I have a problem. I buy way too many books.
Currently, I have a stack of 11 hardcopies that I need to get through. And that’s not counting the eBooks waiting for me in my Kindle. Oh yeah, and these are just the ones I have with me in Paris. I have stacks upon stacks of books waiting for me when I return to California.
The second time I fell in love was also the time I fell in love with the bookstores of Paris. The man of my sixteen-year-old teenage fantasies took me to Shakespeare & Co. He was the manifestation of my teenage dreams because he was tall, dark, spoke multiple languages, wore black spectacles, and found me in front of a cathedral. He also took me to a bookstore. Which was full of my favorite things.
A well-known Bible verse greets visitors as they enter Shakespeare & Company's lending library.
That was over two years ago, when I was just visiting Paris for the first time. Now that I live here, one of my favorite things to do when friends and acquaintances visit is to introduce them to the bookshops near Cluny La Sorbonne, Odeon, and Saint-Michel. Like people, they all sport different personalities, with various things to offer and discover. Here’s a list of my most beloved:
Shakespeare & Company
By far the most famous Anglophone bookstore in Paris. Not only does this bookstore offer thousands of books, including a separate poetry room, but it also holds free book readings and talks by well-known authors regularly. My favorite thing to do here is to go upstairs and hang out in the lending library: a room full of old and new books alike that you can read while you lounge on the plush couches and pet the store’s cat. If you’re so lucky, someone will serenade you on the piano while you read the history plaques posted about the store’s namesake: Sylvia Beach. The current shop is named after her famous 20th century Anglophone bookshop, where she published and supported some of literary’s greats like James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.
Outside, you can peruse a prime selection of used books at decent prices. I recently picked up Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer and Milkman by Anna Burns, which I’m currently slogging through.
One of my favorite pastimes: sipping a café allongé at a brasserie reading a great book.
The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore
This is one of my favorite books stores to buy new books from. It’s always stocked with the latest and greatest at affordable prices and isn’t riddled with hundreds of tourists. In September, I originally came in to pick up Anansi Boys (the kind shopkeeper offered to order it for me) but I left with Circe by Madeline Miller instead. That novel did not disappoint—it was one of the best books I’ve read all year. What’s unique to The Red Wheelbarrow is the shelf of Persephone Books that they carry. Persephone Books is a publishing company that reprints overlooked fiction and non-fiction written by female writers from the 20th century. They’re all printed with grey covers and feature prefaces by modern-day writers. Sign me up.
Gibert Joseph & Gibert Jeune
This is the biggest bookstore chain in Paris. Think of it like a French Barnes & Noble, but with different stores for different topics. What’s surprising is that in both the Saint-Michel and Cluny Sorbonne locations, they offer a wide variety of fresh Anglophone books at decent prices. Most of the stores are quite large so if you’re looking to avoid the cramped nature of most Parisian bookstores, you’ll enjoy the spaciness of any of the Gibert stores and beat out the crowd as well.
Paul Boulinier du Quartier Latin
This is a popular French store for used books, music and movies. They have a nice selection of used English Young Adult and Crime novels at very affordable prices. The rest of their Anglophone section isn’t the best I’ve seen, so you’ll have to do some digging. However, if you manage to find some gems, you’ll only pay about 2 euro a pop. I walked away with Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and The Secret River by Kate Grenville for only 9 euro all together!
San Francisco Books
San Francisco Books is your typical tiny, cramped independent bookstore that smells like damp pages. And I love it for that. It has some new but mostly used books of all genres, including vintage books that are perfect for browsing and discovering. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in all of the stacks, feel free to ask the shopkeeper if they have what you’re looking for. They probably do.
The Abbey Bookshop
The Abbey Bookshop is basically a book hoarder selling their collection. This tiny shop is stack upon stack upon pile upon pile of almost any book you could think of all packed into two floors and miniscule corners. What’s unique to this bookshop is the shelf of vintage books that are always cool to look through, as well as the cellar (yes, I said cellar) of non-fiction books downstairs. Step into a cool, stone-dusty room jam-packed with Philosophy, Science, History, and Anthropology books. I was impressed to see how extensive the philosophy and anthropology (including indigenous people studies) books were. Usually, those are the sparsest sections of any bookstore.
So, dear readers, what are your favorite bookstores to visit in your city and what are you currently reading (or want to read)?