In the last few years there have been some sad casualties on the English bookshop scene in Paris, with much-loved outlets Tea and Tattered Pages, Village Voice and Red Wheelbarrow all closing their doors for the last time. But the city that nurtured Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Orwell and Beckett remains a major hub and an inspiration for English writers and readers, and there are still glossy emporiums, delightful second-hand treasure troves and plenty of mixed-language outlets to explore. They're also great places to find out about literary readings and events (particularly Shakespeare & Company), and invariably have a message board with postings for language classes, book exchanges, clubs and accommodation notices. Expats, tourists, language learners, lovers of English literature in Paris, read on...
Celebrating 20 years in business, the tiny Abbey Bookshop is the domain of Canadian renaissance man Brian Spence, who organises weekend hikes as well as dressing up in doublet and hose for a spot of 17th-century dancing.The tiny, narrow shop stocks old and new works, a specialised Canadian section, and highbrow subjects down the rickety staircase. Several thousand more books are in storage, and he can normally order titles for collection within two days.
An offshoot of San Francisco Books in the next street over, Berkeley opened in 2006 and as well as the shop runs a well-organised website with an online catalogue and calls to buy, sell and exchange. In store, the range of literature, criticism, history, philosophy, religion, poetry, literary journals (including a shelf devoted to back issues of the Paris Review), cookbooks and children's books is arranged by genre and studded with treasures, though the space lacks some of the haphazard charm.
A long, gleaming space lined with dark wood and crowned with a mezzanine overlooking an intimate reading area, Galignani on the Rue de Rivoli is as chic as its location. It claims to be the first English language bookshop on the continent, but that’s not really important – though pricey, Galignani probably has the best overall selection of fiction, non-fiction, fine arts books, guides and gift titles in English in the city.
A delightful little rabbit warren of a second hand bookshop, San Francisco Books was founded by a group of ex-pats in 1997 and seems to have grown organically out of the conversations of book lovers. Tweedy gents hang around the front desk discussing politics and poetry, while browsers squeeze politely past each other in the narrow spaces between the stacks, ferreting out fiction, guides, DVDs, biographies, pamphlets and much more.
The original Shakespeare & Co, run by Sylvia Beach and beloved of Hemingway and his ilk, closed in the 1940s during the occupation of Paris (the site at 12 Rue de l’Odéon bears a plaque). In 1951, wandering spirit George Whitman opened Le Mistral at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, re-naming it in 1964 in homage to Beach’s legacy (he also named his daughter after her).
It’s not the most beautiful space inside, despite its vaulted Rue de Rivoli windows. Still, while at home the UK newsagent WHSmith mostly sells romances and thrillers in airports and train stations, its outlet in Paris remains one of the best-stocked English language bookshops in the city. A healthy amount of literary fiction, serious nonfiction and contemporary novels supplement the staples, and the range of magazines (at the back, next to the vending machines) is mind-boggling.
The biggest English-language lending library on the continent and proud of it, the American Library in Paris has gone from strength to strength over the course of its colourful history. Founded in 1920 as a repository for the books sent by the US government to its soldiers in the trenches during the Great War, it has always centred on the best of American literature and culture, its remit widening with the times to take in DVDs and other audiovisual materials.
The name says it all: this vast reference library (no loans), located inside the Centre Pompidou, was opened in 1977 with a strong remit to disseminate information to the public. There’s no charge or fussy registration process – anyone can waltz in during open hours, with only special services such as desk reservations requiring staff attention.
Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Man Ray and the rest of the ‘lost generation’ of the 1920s browsed here, and the atmospheric lines of used booksellers with their painted wooden stalls along the banks of the Seine are an unmissable stop-off – even if only for a photo opportunity – for every visitor to Paris.There are 217 licensed bouquinistes, totalling around 300,000 volumes and 3km of quayside browsing.
Fashion-savvy shoppers will delight in the shelves at Librairie de la Mode, which hold an extraordinary range of fashion and lifestyle books and magazines from around the world – if you’re stuck for *Wallpaper, Monocle or Vogue or want to know what’s hot in Singapore or Milan this season, this is your salvation. But the German outfit go much further than mere magazines – here you’ll also find seasonal trends analysis reports, fashion forecasting, graphics and digital titles.
A little out of the way for some expat book lovers used to hanging around the Left Bank, Librarie Le Rideau Rouge well rewards the trek out to the 18th arrondissement. Opened in 2012, the chic white-painted space is set over two floors, with a gallery and event space in the basement. The commendable raison d’être is to promote literature from around the world and in translation – so as well bestsellers and a delightful children’s section, you’ll find the titles organised by country.
Adored by fans of fashion and contemporary arts magazines, Ofr. bookshop stocks fanzines, arty postcards, boutique publications and fashion accessories. You can find everything from the latest issue of Love to the best street style shots of Facehunter, but Ofr. is also an independent publishing house that creates works in collaboration with a wide range of artists, like the photographer Ami Sioux.
The Oxfam concept was imported into France in 2007 with the opening of its first store in Lille. Since then, two further stores have been opened in Paris, one in rue Daguerre the other in rue St Ambrose. The pretty, apple-green shopfronts set the tone for these decidedly activist stores where people donate their books, CDs and DVDs, old clothes and a host of other pre-loved items.
Whether you’re a collector or a tourist looking for an unusual present, the Au Bonheur du Jour gallery is a treasure trove of erotic art to suit all budgets. The deliciously retro atmosphere is the antithesis of the city’s more modern galleries with their cold, contemporary white spaces (it’s rented from a friend who runs the well-known lesbian bar La Champmeslé just opposite).