There is one heavy yet handy item that should never go unpacked. Books cure your bouts of homesickness and loneliness. Books provide space when you really can’t stand to couchsurf futons with your
self-centered and control freak best friend anymore. Books serve as an excuse to skip your hostel’s Jägertrain-themed bar crawl, and books pass time when yet another museum doesn’t seem worth the money.
But all books have a last chapter, and you seem to have the habit of reaching it mid-travel. These sorts of things tend to happen in city like Paris where you don’t speak the language and have no less than 5,832 things on your must-see list before moving onto the next city. Lucky for you, Paris has plenty of English language bookstores. And even luckier, most of them are one winding cobblestone street away from the city’s most famous attractions.
The Red Wheelbarrow
In the oldest and best-preserved neighborhood in the city stands a tiny red storefront bursting to its seams with books. Every table, every chair, in fact every possible centimeter of The Red Wheelbarrow’s 40 square meters is covered with books. The staff is nearly always hidden behind a pile of them, but will cheerfully emerge to help customers.
Since 2001, owner Penelope Fletcher Le Masson has relied on past bookselling experience and her own personal taste to keep a selection of all varieties of Anglophone literature on her shelves.
The Red Wheelbarrow is best known for providing history and political buffs with their fix, but the store really has it all. Fletcher Le Masson sells translated French classics for tourists captivated by the Marais district and its history, contemporary fiction for expat book clubs, and everything in between.
The Red Wheelbarrow also serves as second home to a tight-knit community of dedicated locals who stop in frequently to browse, buy and talk books.
Close-by tourist hotspots: Ile Saint Louis, Musée Picasso (closed until 2012), Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, Place de la Bastille
Address: 22, rue St Paul, Paris 75004
The Village Voice is tucked away on a small street that is less than a five-minute walk from the most celebrated literary cafés of Paris. The 120m2 storefront has a literary history of its own. Henry Miller, author of “Tropic of Cancer,” worked in an apartment next door in the 1930s.
French-born proprietor Odile Hellier makes a conscious choice to stock only 24,000 titles on her shelves, which means two things: Here you’ll find the least overwhelming and most organized selection of English language literature in the city. And every single one of those books has been carefully hand selected for sale.
At Village Voice, native English speakers can find new releases, translated French classics, and a good selection of current periodicals. Hellier also aims to serve French customers who are interested in exploring contemporary American literature.
The Village Voice boasts a strong circuit of readings and book signings, but arrive early for admittance. Popular authors attract more admirers than the store can possibly fit.
Close-by tourist hotspots: Rue de l’Odéon, Café des Deux Magots, Café de Flore, Saint-Sulpice
Address: 6 rue Princesse, Paris 75006
Tea & Tattered Pages
As its name suggests, there’s more on the other side of Tea & Tattered Page’s red-and-white-striped awning than books. The secondhand bookstore has a yellow-wallpapered café in back where customers can sip a cup of tea (there are more 30 to chose from), enjoy a snack, and thumb through books.
Browsing is encouraged, which makes Tea & Tattered Pages the perfect place for lone travelers to pass the time in the company of books. When she retired, Hilda Cabanel-Evans purchased the store from its previous owner and admits running the business has come to be less about making money and more about meeting interesting people. As the store’s only employee, she greets everyone who enters and encourages them to make themselves at home. That’s not hard to do in such a cozy setting — especially with Ming Lung, the Tea & Tattered Pages cat in residence, moseying about.
The store sells all sorts of fiction and non-fiction English language literature. If you stay for a pot of tea, you’re likely to find something that suits your taste.
Close-by tourist hotspots: Les Invalides, Musée Rodin, Le Bon Marché, Cimetière du Montparnasse
Address: 24 rue Mayet, Paris 75006
San Francisco Book Company
San Francisco Book Company is one of the few technology-savvy secondhand booksellers in Paris. The shop is continuously expanding its online stock, where customers all over the world purchase the rare and technical titles that don’t make it to the shelves.
Inside the Paris-based store, you’ll find titles that appeal to a more general audience. The steady stream of tourists, locals and students wandering in from the nearby universities tend to purchase pocket paperbacks. The store is neatly organized by section, but everything is packed pretty tightly. Time to peruse is essential. But it’s worth it.
San Francisco Book Company offers reasonable prices in a city where English language literature is extremely expensive. For those travelers looking to replace a just-finished book with some fresh reading material, San Francisco Book Company offers twice as much in store credit as they do in cash. If the store doesn’t buy your book, consider helping out someone on an even tighter budget by donating it to the free book box.
Close-by tourist hotspots: La Sorbonne, Palais du Luxembourg, Saint-Sulpice, Quartier latin
Address: 17 rue M. le Prince, Paris 75006
Shakespeare & Company
The legendary Shakespeare & Company of the early 1900s was an oasis for English-speaking writers in Paris. Owner Sylvia Beach published James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” The bookstore appears in Hemingway’s memoir “A Moveable Feast.”
The original shop closed during World War II and never reopened. Almost 20 years later, a bookstore on the banks of the Seine decided to adopt the same name and spirit. Writers today still take refuge among the bookshelves of Shakespeare & Company; these so-called “tumbleweeds” can sleep in the store as long as they read a book a day, write a one-page autobiography, and help shelve books.
As the bookshop continues to grow, current owner Sylvia Whitman aims to maintain its legacy as a sanctuary for aspiring writers and artists. Shakespeare and Company hosts countless events, weekly readings and workshops. The FestivalandCo literary festivals runs biannually, and Whitman plans to soon launch a publishing company as well as a coffee shop next door.
Close-by tourist hotspots: Notre Dame, Quartier latin, Jardin du Luxembourg
Address: 37, rue Bûcherie, Paris 75005
Nothing about WH Smith claims to be Parisian or charmant . Instead, this independent branch of the WH Smith chain focuses on selling the largest selection of British books in Paris.
This tourist hotbed is only closed three days out of the year and houses more than 700,000 British and some American titles. This might be the one place in Paris where you are invited to flip through magazines without purchasing. Luckily, WH Smith sells more foreign magazines and newspapers than anywhere else in the city. The store’s layout makes it easy for customers to find the hottest bestsellers and holiday-themed books, games and DVDs.
Head upstairs to browse the children’s section, which is well stocked with books for all ages. Just around the corner is a small British foods grocery (good for a package of Polo mints or a jar of Marmite yeast extract).
Due to its prime location close to many must-see monuments, WH Smith is usually packed. But you shouldn’t have to wait long to buy anything. Cash registers are littered throughout the entire store.
Close-by tourist hotspots: Le Louvre, Les Tuileries, Place de la Madeleine, Place de la Concorde, l’Opéra Garnier, Musée de l’Orangerie, Jeu de Paume
Address: 248 rue Rivoli, Paris 75001
The Abbey Bookshop is the go-to destination for Canadian literature and camaraderie in Paris. It’s the subsidiary of a bookstore of the same name located in Toronto. As you browse the jam-packed aisles of new and used books, owner Brian Spence will offer you a cup of Arabica coffee — sweetened with Canadian maple syrup, of course.
>> Address: 29 rue de la Parcheminerie
If you are in Paris semi-permanently, use Amazon.fr to find specific titles for the cheapest prices. Shipping is always free, but it’s not always fast. If your books are being shipped from the United States or Great Britain, expect to wait several weeks.
FNAC is the country’s largest electronics, music and bookseller chain. Most of the material is in French, but you will be able to find the biggest selection guidebooks and maps here. This is also the best store to replace travel necessities that may have been lost or damaged en route such as memory cards, earphones and batteries.
>> Addresses: Champs-Elysées/Galerie du Claridge: 74, avenue Champs-Elysées, 75008 — Forum (Châtelet les Halles): 109, Porte Berger, 75001 — Montparnesse: 136, rue de Rennes, 75006
Gilbert Jeune is one of the largest and most popular chain bookstores in Paris. It’s easy to find. Look for hoards of people picking through books under yellow canopies in the Quartier Latin. English books are in the “langues et letters” section.
>> Address: 15 bis Boulevard Saint-Denis, 75002
Galignani is the oldest English bookstore in Paris. In fact, it’s the oldest on the continent. Since 1801, the bookseller has stocked its Anglo-American, French and International Fine Arts departments for the bourgeois (i.e. wealthy) of Paris.
>> Address: 224, rue de Rivoli, 75001
I Love My Blender
If you’re learning French, I Love My Blender could be a good place to start. This Parisian bookstore sells English titles from across the world as well as their French translations. There are plenty of classic and contemporary authors to choose from.
>> Address: 35, rue de Temple, 75004
Village Voice and Tea & Tattered Pages by Sandrine Teyssonneyre, Shakespeare & Company by Serge Melki on Flickr, Red Wheelbarrow by Betsy Mikel