‘This book will introduce you to the places which enshrined the reputation of Paris as a literary capital.’
So writes author Sandrine Voillet in the introduction to her new book, Literary Landscapes Paris, published by Pavilion, which shines a spotlight on the most prized bookshops in the French capital, as well as looking at famous literary restaurants and the city’s ‘storied streets’.
Among the bookshops to appear in the tome, there’s the oldest bookshop in Paris – a favourite of writers such as Foucault and Alexandre Dumas – and what’s thought to be the most famous antiquarian bookshop in France, Librairie Auguste Blaizot.
Reflecting on the significance of bookselling in Paris, Voillet writes in the foreword: ‘The role of bookshops has appeared so essential that during pandemic lockdowns, books were considered an essential need, so bookshops were allowed to stay open in France alongside food stores and pharmacies. Food for thought.’
She adds: ‘I’m sure you’ll be drawn to Paris after reading this book. As philosopher Walter Benjamin said: “Paris is the great reading room of a library through which the Seine flows.”‘
Scroll down for a literary tour through the fabled French city…
SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY, 37 RUE DE LA BUCHERIE: An ‘eccentric’ American ex-serviceman named George Whitman opened this bookshop after World War II, Voillet reveals. It was named after a different Parisian bookshop named ‘Shakespeare and Co’ that closed during the war. Before its closure, it was famous as a haunt for the likes of Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce, the book notes
LIBRAIRIE JOUSSEAUME, 45 TO 47 GALERIE VIVIENNE: The author says of this bookshop: ‘First established in 1826, this antiquarian bookshop located in a gorgeous covered arcade – one of Paris’s prettiest – known as Galerie Vivienne, specialises in nineteenth and twentieth-century books on history, poetry, theatre and music, as well as beautiful illustrated books, engravings, postcards and greetings cards’
LIBRAIRIE DU PASSAGE, PASSAGE JOUFFROY: This bookshop stocks ‘no less than 30,000 titles devoted to the fine arts with an enormous range of books on decorative arts, sculpture and design’, the author reveals. She continues: ‘These are expensive books, and staff are not particularly pleased when design students drop in and photograph pages or takes notes’
HALLE SAINT-PIERRE, 2 RUE RONSARD (LEFT): This bookshop is housed in a building – designed by a student of the famous French architect Victor Baltard and built in 1868 – that once served as a food market and then a school, the book reveals. SAN FRANCISCO BOOKS CO, 17 RUE MONSIEUR LE PRINCE (RIGHT): Of this business, Voillet says: ‘The San Francisco Book Co. in Paris was founded in 1997 and specialises in second-hand books. There’s usually a buyer in the bookstore every day if you have something to sell, though preferably a shelf-full’
ABBEY BOOKSHOP, 29 RUE DE LA PARCHEMINERIE: This English-language bookshop – housed in a former hotel – was first established in 1989 by Canadian bibliophile Brian Spence, who is known to ‘regale his customers over a complimentary cup of coffee’
LIBRAIRIE AUGUSTE BLAIZOT, 164 FAUBOURG SAINT-HONORE: This ‘distinctly upmarket’ shop is ‘arguably the most famous antiquarian bookshop in France’, Voillet notes. Alongside the sale of rare and ancient books, the book reveals, the family behind the shop have ‘published classic novels and collections of poetry including unpublished works of Victor Hugo’
LIBRAIRIE FRANCOIS CHANUT, 41 RUE MAZARINE: You can enjoy the ‘intoxicating smell of old leather and aged bindings’ in this antiquarian bookshop, which sells books from the nineteenth century onwards, the book reveals
LES MOTS A LA BOUCHE, 37 RUE SAINT-AMBROISE: Founded in 1980, this ‘pioneering LGBT bookshop’ holds 12,000 titles, the book reveals. Previously located in the Marais district, it was sadly driven out of its premises due to rising rents and now sits near the Pere Lachaise cemetery, Voillet notes
LIBRAIRIE DELAMAIN, 155 RUE SAINT-HONORE: ‘The oldest bookshop in Paris, Librairie Delamain was first opened for business in the early 1700s,’ Voillet reveals. She adds that ‘over the years, Delamain has been a favourite haunt of many a famous French writer, including Alexandre Dumas, Guy de Maupassant, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and Michel Foucault’
Author Sandrine Voillet, pictured, writes: ‘My passion for books started early. At first, they were a way to make imaginary travels as a child, then they became my refuge as a teenager before I finally became a compulsive reader and buyer as an adult’