If you’re a traveler who loves anything to do with books, you have to take time out in Paris.
Literature and books are part of the bedrock of this city.
Paris was once the haunt of aspiring writers and authors including Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust and Jean-Paul Sartre. And in the 1920s and ’30s Paris was a magnet to foreign writers who made the city their home including Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, F Scott Fitzgerald, Leopold Senghor, Richard Wright and Gertrude Stein.
Wander through the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank and you’ll discover intriguing little book shops tempting you to come in and browse. When you step inside some of them it’s like walking back in time and you easily lose a couple of hours exploring the shelves.
One of the more famous is the iconic English-language book store Shakespeare & Company.
I should point out this is not the original bookshop. The first was launched and managed by Sylvia Beach at 8 rue Dupuytren in the 6th arrondissement – until she was forced to close in 1941 during the German occupation of the city.
There’s an old urban myth she was forced to close after refusing to sell a book to a German officer.
The present Shakespeare & Company was reopened in 1951 by an American expatriate George Whitman and today is run by his daughter.
Want to explore a library? Take your pick. There are 58 main lending libraries and several specialized ones, for example:
- Bibliothèque du Cinéma François Truffaut
- Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris
- Bibliothèque des Littératures Policières
- Médiathèque Musicale de Paris
- Centre de documentation sur les métiers du livre – Bibliothèque Buffon
- Bibliotheque des Archives
- Bibliothèque de la maison du Jardinage
And you have to explore the fabulous quirky green boxes of the bouquinistes.
They line the banks of the Seine from the Quai du Louvre to Pont Marie on the right bank. And on the left from the Quai Voltaire to the Quai de la Tournelle.
You can browse the contents of these boxes any time of year – no matter what the weather. They’re a treasure trove of old books and comics, ancient magazines, stamp collections and poster art.
A Few Facts
There are over 900 of these green boxes all promising something unique and they’re run by 240 bouquinistes.
These booksellers have to apply for a licence to ply their trade and in 1930 official sizes of these green boxes were agreed and set.
History of Les Bouquinistes
It was back in the 1800s that the bouquinistes were first given permission to permanently fix their green boxes to the walls along the Seine.
But the booksellers’ presence goes back even further to the opening of the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris. This is the oldest original bridge in Paris and when it was officially opened in the early 1600s, booksellers would transport their books on carts to join the street sellers and traders on the bridge, selling their books from shelves attached to the sides of the bridge.
Becoming a Bouquiniste
Today there’s a long waiting list to become a Bouquiniste and it can take several years before you’re granted a licence.
Each seller has to pay an annual fee of Euros 100 and can operate a maximum of four boxes. These must be well maintained and are securely padlocked at night to keep their contents safe. And Bouquinistes must comply with trading rules set by the City. Anyone not doing so is fined and their licence removed.
With coveted spots along the Seine in big demand it comes down to seniority to secure one of these key places in the main tourist areas along the seine and in 1991 the Bouquinistes were granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
No matter what time of year you visit Paris, you’ll find these booksellers sitting basking in the warm sunshine or wrapped up warmly against the cold snowy days of winter… but always willing to chat or help you find something special to remind you of your visit.
Image credits: Author, Pinterest, gavroche-pere-et-fils.fr