The scent of print in a new book and the tinted yellow pages in an old book endows a book lover with an aura only bookstores can deliver. If your itinerary by default includes a book store while travelling, then here’s a list of three book shops which carry an old world charm and an otherworldly rich architectural splendour.
Shakespeare and Company: With its picturesque location on the banks of river Seine in Paris overlooked by Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company might not share the charm of visiting a new place as it has already been featured in films like Before Sunset and Midnight in Paris. Started by Sylvia Beach 19 November 1919, the place served as a center for modernism flooded by the exchange of ideas by writers like Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, and James Joyce to name a few. Even when the world travelled through the rooms cocooned with books and intellects, it couldn’t survive the German occupation of France during World War II.
It was in 1951, the book shop got a revival when George Whitman modelled his book shop on the same name and it became a meeting place for the great literary ex-pats of its time, James Baldwin, Julio Cortázar, Lawrence Durrell, Terry Southern, and William Styron, among them.
‘Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.’, reads the entrance to the first-floor library at Shakespeare and Company. Known for being warm, the visitors are invited to for a stay overnight for free in exchange for helping out a few hours in the shop, writing a one-page autobiography, and promising to read a book a day. They get renamed as Tumbleweeds ‘drifting in and out on the winds of chance’ says, George.
City Lights: Established a decade after the end of second world war in 1953 by the poet and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti City Lights has its share of the story to be told. The store opened as a result of Ferlinghetti’s chance encounter with Peter Martin, the son of Carlo Tresca, the editor of a magazine titled City Lights. Martin who was planning to start a bookshop to support his magazine, joined with Ferlinghetti to open the store on June 24, 1953.
The store became the meeting hub of poets Gary Snyder, Lew Welch, Philip Whalen, Michael McClure, Philip Lamantia, and Allen Ginsberg to name a few. It was during one of the session by Allen Ginsberg when he recited ‘Howl’ and Ferlinghetti agreed on publishing the poem and later were arrested for selling the copies of Howl. The literary history that is etched with it shines bright on this independent book shop till date.
Zhonshuge: One might be prepared to reflect on whatever a book has in store for us but you will be least prepared to dwell upon the reflections delivered by the mirrored ceilings that this book store has to offer. With the tiered bookshelves placed at creative angles, the place offers a perspective through optical illusion. With the children’s section designed like a playground, the book store caters to the amusement of the visitors irrespective of age.