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  • Writer's pictureGaili Schoen

The Paris Bookseller

Happy Bastille Day! To celebrate I plan to make quiche or maybe a Niçoise Salade (or Ratatouille?) for dinner tonight, and I wrote this French-inspired piece to accompany my review for The Paris Bookseller. I hope you are enjoying a sense of Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité, wherever you are!

Sylvia Beach is an American who had lived in Paris for a few years during childhood, and has come back in 1919 to make her life there. After meeting and falling for bookstore owner Adrienne Monnier, Sylvia decides to open an English-language bookstore in Paris. She calls it Shakespeare and Company, and voilà, a vital literary institution is born. Shakespeare and Co. becomes the meeting place for expat American writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce. When Joyce's great novel-in-progress Ulysses is banned for obscenity, Sylvia takes up the mantle and decides to publish it herself:

"Shakespeare and Company was about to right a great wrong, ensuring the publication of a tour de force that should be required reading, not a banned book.... 'I had to do it,' [Sylvia] effused breathlessly, 'How could I not?'"

Sylvia could never have anticipated how physically and emotionally exhausting it would be to work with Joyce, who is an unrelenting rewriter, notoriously bad with money, plagued with glaucoma, and a heavy drinker. But she never waivers in her ambition to get Ulysses published, and keep Shakespeare and Company thriving.

The Paris Bookseller is a slightly fictionalized story of Sylvia Beach and her beloved Shakespeare and Company. In her Acknowledgements, author Kerri Maher writes:

"Though The Paris Bookseller might be about a famous store and famous writers, the daily practice of reading is a humble, deep, and incremental process; reading promotes empathy, helps us relax, shows us the world, educates us." Cheers to Maher and her well-researched tribute to literary history and the sanctity of bookstores.

This is a photo of my daughter standing in front of the present day Shakespeare and Company in Paris. This bookstore and the café next door (now located near Notre Dame) is always my first stop in Paris when I am fortunate enough to visit!

Hardcover 336 pages, Audiobook 10 hours, 37 min


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