Literature

Paris Bookshops: Culture Can’t Be Bought

Danielle Huddlestan

From an outsider’s perspective, Paris is a city of culture, romance, and art. You value the atmosphere as you stroll through the streets and think of all the great artists who have walked before you. It is no surprise then, that “the bookshop” is one of the most popular destinations, not only for the avid reader, but also the tourist searching to connect with the Parisian artistic culture. 

However, the popular bookshops, aimed at the British tourist and their need to validate the limited cultural knowledge they possess, are somewhat of a ruse. But how would we know this when our trusted guides to Paris are telling us to visit? Whilst these bookshops seem to be a focal point of European culture, they are nothing more than overpriced Waterstones, set in an admittedly beautiful Parisian building. All the texts are in English, are often British “classics”, and there is no emphasis on French literature at all. But do not fear – at least your book will get stamped to prove that you purchased it from the pretentious shop opposite the Notre Dame. It must have been worth the inflated price for this. 

This is what the Shakespeare and Company bookstore have resorted to doing to increase sales and boost their reputation. However, in naming the shop after the most famous writer in history, they seem to be neglecting their own heritage and the history of this beautiful city. The store was originally called “Le Mistral” and in changing the name to Shakespeare and Company it feels as if the shop is losing its deep-rooted history in Parisian culture in order to appeal to a British audience. In targeting individuals that thrive on feeling cultural, these bookshops include books and authors that a British audience would be familiar with. They should be placing emphasis on French texts, as we already have shops like this in England. 

Shakespeare and Company creates the illusion of culture and independence, and at one time it was. However, it has fallen victim to prioritising economy over the purity of loving books. Books that sell have been placed above books that they honestly feel passionate about. In this, the shop has lost the love of writing that made it a great space to begin. It was originally a meeting place for avid writers and readers alike to share their passion. Now it is becoming a tourist attraction.

I bought into this by purchasing George Orwell’s 1984 from this shop and getting it stamped. You are not permitted to take photos inside the store, so I felt like I needed some other form of documentation that I had been inside this renowned bookshop. I could have bought this book for half the price they were charging, but the reputation of the shop and the atmosphere of highbrow culture they have created, convinced me that I needed to buy something – anything. They may not be the epitome of Parisian culture, but they should win the award for sales techniques of the year.