Paris Guide: Literary Destinations

Shakespeare and Company Banner
Shakespeare and Company Banner

Greetings from Dublin!

I’ll be leaving for Scotland soon, but first I thought I’d take advantage of a long layover and sample one of the city’s lovely bookshops.  Whilst sitting here, attempting to caffeine my way back to life, I thought there could be no better way to temporarily conclude my Paris Guide series than with a snapshot of my favorite Parisian literary places.

I will always return to la ville lumière, both in reality and my mind, and I will continue to write about the city – new places, insights, and the melancholic joy of navigating its twisted streets.  Certainly, when I’m living in London next year, I’ll make a trip back, and share the beauty and confusing quirks I encounter.  After all, I owe Paris my sense of wanderlust.

For now though, I’d like to temporarily wrap up my Paris guide series as a way of introducing my Scottish adventures!  I will soon be trading Parisian wine for Scottish whiskey (in theory – I may love wine too much), and parting ways with Hemingway for a night with Burns.

Before I begin exploring my new home, here’s a snapshot of my old one: the literary facet of Paris that continues to coerce hopeful artists into ambling down these expensive, glittering streets.

Hemingway lurked around the garden hunting for food in his poorer days
Hemingway lurked around the garden hunting for food in his poorer days – the glamorous life of un artiste, non?

 Favorite Bookshops:

Shakespeare and Company

Quite simply, my favorite days in Paris always seemed to involve Shakespeare and Co. This literary haven attracted the likes of Gertrude Stein and Hemingway, and has continued to host and support countless writers over the years.  Seasoned professors carry on the educational tradition by holding weekly workshops on the top floor in a delightful sitting room – a slightly musty, earthy corner of the bookshop overlooking flowerbeds and the steeples of Notre Dame.

The Abbey Bookshop

I accidentally stumbled across this book-filled cave while searching for Shakespeare and Company.  It’s a little embarrassing, actually.  I completely bypassed the famous bookstore, more than a little lost, and found this instead.  And I’m quite happy I did, for the Abbey Bookshop became a personal place of comfort over the course of my time in Paris.  Books are crammed in every nook and cranny of the store—a perfect respite from the congested throngs of the Latin Quarter, and a breath away from the city smog.


WH Smith

Simply put, WH Smith sells…all of the books.  Every last one.  Although it can’t compete with the cozy atmosphere of the Abbey Bookshop or impressive history of Shakespeare and Company, WH Smith trumps them all with sheer volume.  This chain store can be found throughout Paris.  Take note: it’s also an opportune place to post advertisements for babysitting, apartments, tutoring, and anything else that might suit your fancy.

I Love My Blender

Delightfully quirky, I Love My Blender is my personal favorite for indulging in English while simultaneously learning French.  Books are sold side-by-side their French counterparts.  As a normally frugal person, the fact that I’ve been caught purchasing two versions of one book is quite impressive.

Where to go:

Spoken Word, Le Chat Noir

Beneath the dimly lit bar of Le Chat Noir, an eclectic mix of literary obsessed locals gather every Monday night for open poetry readings.  If you’re new to the city and hoping to make friends, the open, warm atmosphere lends itself well to meeting people.  Even if you have no desire to speak, simply listening to the poetry while sipping a glass of wine can soothe your aggravated senses after a hectic Monday.

Where to Eat:

Les Deux Magots

Generally speaking, I prefer off-the-beaten path places to touristy ones.  To me, travel is about discovery, and uncovering bits of a culture by absorbing myself in the local patterns as best I can.  However, to strictly adhere to this would be to miss out on some wonderful institutions, including the infamous café Les Deux Magots.  My mom and I visited last winter, and I remember getting lost in their heavenly hot chocolate, completely in awe at the immense history surrounding my nondescript little corner table.

deux magots

Once upon a time, at the turn of the 20th century, Paris was actually an affordable city.  Artists could starve in Paris because their notoriety had not yet inflated the city’s artistic neighborhood prices.  Paris used to be the epicenter of the world’s unaccepted – the illicit.  Someone less jaded than I could use this as an excuse to write off Paris.  After all, it’s not always an easy city to love.


And yet.

The allure of Paris – its potency, its depth of literary history – remains as compelling as the day I left.

That sensation more than anything reassures me I’ll return to follow in Hemingway and Stein’s illustrious footsteps once more.

Which literary destination would you like to visit in Paris?  Do you have a favorite bookshop? 

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