Bookstores–alive and well in Paris, plus ou moins.

Blogathon June 23

Part 1

While Amazon has definitely made inroads in France, the bouquinistes (secondhand booksellers) along the Seine still hawk their books to tourists and locals out for a stroll. There’s something comforting in browsing slowly through secondhand tomes you’d never uncover in an Amazon search. You wouldn’t even know you wanted the book until you thumbed through an edition. A treasure may await.

In addition to these booksellers by the Seine, it’s not uncommon to encounter piles of books stacked on tables of flea markets around Paris. Usually, you’ll unearth books in both French and English, but if you are searching just for English titles, there are still bookstores that specialize, especially on the Left Bank.

Though some English language bookstores have closed in recent years, I’m happy to report they are not all endangered. Not only do they offer books –old and new—but also often in-store events worth attending. Here’s a sampling you shouldn’t miss:

5th Arrondissement

Shakespeare and Company |
37, rue de la Bûcherie

The legendary Shakespeare and Company, yes, it’s still around. Its first incarnation was in 1919, founded by Sylvia Beach, an American Expat from New Jersey. She nurtured writers and is perhaps most famous for publishing James Joyce’s Ulysses, in 1922, when it was banned in the UK and the USA. Patronized by the literary set of the 1920s & 30s, it closed in 1940 under German Occupation.

In 1951, another American expat, George Whitman, opened a bookstore called Mistral, which he later changed to Shakespeare and Company, in honor of Beach, and also in a nod toward Beach, he named his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman. It is she who is carrying on the bookseller tradition in its current location in the 5th arrondissement.  The bookstore is a warren of rooms, upstairs and down, and when George was alive he often offered students and impoverished writers a bed to call their own in exchange for working in the store—an early writer-in-residence feature. (Full disclosure: When he found out I was a writer, I had dinner one evening there with the in-house inhabitants and, he offered me a bed. I declined.) The store offers readings, teas, and writer gatherings. Check their website for events.

Open everyday 10 AM-11 PM.


Abbey Bookstore
29, rue de la Parchminerie

Not to play favorites but I love the Abbey Bookstore, owned by Canadian Brian Spence. Stacked to the hilt and crammed into every corner, books and booklovers find each other here. And if they chance to miss each other, Brian will play matchmaker. Impossible to believe when you actually see the narrow store with its 35,000 titles, but he can put his hand on any book anywhere in the store, on any shelf or ledge.

Brian also brews a great cup of coffee, ready any time of the day. He stocks new and used books, and holds author signings. (Another disclosure: I had informal book signing here.) Brian also organizes weekend hikes outside of Paris. Stop in and ask him about them. You’ll find the bookstore on a short street once aptly named rue des Escrivains (writers’ street), where scribes worked,copying manuscripts. Its current name derives from a time when merchants hawked parchment paper here, a business that thrived from 1300s` until the late 1600s.

Open Monday-Saturday 10 AM-7 PM.


1st Arrondissement

224 rue de Rivoli

Supposedly the Granddaddy of English bookstores. In 1801, Giovanni Antonio Galignani—a descendant of the original Venetians Galignanis who began selling books in 1520—opened what the store claims is the oldest English selling bookstore in Paris, then located  on rue Vivienne. In 1856, he moved to the bookstore to its current location where direct descendants of the family still operate it.

Under the triple-arched entry, this elegant bookstore highlights art books—a grouping developed when the Germans prohibited the distribution of English titles during the WWII Occupation, but it also sells a vast stock of English editions covering fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, and guides among other titles. Its classy wood interior gives it a cache that accompanies its high prices. Don’t expect bargains, but it is a roomy store to browse around it.

Open Monday-Saturday 10 AM-7 PM.

WH Smith Bookstore
248 rue de Rivoli

Located in the long rue de la Rivoli, near la Place de la Concorde, this big box bookstore (a branch of the London chain) operates on two levels with fiction on the first level and non-fiction titles on the second. Along with the typical fare of English language titles, it offers a large selection of newspapers and magazines from the USA and the UK. It also stocks children’s books and British and American films on DVD. Check the website for author readings and other book-related events.

Open Monday-Saturday 9 AM-7 PM, Sundays and holidays 2:30 PM-7 PM.


6th Arrondissement
San Francisco Book Company
17 rue Monsieur le Prince

Though limited in its selection the category of books covers a multitude of subjects from art and architecture to collectibles and cookbooks, film and fashion, to literature, philosophy religion, science and more. They also buy books.

Open Monday to Saturday 11 AM- 9 PM, Sunday 2 PM-7:30 PM.

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