I was going to post a piece about about Dickens for my Advent Bookfest, but instead here’s a small tribute to George Whitman, owner of the legendary Shakespeare and Company, who has died at the age of 98.
Here’s a picture of the bookshop that I took when my mother and I visited Paris earlier in the year. It is a fabulous place, where you can browse for hours, and no-one disturbs you, and we had lunch at a cafe just a few yards along the road, where we sat in the sunshine, looking at the Seine and Notre Dame, while talking about books and bookshops.
To start with, Whitman’s shop was called Le Mistral, but was renamed in 1964 following the death of Sylvia Beach, who owned the original Shakespeare and Company, which was famed in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s as a meeting place for English speaking authors like James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway (who wrote about in A Moveable Feast).
Like her, Whitman turned his shop in to a focal point for authors and poets, even providing food and beds for young, struggling writers. It sells new and used books, as well as running a library, and holds regular events, including readings, book discussions, film showings and musical performances.
Long may it continue – and may independent bookshops in this country thrive in similar fashion.