Anna and Olivia have had the good fortune to visit many bookshops up and down the country throughout their time at Slightly Foxed, but their latest venture took them across the Channel . . .
Bleary-eyed and bearing Slightly Foxed tote bags full of tempting wares, we settled ourselves on the Eurostar as the sun rose. Large cups of coffee and even larger croissants set us up for the day ahead: a whistle-stop tour of independent English-language bookshops in the French capital.
We emerged from Saint-Michel Métro station into bright sunshine, squinting at the quintessential Parisian view of the Seine and Notre Dame. No better backdrop for an exploration of Left Bank bookshops.
We planned our route over a bolstering shot of coffee in the Shakespeare and Company Café (trading ‘flapjack Kerouacs’ and, naturally, more books) before heading next door into the famous haven for readers, writers and booklovers. A bustling ground floor is lined with ceiling-high bookshelves and library ladders, providing an atmospheric setting for the many events held in the evenings, when guests spill out into the street. The upstairs library space is designed for sitting comfortably and burying your nose in a chosen tome, framed by an open window looking out over the river. We could have stayed all day browsing the shelves of Shakespeare and Company, where so many writers have bedded down and honed their craft, but the Latin Quarter called.
The Abbey Bookshop sits on rue de la Parcheminerie – a commemoration of the parchment makers of the late Middle Ages, and a fitting site for a shop housing the greatest amount of printed paper we may ever have encountered. Free coffee is available at the entrance, an archway leading into wall upon wall, pile upon pile of books. We manoeuvred through the labyrinth to chat about all things Foxed with Brian, the shop’s friendly and knowledgeable bookseller. Hailing from Toronto, he crossed the Atlantic to bring Abbey Books to an international audience, and this corner of Paris is all the richer for it.
Just a street or two away, a distinctive red awning drew our attention to the perfect pit stop for second-hand books. San Francisco Books could not disappoint even the most eccentric of book-seekers with its wide and eclectic English-language stock. Even better, it is now stocked with complimentary copies of Slightly Foxed.
Like a physical realization of our quarterly, Berkeley Books of Paris is full of excellent personal recommendations by Californian bookseller Phyllis. Every title is handpicked and in its proper place, alongside a selection of photographic prints, hanging glassworks, a painting of the shopfront by a local artist, a coffee machine atop library steps and no fewer than three typewriters. We spent a happy hour spotting copies of books featured in Slightly Foxed, and even a discovered a second-hand compendium of John Moore’s Brensham trilogy. Phyllis recommends not only good reading, but also first-rate spots for a leisurely lunch. We ate overlooking the Jardin du Luxembourg while examining our purchases – including a copy of The Diary of a Nobody, picked up for Jennie back in the office who is always singing its praises.
Heads full of reading lists and stomachs full of cheese, we couldn’t resist swinging by Shakespeare and Company again to talk with the bookshop’s buyer Alex, and enjoy a final browse of the outdoor stalls in the sunshine before heading across the river.
After a stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries we visited the first English bookshop established on the Continent: the very smart Galignani. The handsome building is accented in deep green, and it’s a real pleasure to walk through plush rooms full of beautiful displays and intelligent selections of Anglo-American books, French literature and International Fine Arts.
We strode onwards to our final destination of the day. What better way to end our tour than with a glass of wine at La Belle Hortense? Ostensibly a literary bar, this is a truly unique affair. Perhaps only in Paris could one find a wine cellar-cum-library that is open until 2 a.m. We couldn’t stay up quite that late because we had a train to catch, but we did prop up the bar long enough to raise a glass to a most fortifying day in France. Bonsoir Paris, et à bientôt!