When the clouds hang low and rain drops patter against the shutters, nesting in a cozy little bookshop is my favorite way to spend the afternoon. So luckily for me, I moved to a city of book-lovers! There are nearly two hundred “librairies” in the 5th arrondissement alone, and over two hundred and fifty “bouquinistes” along the River Seine – not to mention all the shops in other districts! Paris surely welcomes book worms with open arms.

So, from the many incredible choices, I decided on the legendary “Shakespeare & Company” by Notre Dame Cathedral. The word about this bookstore has spread way beyond Paris and even France; and, over the years it has become a place of pilgrimage for aspiring authors and book lovers worldwide. I couldn’t wait to explore its shelves.

The smell of musty, worn pages welcomed me as I stepped into the shop. Every wall was stacked from floor to ceiling with publications of every shape and color, some with titles worn away from decades of owners. Loaded in boxes and crates in front of the store, spilling from lopsided shelves, and wobbling in piles all along the shop’s two floors, the treasures in this little book shop seemed endless.

An elderly French man stood at the top of a wooden ladder, thumbing through the pages of a Hugo drama. On the floor beside him, all that could be seen of his friend was his disheveled, Einstein-like hair as he hungrily crouched over a pile of l’histoires. In one corner, a group of young students discussed an eye-catching picture biography of Paris cabaret. In the other, a young mother narrated a story in a hushed voice to her daughter.

I browsed; I visited the writer’s room; I played the piano (but of course not for long, so no one would realize that I really don’t know how!) I felt I was connecting in some small way with the expatriate writers of old Paris, members of “the lost generation” like James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, who had used this bookshop as their meeting point in the 1920s. And so, it seemed a very fitting first activity for an American in Paris!

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