Going, going…

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on May 18, 2014

Shakespeare_and_Company_store_in_Paris
The famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris is a well known tourist destination. Actually, it was a bookstore begun by Sylvia Beach in 1919 which closed during the German occupation in 1940 and then a second bookstore founded by George Whitman in 1951, a tribute to Beach’s original which is still around.
1shakespeareco
Shakespeare and Company is also a small chain of locally owned bookshops in New York City unaffiliated with its Paris namesake. With three locations all in Manhattan, Shakespeare and Co started in 1981. In May of this year, it was announced that the Broadway location will close due to an astronomical rent increase.
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I often visited Shakespeare and Co when I made regular pilgrimages to New York City in the 1980s and 1990s. The scourge that was (and remains) Barnes and Noble, which spread like cancer across the City and systematically killed off most of New York’s independent bookstores, is still around if financially ailing due to competition with Amazon. This mainstream New York Times obituary hopefully does not portend the overall Shakespeare chain’s demise.
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I’m constantly lamenting the death of all the joys that make living in San Francisco and New York so wonderful. The steady destruction of independent bookstores, record shops, cinemas, etc. due to urban gentrification and stratification doesn’t make me nostalgic, but rather sad and angry. A marvelous blog, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, had this to say about Shakespeare and Co. Jeremiah’s is where I first heard that Little Rickie, a famous novelty store in Manhattan, also recently closed. Little Rickie is where I bought a smokin’ fez monkey.
smokingmonkey
So fucking sad!

Posted in gentrification, independent bookstores, life, New York City, Paris, San Francisco, Shakespeare & Co | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

City of Light, part 2

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 12, 2013

lostgeneration

It’s a quick and easy fantasy.

Move to France, become an expatriate, live in Paris. Add some details. Live on the Left Bank, hang out in cafes, drink absinthe, write the great American novel. Being a writer and having recently spent two and a half glorious weeks in Paris, I’m particularly keen on this fantasy. It’s as old as the Lost Generation of American artists (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Eliot, Stein, Duncan, Pierce, Seeger, et al) who exiled themselves to Paris in particular, and France generally, after the First World War. Perhaps older.

But, alas, I get homesick easily. I’ve been to Paris three times now, and after several weeks, I start missing the United States, even while I dislike some aspects of this country intensely. When I spent six months living on kibbutz in Israel with my Jewish girlfriend, I was seriously homesick. So a prolonged life as an expatriate American residing in Paris is truly a flight of fancy for me, one I would never really fulfill.

Nevertheless, there are a few details that might help one live out such an expatriate fantasy in Paris, if one should so desire.

Paris through Expatriate Eyes. My wife and I attended events sponsored by Terrance Gelenter in the US, and then met him while in Paris this last vacation. A raconteur, a flaneur, and a charming man who wears his Brooklyn Jewishness on his sleeve.

WHSmith. One of the biggest English-language bookstores in Paris. Modern, filled with latest books and magazines on every subject, which hosts English-language events.

Shakespeare and Company. One of the oldest English-language bookstores in Paris, proud as a center of English expatriate literary history, full mostly of used books and memories now. It also hosts English-language events, tours, a newsletter, etc.

San Francisco Book Company. Founded by the owner of San Francisco Carroll’s Books, who seems to have moved the bookstore lock, stock and barrel to the 6th Arrondissemont. San Francisco Book Company is part of over 200 bookstores in that Arrondissemont alone.

AngloInfo. A self-proclaimed, global expat network centered in Paris and the Ile-de-Paris, replete with event listings, discussions and blogs, directories of businesses and services, and classifieds.

WICE. Anglophone association providing cultural, educational & social activities to the international community in Paris. They are a membership organization with programs, events, and instruction.

FUSAC. An English-language magazine distributed throughout Paris offering classifieds and other advertising covering a variety of categories that has cohered a community of interest around it.

TimeOut Paris. “Your critical guide to the arts, culture and going out in Paris.”

US Embassy in Paris. And if you’re really serious about becoming an expatriate…

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Posted in American Embassy in Paris, AngloInfo, expatriate, FUSAC, life, Lost Generation, Paris, Paris through Expatriate Eyes, San Francisco Book Company, series, Shakespeare & Co, TimeOut, WHSmith, WICE | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »