I am thrilled to have Sylvia Whitman from the legendary Shakespeare and Company bookshop as my Parisian of the Month. Enjoy!
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born opposite Shakespeare and Company in the Hôtel de Ville hospital. I grew up in Paris, Norfolk and Scotland.
You spent your formative years in England and moved back to Paris to be with your father. How were those gap years in England and what was it like coming back to your father grown up?
School was school and returning to live and work in Paris was a real discovery and exploration of books and characters.
It must have been an enormous task to take over the bookshop after your father passed away. What were some of the difficulties?
I had to install a phone to start with (in 2003)! The book industry has undergone drastic changes over the recent years. Adapting to online competition and the use of e-readers was one aspect to consider, the other was how to modernize this bookshop without altering the atmosphere. That balance has been both my aspiration and challenge.
Obviously you had big shoes to fill regarding your father’s legacy. What were the expectations from other people?
No idea! I’ve never tried to replace George because he is irreplaceable. I try and focus on what is needed for the bookshop and am constantly inspired by the writers I meet, the booksellers and the unique space.
How do you balance maintaining a modern day bookshop so steeped in the past?
There are too many books to read and too many shelves to repair to think about anything else! Seriously I love the combination of the 17th century building, the old books and the new titles that arrive every day. It’s incredibly stimulating.
What are some of the myths about Shakespeare and Company you would like to publicly dispel?
A lot of people who visit the store often ask where James Joyce slept or where Hemingway used to sit and borrow books and sometimes it is hard to break it to them that they are in the wrong place. We are the second incarnation Shakespeare and Company. Here, at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, we were home to the beat generation, not the lost generation, though their impact is very much a part of the bookshop and it’s chameleon like history.
You are expanding the bookshop soon. Please tell us about the expansion and what to expect ?
A café, a website… there are lots of others on my list but I might be dreaming: a bookshop farm, a shop around the corner dedicated to poetry, more space for children and their noise and songs.
There was a major spread about you, your father, and Shakespeare and Company in Vanity Fair magazine recently. What was the reaction and what benefits did it reap?
Bookstores are becoming more and more of a rarity nowadays and so any opportunity to remind people that we are here, next to the bells of the Notre Dame, carrying on a tradition of selling good literature can only be a good thing.
Who are some of your favorite writers that have spoken at the shop?
I was born after Allen Ginsberg and Richard Wright were here but I would have loved to have seen and heard them. For me, Lawrence Durrell was an incredible person to see reading from his quartet when I was just a child. We carry on the tradition and keep getting incredible writers over here from Martin Amis to Carol Ann Duffy and recently we even had the rock legend Jimmy Page!
What are your best selling books?
I would say our biggest sellers are Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”, Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince” and not surprisingly, given where the bookshop is located; Hugo’s “A Hunchback of Notre Dame”
If you could invite one author to lunch, living or dead, who would it be and where would you have lunch?
I think it would be really fun to share a Madeleine with Proust or sip at a Tomato Juice with Bram Stoker. We would have to meet at the shop, it is where I am most comfortable and I could get them to sign some first editions for our bookshelves.
What do you prefer about Paris?
Everything. The architecture, the smell of fresh bread everywhere in the morning, the smiles on peoples faces as they enter the shop. It is the most beautiful city in the world. Francois I summed it up best way back when: “Paris isn’t a city, it’s a world”
Shakespeare and Company
37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005
Metro: Saint Michel
Open daily 10AMto 11PM
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte's professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday,Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
Tours cost 210 euros for up to 3 people, and 70 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com
Click here to watch a video of our famous Marais tour