Writing in the New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz praises the bookshops of France in general, and of Paris in particular, and then gets a nasty surprise when she pays a return visit to the legendary Shakespeare & Co.
When I arrived this time, a line had formed in front of the shop. People waited placidly, snapping iPhone photos to bring back to their bookstore-deficient nations. The doors were closed. I went to reach for the handle just as they opened to emit a pair of nuns, and a dark-haired woman stuck out her head and called, “Next two, please.”
Failing to understand, I tried to move past her. She blocked my way. The shop had too many visitors to fit inside at once, she explained. Would I just stand to the side and wait my turn?
A bookstore that has become a monument to itself, even a wildly popular monument, has lost its living essence. If this is what the French are trying to protect against, good luck to them. Rebuffed by Shakespeare, I did what you do when you have the luxury of choice, and went around the corner to the Abbey Bookshop, on the Rue de la Parcheminerie, where I found Kushner’s book smack in the middle of the shelf, right next to Kundera and Lawrence.