Will Self signing
Bookworms can change the world - Paris, France
Independent bookshops, already treading water in the ocean of financial downturn, are increasingly being circled by the twin sharks of Amazon and large, cut price book chains. But, in a time of health service cuts, reductions in the offering of the BBC and increases in the cost of a university education, does it matter? The answer can be found across the channel.
Shakespeare & Company, on Paris' left bank, leads you down the magical rabbit hole into a world where books are not only precious but can stimulate change for good. The store piles between two shops, one selling antiquarian editions and one selling new books, and is bursting with noisy (it's not a whispering kind of place) bookworms. Notre Dame watches proceedings from across the river like a stern governess who sometimes can't resist joining in the fun by chiming at unpredictable times.
The store's choice of books is important, diverse, free thinking and encouraging of small publishers and so are the organisations it supports. Money is currently being raised for V Day's campaign to help female sexual abuse sufferers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and it also works with Le Pari's des Faubourgs, a literacy charity for marginalised adults and children.
If Shakespeare & Company is Wonderland, then the rebellious, boisterous Hatter's tea party is the bi-annual Festival and Company book fair. This year, the theme was "storytelling and politics" and had readings from and conversations with wide ranging writers such as Will Self, Janine di Giovanni, Martin Amis, Philip Pullman, David Hare and Fatima Bhutto. Natalie Clein played the cello and T J Dema presented a selection of her explosive street poetry. The Refectoire de Cordeliers, a converted 14th century convent, hosted an evening that included performances from The Paper Cinema, Beth Orton, Wendell Steavenson (Wendell is my new answer to "what do you want to be when you grow up?") and the most magnificent buffet in Europe. Every single event was free and the inclusive atmosphere was summed up by the slightly damp gentleman sat next to me "I was just on my way back from swimming and stumbled on the fair. These stumblings are the best thing about Paris".
A good, independent bookshop, like Shakespeare & Company, with a festival and regular readings can be central to its community. Neighbourhood recommendations were part of the festival printed programme. Within footsteps of the festival tent, I sampled tangine at Les Degres de Notre Dame, Beef Pho Soup at tiny Pho 67, cellar jazz at Le Caveau des Oubliettes and Galoche with Thyme from Fromagerie Dubois.
I came back to find that my local, Bookworms of Reigate, was in the process of shutting down and realised that time is running out to show struggling, independent bookshops how much they are valued before we get to the point where what we read is chosen by a very small group of marketing men.
- Shakespeare & Company, 47 Rue de La Bucherie, Paris
- Les Degres de Notre Dame (10 Rue de Grands Degres), Pho 67 (59 Rue Galande), Le Caveau des Oubliettes (52 Rue Galande) and Fromagerie Dubois (47 Boulevard Saint Germain).
- Find your local independent bookstore at www.localbookshops.co.uk
- Les Rives de Notre Dame is very close to Shakespeare & Company with delicious night views across the Seine to Notre Dame. Completely refurbished since its starring role in A bout de souffle, it's still a very romantic place to stay.
- The quickest way to Paris from London is by Eurostar.