BOOK­SHOP OF THE HEART

Geist - - Endnotes - —Michael Hay­ward

Shake­speare and Com­pany book­store in Paris reg­u­larly makes it onto lists like The World’s Coolest Book­stores and The 20 Most Beau­ti­ful Book­stores in the World. Once, years ago, I lived above the shop for sev­eral weeks as a res­i­dent “tum­ble­weed,” sleep­ing on the floor in ex­change for a cou­ple of hours of chores a day. Chaos ed­died into ev­ery cor­ner of the shop: draw­ers crammed with sheaves of un­sorted tum­ble­weed au­to­bi­ogra­phies (ev­ery­one who stayed was re­quired to write a brief ac­count of their life to date, and to read a book a day); sticky glasses left be­hind by Ge­orge Whit­man, the shop’s founder, who reg­u­larly of­fered home­made lemon­ade to passersby; once, while tidy­ing be­hind a vel­vet-cov­ered daybed, I found a flat­tened, des­ic­cated mouse, en­shrouded by dust­balls. A new book tells the full story of this mag­i­cal and amaz­ing place. Shake­speare and Com­pany, Paris: A His­tory of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart (pub­lished by the shop) is a gor­geous thing, full of pho­to­graphs that doc­u­ment the shop’s nearly seventy-year span (one pho­to­graph from 1984 shows Ge­orge Whit­man at age seventy, with his daugh­ter Sylvia, then three years old, rid­ing on his shoul­ders). One of the most in­ter­est­ing chap­ters in the book cov­ers the years of tran­si­tion, when Ge­orge was (re­luc­tantly) pass­ing the ba­ton to Sylvia: the old, an­ar­chic world rub­bing shoul­ders with the new (the shop’s first cash reg­is­ter ap­peared—over Ge­orge’s ve­he­ment ob­jec­tions—in 2002). At one point Sylvia re­calls the win­ter of 2000, when she first con­sid­ered mov­ing back to Paris from Lon­don: “I was nine­teen, and my fa­ther was in his eight­ies. I wanted to get to know him, be­fore I re­gret­ted it for­ever.” Ge­orge Whit­man passed away in De­cem­ber of 2011 at the age of ninety-eight, leav­ing daugh­ter Sylvia to pre­side over the book­store, which now in­cludes a side­walk-level café from which cus­tomers can gaze across the Seine to­ward Notre-dame.

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