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Celebrating Shakespeare and Company in Paris and the Concord book fest

Shakespeare and Company owner George Whitman and his daughter Sylvia in front of the Paris bookstore in 1984 from “Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart.”Deborah Hayden

A bookstore in Paris

To call Shakespeare and Company a bookstore doesn’t do it justice. The Paris landmark is a literary salon and an unconventional hotel where guests, called Tumbleweeds, help run the shop. Now the English-language bookstore has published its first title, “Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart,” a glorious volume thick with old photographs, newspaper clippings, and reminiscences. Many celebrated writers including James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, and Anais Nin considered the shop their home away from home.

At the heart of the saga is the late great mercurial bookstore owner George Whitman, who presided over the legendary establishment for more than 50 years. “I’m tired of people saying they don’t have time to read,” he once said. “I don’t have time for anything else!”


Editor Krista Halverson spent two years organizing the papers, photos, posters, and ephemera that Whitman left behind when he died in 2011 at the age of 98. He grew up in Salem and graduated from Boston University with a journalism degree in 1935. He loved traveling as much as he loved books so he hit the road, ending up in Paris. Soon Whitman was operating a lending library out of his rented room.

In 1951, 10 years after the original Shakespeare and Company bookstore had been shut down during the German occupation of Paris and owner Sylvia Beach had been interned, Whitman opened a bookstore. He later took over the name Shakespeare and Company. In honor of Beach, Whitman named his only child Sylvia. Today she and her partner run the bookstore, her father’s words playing through her mind from time to time: “What mischief shall we get up to today?”

New voices

In Mary Waters-Sayer’s novel, “The Blue Bath” (St. Martin’s), American expatriate Kat Lind discovers that an ex-lover has been appropriating her image for 20 years. At an art opening in London, she comes face to face with his portraits of her.


Waters-Sayer is one of three novelists featured in New Literary Voices, a staple of the annual Concord Festival of Authors. Jennifer S. Brown’s novel is “Modern Girls” (New American Library) about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter who in the 1930s face difficult choices when they each find themselves pregnant. Louise Miller’s novel is “The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living” (Viking) about a Boston pastry chef who moves to Vermont in search of a better life. New Literary Voices starts at 3 p.m. Oct. 30 at Fowler Library in West Concord.

The Concord Festival of Authors, now in its 24th year, takes place from Oct. 20 to Nov. 6 at several venues in town. One highlight among the festival’s nearly two dozen events is a reception and talk on Nov. 2 at Bondir restaurant with Yale University history professor Paul Freedman, author of “Ten Restaurants That Changed America” (Liveright). Tickets are $30 and include hors d’oeuvres, two cocktails, and a signed copy of the book. The full schedule is at concordfestivalofauthors.com.

Coming out

“Irena’s Children: A True Story of Courage” by Tilar Mazzeo (Gallery)

“Jean Cocteau: A Life” by Claude Arnaud, translated from the French by Lauren Elkin and Charlotte Mandell (Yale University)

“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen

(Simon & Schuster)

Pick of the week

John Francisconi of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., recommends “The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood” by Belle Boggs (Graywolf): “Boggs tackles a variety of challenging topics throughout this cohesive collection of essays. She is somehow able to transform the clinical and sedate language of infertility treatments into a beautiful song of hope and transformation. “


Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.