On September's bookshelf

Education | Brighten Youth Edu Centre 21 Sep 2021

There are those who know, and those who have yet to discover. In Paris, on the Left Bank of the Seine, is a magical bookshop. Those who already know Shakespeare & Co have entered into a lifelong love affair. Those who aren't yet familiar have many wonders to discover.

Since 1951, 37 Rue de la Bucherie on the famously arty Left Bank has been sacred ground for bibliophiles.

Established by George Whitman (often mistakenly believed to be the poet Walt Whitman's son), the shop takes its name from Sylvia Beach's earlier iteration, a haven for writers like Ernest Hemingway and the location where James Joyce's Ulysses was first published.

Even in its current form, the shop has a firm place in literary folklore. Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Richard Wright and Lawrence Durrell all spent substantial time there. William S Burroughs is said to have researched parts of his subversive The Naked Lunch in the bookshop's library.

Even today, contemporary writers like Zadie Smith and Jeanette Winterson regularly perform readings and take questions on the pavement outside the store.

It's hard to blame them; the store's setting is impossibly romantic - right on the banks of the river overlooking Notre Dame.

There is a growing literature surrounding the shop itself, and this month's autobiographical recommendation describes the experiences of a young Canadian journalist who was saved in more ways than one by the famous bookstore.

Jeremy Mercer's Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs: The Left Bank World of Shakespeare & Co (2005, also published as Time Was Soft There) describes the slow disintegration of his life in provincial Canada and later flight to Paris' most famous bookshop.

Set a few weeks into the new millennium, Mercer describes a world of beautiful actresses, surly American filmmakers, drunken poets and wandering Argentine gauchos.

Famously, Shakespeare & Co has always provided beds for writers in need. By day, those in residence help around the shop, write and explore the city. By night, they sleep alongside the books.

The shop's motto - "Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise" - is displayed in a prominent position.

To date, it is believed more than 30,000 people have stayed there for various lengths of time. During his stay - much like many who pass through - Mercer comes to learn as much about himself as he does about the store and its history.

Of course, Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs is one for booklovers, but it is also one for the dreamers. It's for those who miss travel, particularly to the corners of the world that hold something unique.

It's for those who hold curiosity as a virtue. For those who pursue knowledge for its own sake. It is a book for those who feel that bookshops aren't just places of commerce, but spaces of potential and - possibly - magic.

If you have any questions about our column, or the issues raised within it, please e-mail them to us: enquiry@brightentestprep.edu.hk

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