Shakespeare and Company: My Memorable Encounter

Prior to this study abroad trip, I never knew who Sylvia Beach was. However, I was able to experience and appreciate what she accomplished as an American in Paris is inspiring.  Sylvia Beach was born on March 14, 1887 in Baltimore, Maryland, United States but she lived most of her life in Paris. She then opened her first book store (Shakespeare and Company) in 1919 with the help of her Parisian lover Monnier. She welcomed many famous writers into her bookshop such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. According to Hemingway, he described her as having “…a lively, sculptured face, brown eyes that were as alive as a small animal’s and as gay as a young girl’s…she was kind, cheerful and interested, and loved to make jokes and gossip.”(P. 329) She seemed like a bountiful woman toward many who had a passion for reading especially Hemingway’s case as explained in the book, A Moveable Feast. One of my unpredicted and yet favorite parts of this trip was the Shakespeare and Company bookshop. It’s like walking back in time and experiencing a variety of books that have been through so much hardship. These books hold so much history with age and unrevealed knowledge that were once available to many well-known American authors. Until this day, I can see why many other people view Sylvia Beach as a literary hero. During WWII, she was fearless. She hid her books from the German officers so that they couldn’t raid her bookshop and destroy her books. She has created one of the most famous bookshops that is greatly valued today.

My exposure to the Shakespeare and Company bookshop was quite unbelievable. Although I don’t read very many books, this shop has definitely sparked my interest. I immediately fell in love with the timeless bookshop. The bookshop is small and filled with a bunch of brilliant authors. It is also as if the books have their own personal scent. Ranging from the newest that are fresh scented and sold downstairs. The older books, they are redolent of historical background which are rented upstairs. The many different sizes and colors that they all epitomize is unimaginable. Some of these books that once belonged to Sylvia Beach’s original Shakespeare and Company bookshop were of great significance to her. She risked her own being to save these books from the Germans who came in to rid of this history and diligent bookshop of hers.

My experience is similar to those of the past because this bookshop attracts so many people who have an appreciation for the arts. It’s a place of curiosity and awe that has been through so much over time. These books survived all these years from being hidden from German officers and transported to another location so that they can resume their appreciation by the people of today. Speaking of WWII, Beach states in her book, Shakespeare and Company, “Shakespeare and Company remained open. The war went on.”(P.428)

The hardships they had to face in the past are a different experience from what I encountered; whereas I can easily enjoy the books without any desolation or judgement of origin. We are at a time and age were we are freely privileged to explore and treasure what was preserved for us to view and acquire in this present day.

I highly recommend visiting the Shakespeare and Company bookshop while in Paris because it is truly riveting. It’s an experience that will entice wonderful and pleasurable memories.


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