Somewhere the market can’t touch

Opened in 1913; published Ulysses in 1922 when the novel couldn’t get published anywhere else; liberated by Hemingway in 1945. Shakespeare and Company is still going on Paris’s Left Bank, selling, buying, borrowing, lending and publishing books, hosting literary readings, workshops and festivals and letting writers sleep and eat in the shop for nothing – the only price is that you have to read a book a day. Even without having been to the place, I know that, like the best secondhand bookshops of my youth, it will seem much bigger on the outside and you could waste an afternoon there. Perhaps a week.

Its owner says: ‘We sell books for a living, but it’s the books that are our life.’

No uniformed staff. No bullshit sales courses and display hierarchies. In terms of the experience, Waterstone’s just can’t compete.

Jeanette Winterson:

It will be depressing if the Mad Hatter ‘wisdom’ of the ‘free’ market manages to do in France what it has done in the UK – that is, close two-thirds of independent bookshops. Anyone can buy cheaply online if they wish, but consumer evidence in France is that people prefer small stores and patronise them enough to keep them open. If the market is allowed to distort this preference, no one wins but the anonymous bully-on-the-block bookstores with their bored assistants and bestsellers. Writers suffer terribly because big bookshops don’t backlist any more. Browsing a writer’s backlist is a thing of the past, except in independent stores committed to the idea of books, rather than just selling books.



One Response to “Somewhere the market can’t touch”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    The bookshop behind the Art of Tea cafe in Didsbury is a corker.
    I once worked at a chain bookstore and went on a course called Investor’s in Excellence where we had to lift some mug off his feet using just our thumbs and the power of positive thinking. On the other side of the room a man shouted ‘Amazon!’ through a megaphone. In another shop I wore a sign around my neck saying ‘Happy to Help’. Underneath, in brackets, it said ‘at £4.80 per hour.’ In another, you weren’t allowed to read, or sit down, and had to move to a different floor every hour. That one closed down some time ago, and the management went on to take the lead roles in a theatre production of The Three Stooges.

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