If you happen to visit Paris, France, you might come across one of Europe’s most famous bookshops: Shakespeare and Company. The original Shakespeare and Company, located on the Left Bank, was founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919. Beach’s bookshop closed in 1941. The existing Shakespeare and Company, also on the Left Bank (adjacent to Place Saint-Michel), was founded in 1951 by George Whitman, an ex-serviceman. Whitman’s bookshop, however, was initially named “Le Mistral.” In 1964, on the 40th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, Whitman changed the name to Shakespeare and Company as a tribute to Beach’s store (before she had died, Beach agreed to allow Whitman to use that name). The bookshop became one of the favorite hangouts of bohemian culture, including Beat Generation writers like William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg as well as other famous authors like Bertolt Brecht, James Baldwin, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Peter Matthiessen, and William Saroyan.
As you wander among the tightly-packed bookshelves in the store, that was once a 16th-century monastery, you will come across several signs, including on above the reading library: “Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise.” As you venture through the stacks you will come across a quote by American author Rebecca Solnit, a champion of women’s, human, and environmental rights. She famously coined the term “mansplaining” in her collection of essays titled Men Explain Things to Me, published in 2014. The quote that appears in the store is from the book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (2016): “Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.”
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