Tumbling into the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart in Paris

Literary Tourist in Paris

It was a tough trek. Way longer than I expected – from the American University of Paris to the Shakespeare and Company bookstore along the Seine. I was lugging my laptop too, and the books Daniel Medin had given me after our conversation about translation, plus this

Shakespeare and Company Paris: A History of the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart. Predictably I wasn’t on time for my interview with its editor, Krista Halverson. It wasn’t that I was winded, or, despite the heat, sweating too much; no, I was annoyed because I was unnecessarily late. Krista quickly shooed this funk away, assuring me that she hadn’t noticed, inviting me to join her for a beverage at the store’s adjacent cafe (there on the left,  all dressed in white).

Yes, Shakespeare & Co. has its own cafe now! – a luxury that long-time owner George Whitman could only covet. The store, and cafe, are now owned by his daughter Sylvia –  as in Beach – who I had hoped to interview. Unfortunately for me, she was off on maternity leave, nurturing the next generation of bibliophiles.

I ordered an espresso, Krista chose some sort of energizing berry-carrot concoction. Of course that’s what I should have had – being hot and tired and late and all. We moved to the outdoor patio to plot out how our conversation would go. Krista couldn’t finish her drink and offered me what remained – looked like half the glass. Perfect.

She showed me through the shop, which, thanks to various adjacent rooms and apartments coming on the market and being bought or rented at different times , really does

resemble a rabbit warren.

You need to pay attention to details if you want to get the full bookstore experience. Floor tiles

overhead signs, biblical

and otherwise

(City Lights in San Francisco is a sister store, and sports a Shakespeare &Co. sign above its door), and I really liked this window full of flowers

We even stopped in on some young

American ‘tumbleweeds.’

This is what George affectionately called young writers who stayed at the shop for free in exchange for food and working at odd jobs. It’s estimated that over the years some 30,000 young people, and not so young, have blown through the place. Back in the day this arrangement tended to be a bit loose, and things did get disorderly at times. Today it’s a different story. All I can say is: what a great gig for those who can get it. You can’t plan ahead to be a tumbleweed. You show up, announce your intentions, and subject yourself to an interview. On this basis you’re either in or out.

Krista was certainly in. As she tells it, she showed up in Paris – after working at Zoetrope magazine for 12 rewarding years – looking for something new to do with her life. She hit it off with Sylvia and after a while was hired to catalogue and publish George’s extensive archive.

We made our way up several flights of stairs to a quiet little apartment right under the roof’s rafters; from the window,  this rather iconic view.

I’ll let Krista pick up the story directly from here.  She’s next up on  The Biblio File podcast  – wait for it.

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