Better than Shakespeare & Company.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
No, not Shakespeare & Company. The best bookstore in Paris for readers in English is actually Librairie Galignani. Founded in 1801, it is the oldest English-language bookstore in Europe outside England.
To be sure, Shakespeare & Company is a very good bookstore. Situated just across the road from the great Notre Dame, it has chandeliers, beds, sofas, tourists and a great selection of first-hand books (the marvelous-looking used books upstairs are not for sale). But Galignani, which is situated close to the Louvre museum—on Rue de Rivoli— has a more extensive selection. And unlike Shakespeare & Company, it hasn’t got a single trash.
Every single book in the dark-wood shelves of Galignani is worth acquiring. The biography section has the best biographies of the best writers—including William Carter’s Marcel Proust: A Life and Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce. The poetry section is a tall, broad shelf stacked with all the poets one could follow for life. One huge shelf is devoted to black hardbounds of the prestigious Library of America series. Another is filled with Modern Library volumes.
The magnificent collection of art books demands a full day for itself.
And yes, Galignani has atmospheric ladders, too.
It is doubtful if there could be delights greater in the world than spending hours at Galignani and following it up with downing a cup of totally decadent hot chocolate at the next-door Angelina patisserie and restaurant.
The bookstore is also stocked with French-language books. In fact, the window display shows books in French. The English Department is built deeper into the shop. It is the work of two lovely people –the charming Nicolas Fouint and the grey-haired Anne Perrier (see top photo), so stylish and regal that she should ideally succeed Dame Judi Dench as M in James Bond movies.
Another beautiful thing about Galignani is that tourists aren’t seen here. No one enters with a camera—this is a rare sight in Paris. In that sense, this is truly a local bookshop with a cosmopolitan scope. Indeed, a true snob who visits Paris would buy books at Galignani and would die rather than be seen at Shakespeare & Company. As elegant Parisians in their hats and dresses walk through the corridor of Rue de Rivoli, they instinctively slow down their steps in front of Galignani to study the new titles on the window. Some eventually enter the shop; others continue to walk on, deep in thoughts, probably plotting that they could always return to the bookstore the next day. After all, Galignani is going nowhere.
The best in Paris
4. (Nicolas Fouint)