Be Original

Monday, May 31, 2010

Shakespeare & Co.

My favourite bookshop in the world is a tiny place in Manhattan called the Gotham Book Mart. Old, musty, a favourite with everyone who's anyone in New York. Patti Smith debuted her poems there, Woody Allen has done readings there. When I had the amazingly good luck to visit, they were still using an old-fashioned machine (of the hand-cranking kind) to add up my Edward Gorey purchases (they specialised in Gore-y, among others). When I went back to find it in 2007, my heart sank when I saw the grills barricading the shopfront, signaling the end of an era and a way of life.

In the absence of the bookshop, is Shakespeare & Co., the next best alternative. It has a very different vibe from Gotham--trendier (and I say this with gritted teeth) and much beloved by tourists because it has marketed itself incredibly well. Quite unlike Gotham which prided itself with a quiet dignity (okay, they could be a little snooty). I'm being cynical and bitter because one beloved bookshop closed but that shouldn't mean I should condemn the other. 

Shakespeare & Co. is a worthy institution (original owner Sylvia Beach published James Joyce's Ulysses when nobody wanted it) and proof that people still read books and love them. Everyone is friendly there and you're more than welcome to sit and read for hours. There are writers-in-residence living upstairs in return for service in the bookshop and the upper tier showcases letters from fans all around the world. 

I come here every time now. Just in case. But there seems to be no sign of this bookshop ever letting up, thank god. Please don't go in the summer -- it really is like making a holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Mecca--crowded, sweaty and frustrating.