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Get Into Reading Paris

Written by Damian Taylor, 21st October 2010

By Damian Taylor and Emma Hayward, Get Into Reading project workers

Paris has a history of great revolution; Shakespeare and Company is a wonderful bookshop, what better place to bring our own Reading Revolution?

We have recently returned from a stay at Shakespeare and Company, a wonderful bookshop situated in the heart of Paris. It is a rambling building which looks like something out of a fairytale - with its books stacked from floor to ceiling, the walls themselves seem about to collapse at any moment under the sheer weight of literature. In short, it is a readers paradise, the perfect place to while away the hours browsing the new stock downstairs, or exploring old editions in the library above. During the week we stayed there, we lived, worked, and breathed the bookshop - sleeping among the bookshelves in the Tumbleweed Hotel.

The bookshop was opened in 1951 by George Whitman, an ex-pat American, who settled in Paris after the war. It takes its name from the original Shakespeare and Company opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919, which was home to Joyce, Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

Today however, it is much more than just a bookshop. While there, we witnessed a performance of Beckett’s Endgame (in the pouring rain)...

... and acted as stewards at a gig that took place within the bookshop, headlined by American/French band Moriarty (named after the hero of Jack Kerouac's On the Road).

'Moriarty' perform at Shakespeare & Company.

We also attended one of the Sunday tea parties in George’s flat upstairs, in which an Austrian couple from San Francisco, a poet from Canada, a journalist from England, a novelist from Australia and many others sat around for tea and biscuits and then recited poetry aloud. (Does this ring any bells?)

As well as these almost daily events and readings, this summer Shakespeare and Co hosted their biennial literary festival with readings from, amongst others, Martin Amis, Will Self, and Jeanette Winterson.

The Highlight of our trip however was on the Thursday afternoon, when we held a Get Into Reading group with our fellow tumbleweeds. We read Anton Chekhov’s The Bet, and the poem Leaves by C. K. Williams. The group took place above the bookshop in the library, and being surrounded by so many books certainly helped set the mood.

Despite one or two confused tourist popping their head into the room (and perhaps wondering what we were doing. Reading together? Out loud?), we weren't able to tempt any of them to sit down with us and join in. Maybe next time - as we are hoping to return for another visit in 2011. Watch this space.

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