Shakespeare & Co bookshop owner dies

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http://news.ie.msn.com/world/shakespeare-and-co-bookstore-owner-dies

 

"George Whitman, the US-born owner of Shakespeare and Company, a fabled English-language bookstore on the Left Bank in Paris and a magnet for writers, poets and tourists for close to 60 years, died yesterday in his apartment above the shop. He was 98 years of age.

 

He had not recovered from a stroke he suffered two months ago, his daughter, Sylvia, said in announcing his death. More than a distributor of books, Whitman saw himself as patron of a literary haven, above all in the lean years after World War II, and the heir to Sylvia Beach, the founder of the original Shakespeare and Company, the celebrated haunt of Hemingway and James Joyce.

 

As Whitman put it, "I wanted a bookstore, because the book business is the business of life. "Overlooking the Seine and facing Notre Dame Cathedral, the store, looking somewhat beat-up behind a Dickensian facade and spread over three floors, has been an offbeat mix of open house and literary commune.

 

For decades Whitman provided food and makeshift beds to young aspiring novelists or writing nomads, often letting them spend the night, a week, or even months living among the crowded shelves and alcoves. He welcomed visitors with large-print messages on the walls.

 

"Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise," was one, quoting Yeats. Next to a wishing well at the centre of the store, a sign said: "Give what you can, take what you need. George."

 

By his own estimate, he lodged some 40,000 people. Whitman's store, founded in 1951, has also been a favourite stopover for established authors and poets to read from their work and sign their books. Its visitors list reads like a Who's Who of US English, French and Latin American literature: Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Samuel Beckett and James Baldwin were frequent callers in the early days; other regulars included Lawrence Durrell and Beat writers William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, all of them Whitman's friends.

 

Another was Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The two met in Paris in the late 1940s and discussed the importance of free-thinking bookstores. Ferlinghetti went on to found what became a landmark bookshop in its own right, City Lights, in San Francisco. Their bookstores would be sister shops, the two men agreed.

 

Whitman's beacon and enduring influence was Walt Whitman (no relation), who also ran a bookstore, more than a century ago. In a pamphlet, Whitman wrote that he felt a kinship with the poet. "Perhaps no man liked so many things and disliked so few as Walt Whitman," he said, "and I at least aspire to the same modest attainment."

 

Whitman will be buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris close to literary giants such as Oscar Wilde and Balzac.

 

His daughter continues to run the bookstore."

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I just saw that a few minutes ago as well. I never knew it was such a famous place. About 14 years ago I was going to visit my sister in her mother-in-laws for Christmas and I had a few hours in Paris between trains so that I'd have time to take a walk to Notre Dame and I noticed it and went and browsed for a short while. I really liked it and felt like I had discovered a lovely little place not many people would know about (oh the innocence). I bought a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, which has become one of my favourite books of all time.

 

Sounds like Mr Whitman was a great guy. I just remember a very friendly older guy serving me but don't think it was him.

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R.I.P.

 

Sylvia Beach and Mr. Whitman are two of the reasons why one of my life dreams is to have my own bookshop. Failing that, I try to spend as much time as possible in other people's bookshops...

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We stopped in a few years ago, and ended up attending some kind of weekly tea for ex-pats and visitors in Paris. He was a very sweet man.

 

He gets to be buried at Père Lachaise! How cool is that?!

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My partner and I walked past it several times on our recent trip to Paris, then it was shown in the latest Woody Allen picture; Midnight in Paris, prompting us to get all excited without realising how important the place was. Doh!

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Oh, the.Frollein, I know what you mean about spending time in bookshops. But I have always had a problem with such shops that I still have today. Once inside, I get so excited that I need to go and find the nearest toilet. Another "problem" I have is the need to smell the inside pages of old books. Is that just weird or does anyone else share this peculiarity?

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An old friend of mine shares your fondness for the smell of books, novelwriter.

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The guy sounds like he was pretty neat and I have always had a great deal of respect for those who run bookshops (such magical places!) I wish I had it in me to do the same thing for 60 years. My personal record is only 4. Maybe I just haven't found my true calling yet. Sad to hear he has left.

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I would just like to add that Sylvie is seriously hot, both physically and intellectually. I noticed this while she was paying me Euro 400.

 

I never met George but heard that the word colourful was invented to describe him. He was by all accounts a bit of a skirt lifter, even into his 90s.

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About maybe 8-12 years ago I listened to a BBC Radio4 essay by the then BBC Paris correspondent (Caroline Whatsername) given as part of a farewell series shortly before she moved back to London. She told an interesting story of the times she had attended weekly dinners, hosted by an American-born bookshop owner, where the eclectic range of fellow diners ranged from lowly back-packers to world famous members of international academia and leading members of such schools as art, literature, journalism, econonmics and philosophy.

 

The hosting couple had, for many years, been issuing a kind of honourary expat passport, complete with stamped photograph and amusing job description, to any guest who wanted one and was able to attend a second dinner to collect it. Some people would attempt to book a place in advance from overseas, but the house rule was to refuse such attempts and instead chose to invite people, on an ad hoc basis each week, who the hosts considered either deserved a belly-filling and eye-opening experience or would be sure to add to the wit and conviviality.

 

I told myself I should go one day to to meet the man just to thank him for his contribution to humanity and tell him how impressed I was by his democratic internationalism.

 

Over the intervening years the notes I had made had sunk under a mountain of less impressive, but more pressing, plans and even his name had escaped my memory until I stumbled over this thread. I'm a little bit frustrated that I failed to achieve that goal, but such a great and inspiring person did not need my confirmation that his life and work had, directly and indirectly, touched and moved the minds and hearts of millions.

 

R.I.P. George Whitman.

 

2B

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