Paris; book by book.

Blogging is new to me. I will be honest, I have never yet (although I admittedly will start) read a single blog that I have not first read either in book form, or in the name of research. I realize this might make me appear somewhat peculiar but I am not a massive fan of all technological advances! And I am a little old fashioned at heart, okay?
I believe, absolutely, in the sanctity of the book.
To me, just for a minute not thinking about the environmental advantages of e-reading, reading a work of fiction from the screen of a Kindle, is like drinking wine from plastic, or eating your favourite meal on the run to your next meeting, or choosing to have relationships solely over social media instead of face to face. The content may be no different to some, but the experience is in its entirety.  A good novel and the reading of it, the setting of the reading of it, can be a magical, transformative, and almost spiritual experience. A romantic affair I wouldn't give up for the world.
So on a quiet Autumn Sunday I set out to explore Paris, bookseller by bookseller, in the seeking of magic and wistfulness.
Not a Waterstones in sight, Paris is full of thriving independent bookstores.
Most of these bookstores hold primarily or entirely books in the French language, however there are a large handful of English ones. And some of these are exceptionally special. 

I went for a wander one Sunday...
On Sundays in Paris not much is open. Some supermarkets, laveries, tabacs, and patisseries, along with the big museums and galleries in the centre may be, however the only real way to shop in Paris on a Sunday, is by market.
Stepping out onto the Rue de la Convention, the smell of fish hits you like you disembarked from the Metro at the ocean. I walked passed the stalls all with my mouth watering, and headed up to the flea market by Parc George Brassens. This market is a book collectors dream. Everything here is in French, but if by any chance you are desperate for an early edition Balzac, well kept but still with yellowing pages, a musty historical well loved scent and notes in the pages from its former owners… this is the place to find one.
The sellers here talk loudly and gesticulate frantically to one another, seemingly unaware of their patrons. They sit on their camping stools drinking tea in old hats and gloves, an enormity of history enveloping them. And I am envious! One day, I shall have a library full of these old books, and hopefully one day I will know enough French to be able to read even a little of them.

On the way back to the metro you can merrily stop in to one of the patisseries or chocolatiers, or have café in a traditional Parisian café and maybe even some fish, enjoying this area which on first inspection seems very run down and ‘Un-Parisian’, but has lots to share. There is also a Marionette Theatre in the park right off the market.

After this I found myself at Tea and Tattered Pages. A bookstore slightly isolated from the bustle of Paris that has boundless charm. Just around the corner from metro Duroc, one is welcomed in by a jingle and a ginger cat. The elderly proprietor greets you warmly. Most people wish to simply browse, so she explains the layout and lets you mingle. This store is almost minuscule in proportions, but full of old and well loved books. Everything is also second hand, so if you are looking for something specific you are unlikely to find it in my opinion, however if you put in the time, you might come across a gem. Some of the books are on shelves and some are piled up precariously and humorously. There is also a sign that reads ‘Unattended children will be sold as slaves’. A testament to the humour and unique quality of not only the store, but its owner. There is also a tea shop at the back, where you can relax your feet, fill your tummy, treat your ears to the constant flow of classical music, switch off from modern life and engage in some interesting reads.
In the 6 arrondisement is the Village Voice. Tucked down a side street this bookstore is more reminiscent of a miniature chain store, but much more unique. It has the same quirky charm as a Parisian building, with its odd shape and dusky corners. Everything new and cult you can find in here and customers are usually English speaking also so you might even depart with a new friend. They hold discussions and lectures, the next one being a dialogue of the life and works of Virginia Woolf.

Situated near metro St Paul in the trendy Marais district, right around the corner from my favourite florist (specializing in roses) cushioned among ethnic furniture and fashion stores and all kinds of vintage shopping, in an area that sells in its cafes side by side chilli con carne and foie gras and where you can always get a glass of vin chaud (can you tell yet that second to my love of books, is food?) is the Red Wheelbarrow. Similar in style to the Villlage Voice this charming little bookstore is the perfect treat on a day in the Marais.

And, I have saved the best for last. My favourite bookstore for now and forever. George Whitman’s great accomplishment, Shakespeare and Co; my left bank heaven.

It is infamous in its surroundings, being situated right across the seine from the gothic towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral, and when you tentatively step over its threshold you are transported, back in time. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man greets you, held by the stores quaint and quirky, wrinkled and slightly delirious nature. Writers regularly read their work here, there is a piano to play, there is a bed famously slept in by great minds (and still available for volunteers, travellers ands writers).  If you have not read ‘Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co’. and spend your days dreaming of writing, old books and dusty bookshelves, and of course Paris, and adore the eccentricities of artists,  then I implore you to read it, and lose yourself in this warm and crazy world. After then I guarantee you will be as intimately involved with this place as the rest of us. It's magic. 

I encourage you, if you are in Paris or are going to be, and love books, visit these places. You will never, ever, be the same.


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