City landmark – The Abbey Bookshop, Rue de la Parcheminerie, Paris
The English abroad.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is a walking distance from Shakespeare and Company and refreshingly different from that touristy bookstore manned by cold attendants.
The Abbey Bookshop in Paris’s Latin Quarter is crammed with lovely new and used books. Many paperbacks are also piled up outside the door. The blue-eyed founder and owner, Brian Spence, looks like Leo Tolstoy. A Canadian émigré, he flashes a welcoming smile if you happen to look at him. He also offers free coffee, which is especially helpful to booklovers with not enough Euros for a coffee in a café.
The bookstore is steeped in mood. The tiled floor is cracked in places, the paint on the roof peels off here and there, and the narrow aisles are made narrower with wooden ladders.
Don’t forget to walk down into the atmospheric cave-like basement decorated with fairy lights. The devil might tempt you to flick a book or two if there is no other customer around—the owner sits upstairs.
The bookstore’s attendants never fail to stop by to offer help. But one does not need any help in this bookstore. Even though you are sure to get it here, please don’t visit the place to find the book you have been looking for lately. Do not humiliate this bookstore—a work of love—by treating it as a mere utility store. It is a place to find new worlds. The universe here is classified into a rainbow of shelves—from fiction, philosophy, drama to films, theology, poetry, history—and each of these shelves can take you to territories yet to be explored and for now located beyond the grasp of your consciousness.
An exhaustive section is devoted to Paris. One shelf is deliciously labeled ‘Used Mystery’. The Delhi Walla especially loves the staircase, lined on both sides with old guidebooks dedicated to all thinkable and unthinkable places on earth.
Before you leave, fail not to view the wall decked with bookmarks from bookshops across the world, including Delhi’s Bahrisons Booksellers (see the bottom photo below).
The Paris ritual
I wish we had bookstores like the Abbey Bookshop in Delhi-NCR. A few honorable exceptions aside, most bookshops here are ‘mere utility stores’.
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