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Sylvia Whitman’s favourite Paris reads

The owner of iconic bookshop Shakespeare and Company shares some choice titles for getting into the spirit of her adopted city

Sylvia Whitman crop
© Ola Rindal

When it comes to inspiration for Paris-based titles, the bookseller and manager at Shakespeare and Company, Sylvia Whitman, is spoilt for choice. 'I was born here,' she says, 'so it’s not much of a surprise to return. Coming back, all the smells (pain au chocolat, the metro, the donkeys in the Luxembourg Gardens) were all familiar so it felt like coming home. T.S. Eliot claimed the chief danger about Paris is that it is such a strong stimulant. And there is something that quickens the heart here that I haven’t found elsewhere.'

When not overseeing the bookshop, Sylvia is currently enjoying the Coutume Instituutti in the Finnish Cultural Centre. 'Finally, some good coffee and a relaxed ambiance in what has become a touristy quartier! When I say good coffee, I mean really good coffee.'

What Sylvia's reading right now:

'As I imagine anyone who works in a bookshop knows, it’s difficult not to take home a book a day. I like to dip into different genres at the same time so... for fiction, 'The Last Word' by Hanif Kureishi. Very, very funny. About a fading author and his biographer and ultimately how to write about a life. For non-fiction, 'Farmageddon' by Philip Lymbery; an eye-opening account of the true cost of cheap meat. An exploration of the mad system we have – from the antiobiotics fed to animals to bees being trucked across the States – it makes you question a lot of things. And for memoir, 'Inside a Pearl' by Edmund White – immerse yourself in Paris in the 80s. Elegantly written, White writes about coming to Paris unaware of the language or its people and quickly falling in love with it while meeting lots of glamorous, eccentric characters along the way.'   

Sylvia's recommended Paris reading:

'Paris' by Julian Greene
Each chapter reads like a beautiful portrait of a secret corner of the city.

'The Dud Avocado' by Elaine Dundy
I just want to join Sally Jay Gorce on one of her chaotic, hilarious and frankly bizarre days (and nights) in bohemian Paris.

'Down and Out in Paris and London' by George Orwell
If you’re drawn to the dirty side of Paris then this is for you. Orwell wrote about the bedbugs so we could enjoy the history without enduring the bites!

'The Mandarins' by Simone de Beauvoir
An intimate portrayal of post-Occupation Paris and both the personal and political trials faced by newly liberated Parisians by one of the era's most prominent voices.

'My Life in France' by Julia Child
A beautiful recollection of food, joy and Paris (as well as the rest of France); Child's love of the city breathes through every page of this breezy read.

More to explore