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The Little Anarchist Collective That Could
December 14, 2011 1:17 PM   Subscribe

George Whitman, founder of the Parisian landmark bookstore Shakespeare And Company, has died at the age of 98
posted by The Whelk (49 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by shakespeherian at 1:19 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by Iridic at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2011


I knew him in the '70's. He was very likeable, with lots of good stories. And his store was a great place to meet American girls in Paris.

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posted by ubiquity at 1:22 PM on December 14, 2011


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I stayed with George back in '95 :(
posted by zeoslap at 1:24 PM on December 14, 2011


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(Also apparently "Shakespeare And Company" and "Shakespeare & Co." are two separate entities. How about that.)
posted by griphus at 1:26 PM on December 14, 2011


Yeah the one in NYC is in no way related.
posted by The Whelk at 1:28 PM on December 14, 2011


Not to be confused with the original Shakespeare and Company bookstore founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919.
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posted by adamvasco at 1:28 PM on December 14, 2011


I'll always treasure the book I bought there.

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posted by malocchio at 1:29 PM on December 14, 2011


Not to be confused with the original Shakespeare and Company bookstore founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919.

George's daughter, Sylvia Whitman (who runs the shop nowadays), was named after her.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:34 PM on December 14, 2011


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I'd met him a couple of times, even gone upstairs for tea once. A charming man.
posted by bonehead at 1:36 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by From Bklyn at 1:39 PM on December 14, 2011


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The second Shakespeare and Company (the one opened by Whitman) was named in honor of the first one (the one opened by Sylvia Beach). Whitman named his daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman in honor of Beach as well.

(A bit off topic, but I remember wondering about Powell's Books in Seattle because there's a huge Powell's bookstore in Chicago near U of C. Turns out the Chicago Powell's was founded first and then the guy's dad started Seattle Powell's. Eventually son joined father to help run Seattle Powell's. No idea if there's any formal relation between the two chains nowadays though. Doesn't look like it.)
posted by kmz at 1:39 PM on December 14, 2011


(Gah, of course I meant Portland whenever I said Seattle up there. Please put away those 100% recycled materials pitchforks, Portlanders.)
posted by kmz at 1:43 PM on December 14, 2011


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I loved spending time on the upper floor when I lived in Paris, picking a random book from the unorganized shelves and reading until I lost steam. I never met George myself, but am thankful for that little store.
posted by yeti at 1:47 PM on December 14, 2011


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Love that shop.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 1:49 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by Faint of Butt at 1:50 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by /\/\/\/ at 1:51 PM on December 14, 2011


Oh, man.

Finally got a chance to go there a couple of years ago and browse; it was amazing. I hope that it never changes.
posted by verb at 1:52 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by Lutoslawski at 1:52 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by c10h12n2 at 2:17 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by cazoo at 2:29 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by jeffkramer at 2:33 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by mattbucher at 2:36 PM on December 14, 2011


I stayed at Shakespeare and Co. when I was 18 for ten days. Very surreal experience. His daughter, Sylvia, was effectively running the place at that point, both continuing his legacy of letting people sleep on the shelves, but also taking down the Russian literature section of the store to create a larger fiction section. George was always around, though, sometimes in his pajamas and sometimes in loudly colored suits. I was given the job of walking his dog, Colette, for the generous amount of 50 Euros a week, which more than paid for my food while sleeping for free.

I remember once, when sleeping in the upstairs library room that had the window looking towards Notre Dame, George woke me up by tossing a can of dog food five feet onto the stone floor right next to my ear. I looked up, sure he was going to yell something, but he quietly asked me if I could open the can for him. I was always nervous around him, and broke off the tab used to open the can, again sure he would yell at me. When I showed it to me, he gave me the only genuine grin and laugh I'd seen from him, and turned to walk back to his apartment upstairs.

I also met my current roommate (and best friend) in Portland while staying at the bookstore. He once managed to convince George to walk many blocks with him to attend the film Milk. I will never forget arriving in Paris with nowhere to stay, and being welcomed into the bookstore and walking a dog alone along the Seine on my first night.

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posted by Corduroy at 2:41 PM on December 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


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I was there too.
Had friends that slept there in return for helping George.
But so long ago - then it was called le Mistral.
Tempus fugit indeed.
posted by jan murray at 2:42 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seemed like a sweet person, and his French sounded impeccable. They had a tiny cot on the second floor for couch surfers (many years prior to the couch surfing fad). What a great bookstore, with lots of book-selling kiosks on the river nearby if you needed more to browse.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:42 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by Stig at 2:42 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by HandfulOfDust at 2:51 PM on December 14, 2011


I highly recommend this documentary on the bookstore. Here is the user's playlist of the sections of the documentary.
posted by Corduroy at 2:51 PM on December 14, 2011



. (ditto) (two in one day)

A long time back I was in Paris and just had to go to his store. On the front window was some Russian writing. I asked him what it said. He said,"Barber inside." or something to that effect. He then took me back to his desk, pulled out some scissors and started clicking them in my face while giving me an evil grin. "Do you want a haircut?" he kept asking. A scary wonderful Paris memory. Thanks George!
posted by njohnson23 at 2:52 PM on December 14, 2011


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Stayed there in 2001 and 2003 for about a week each. A great man, an amazing mix of irascibility and generosity. The world is poorer without him. And oh god, the Sunday pancakes.
posted by pseudonick at 2:54 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by mediareport at 2:57 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by brujita at 3:03 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by hilaritas at 3:09 PM on December 14, 2011


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I was there only a few weeks ago for the first time. Sitting upstairs listening to classical music upstairs on the piano was a special moment.
posted by Sreiny at 3:10 PM on December 14, 2011


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posted by juv3nal at 3:14 PM on December 14, 2011


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I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced the ritual of tea with George. One of my best memories of my first visit to Paris.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 4:28 PM on December 14, 2011


I slept in the shop a couple of times in the mid 80s and 90s, when I was lost in Paris with no money and nowhere else to go. This was not an exception: there seemed to be a system which I didn't get, though the next day George handed me a broom and asked me to sweep the shop, giving me instructions as I moved from corner to corridor.

In one of my diaries dated from 1987 I have found a text I copied from the slate outside the shop. All caps because that's the way it was chalked up:

PARIS BOOKSELLER WITH
TOO MANY CUSTOMERS TO READ
HIS QUOTA OF A BOOK A DAY
IS LOOKING FOR AN OUTDOOR GIRL
TO BUILD A CABIN IN THE WOODS
IF SHE WILL COOK HIM TROUT FOR
BREAKFAST HE WILL TELL HER DOG STORIES
EVERY NIGHT -- ASK FOR GEORGE

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posted by kandinski at 4:31 PM on December 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


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posted by Bromius at 4:44 PM on December 14, 2011


This post and thread absolutely delight me. THANK YOU!

That's kind of a problematic Powell's entry in Wikipedia, kmz. It's my understanding that the father, Walter, opened the first Powell's in Chicago, and Michael moved to Portland shortly after and started that amazing thing, with his father's help, but it was also as a bit of a break-up. They all began primarily with used and remainders, often scholarly in nature. Then Michael branched farther, but those familiar with Powell's know that their technical store and even their main store also relied heavily on scholarly book print overages. In other words, extra copies when the print run was too large. They specialized in leveraging publisher errors. Soon, Michael expanded his store into a broad title base, and his brother, who eventually took over the Chicago store, focused on the scholarly market. I still seem to see some inventory fluidity. The Portland store is really dense, and the collection within disciplines is very comprehensive. Michael does seem to source from the Chicago warehouse. At least a few years ago, when I was last looking in both places, that seemed the case. Maybe that entry is more accurate than my understanding (based primarily on industry lore and a job that requires lots of bookstore visits), but either way, it's terribly written.

As for George. Wow. To have all these memories collecting here. Thanks. I really love the history of bookselling, and it's nice to see a piece of it both remembered and created right here.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:54 PM on December 14, 2011


Yea! to whoever just fixed it!
posted by Toekneesan at 6:00 PM on December 14, 2011


Wait, there's nothing different. I'm just tired and need to go to bed.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:02 PM on December 14, 2011


Huh - I believe I met Mr. Whitman when I was a kid around 35 years ago accompanying my Dad on a trip to Europe. I didn't realize that his store was so notable. I don't remember much about the store or Mr. Whitman except that he was friendly and sold me a copy of Pohl & Kornbluth's The Space Merchants.
posted by tdismukes at 7:03 PM on December 14, 2011


The store was heavily featured on one of Craig Ferguson's Paris shows earlier this year.
posted by gjc at 7:10 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Molly Crabapple, 17, with George Whitman
posted by The Whelk at 7:20 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, from her twitter feed

"I was 17 and sitting under a cherry tree when we met, and he invited me to live at the shop. He changed my life that day. George had written over the doorway of the upstairs library "Be kind to strangers. They may be angels in disguise. He kept a home for wayward artists in the heart of Paris for over 50 years. George Whitman was a fucking hero to art, to hope,to possibility. Rest in peace George. I owe so much more to you than I ever got to say. Thank you"
posted by The Whelk at 7:23 PM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


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posted by Fizz at 8:44 AM on December 15, 2011


I went to a Bloomsday reading of Ulysses there, drinking free Guiness. Good on the daughter for carrying the torch.
posted by zangpo at 11:17 AM on December 15, 2011


Good man.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:21 PM on December 15, 2011


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