Emily Monaco provides a bookish guide to Paris.
Cities by Bookworms is a project inspired by my love for books and travelling. Bookworms tell me about their city; the best places to buy books, bookish attractions and how their city contributed to making them a reader. – Sumaiyya
A Bookish Guide of Paris
Shakespeare and Company
This one is definitely a bit of a tourist trap these days, but that’s no reason why you shouldn’t pay it a visit. The original Shakespeare and Company welcomed the likes of Hemingway and André Gide; the current iteration of the store was far more popular with the Beats. Either way, it’s the best place for Anglophone language literary events and browsing English-language books – just be aware it’ll be crowded.
Location: 37 Rue de la Bûcherie
This is a “fiercely independent” English-language bookstore that doesn’t get quite as much hype but is still a great place to visit for unique finds and occasional literary readings and other events.
Location: 8, rue Casimir Delavigne
L’Écume des Pages
This is my personal favorite French language bookstore. The staff is friendly and helpful, and there’s a great selection of books in translation as well as a pretty good selection of classic French literature. I love the livres de poche section at the back, where you can find contemporary French books and translations of foreign books at very low prices. It doesn’t hurt that it’s located right between two cafés of literary renown in Paris: Les Deux Magots and Le Flore.
Location: 174, Bd St Germain
Where will I find cheap books?
A few places! I love to stroll along the quais de Seine to scope out the selection at the bouquinnistes or pop-up booksellers. A lot of them these days are selling more tourist trinkets than books, but you’ll find more than a handful peddling some real treasures.
You can also find used books – particularly English-language books – at Boulinier near Saint-Michel. The selection in English tends to be a bit paltry – I have a strong suspicion most of them come from books people forgot in hotels, given the prevalence of Oprah Book Club titles – but they’re cheap!
My absolute favorite place to buy used books is at the book market conveniently located right outside my apartment. (I may or may not have chosen my apartment for its proximity to the book market). It’s in the Georges Brassens Park and takes place every Saturday and Sunday. You’ll find everything from used one-euro paperbacks to beautiful antique hardcovers from the 19th century.
Any unexpected places where I might find booksellers?
Flea markets! Paris is constantly hosting a flea market or two, and someone is always selling books there, especially used livres de poche.
Do you have a favorite library?
My personal favorite is the American Library, because it lends books in English (and has a 20 book limit, which I take as a personal challenge).
But Paris is home to several beautiful libraries, including the Mazarine in the 6th, which isn’t just gorgeous; it’s also the oldest public library in France.
Places that host author events?
I’ve participated at author events at Berkeley Books and Shakespeare, but most bookstores have author events, however small.
Does Paris have an annual literary festival?
We do! The Salon du Livre takes place every year in March at Porte de Versailles.
Local writer whose work you love?
So very many… where to begin? I wrote my Master’s thesis on Victor Hugo (whose former home is now a museum on the Place des Vosges); my first brush with French literature was L’Étranger by Albert Camus (who frequented the aforementioned Flore); and I’m currently basking in the glory that is the wildly controversial Michel Houellebecq, who recently moved back to Paris after a long stint abroad. And that’s just the surface – it’d probably be more concise to list local writers whose work I don’t love.
Does your city have bookish tours?
Yes! I actually run one for Localers that focuses on the Lost Generation, as well as a few other enlightened literary minds.
Any museums dedicated to famous writers?
Aside from Victor Hugo’s home, you can also visit Balzac’s.
Favourite café or public space for reading?
I actually prefer to read on the bus! Bus routes through Paris take you past some of the most scenic parts of the city, and it tickles me pink to be reading a book and look up and see the Louvre or the Place de la Concorde or the Eiffel Tower.
Connecting to Paris as a Bookworm
I believe that cities, in their literary significance and respect for literature, contribute to making a bookworm. This section of Cities By Bookworms aims to gather insight on the personal and sentimental connections bookworms might have towards their city, and also how they feel about their city’s literary presence. – Sumaiyya
In what ways do you think your city might have contributed to make you a bookworm?
When I first moved to Paris, my French was already quite good, but I knew I wanted to get better fast. The easiest way for me to do that was to read, and so I spent a lot of time getting to know local authors through their works, something that also gave me a keen look at French culture from a unique perspective.
Are there any novels set in your city?
So many! Les Misérables (and pretty much anything written in French in the 19th century), A Moveable Feast, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Zazie dans le Métro, Le Ventre de Paris… the list goes on and on and on…
How would you feel if there were no stories set in your city?
I’m not sure! I think that the Paris I expected to find wasn’t the Paris I actually encountered when I moved here, and part of what caught me off-guard was that I had expectations that were molded by literature set in Paris in the 19th and early 20th century; of course, that Paris no longer existed by the time I moved here in 2007. Maybe I would have had a more open mindset when I moved here, if I hadn’t already been tainted by literature describing a Paris that no longer exists. But I guess if there were no stories set in Paris, I’d just feel inspired to write one!
About Emily Monaco:
I’m a professional storyteller based in Paris, which is a fancy way of saying that people pay me to write stories and also sometimes accompany them on an historical discovery of Paris on foot. I high-five my inner child every day.