Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach
Shakespeare and Company

Here’s your chance to be a fly on the wall at Sylvia Beach’s legendary Paris “bookhop.” (It should have been “bookshop,” but the sign painter messed up.) All day long, the likes of Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley, Gertrude Stein, and Sherwood Anderson drop in to borrow books, exchange gossip, and argue about literature.

Beach herself serves as cheerleader, sounding board, and den mother, while her shop doubles as poste restante address and bank for a gaggle of expatriate artists and writers during the 1920s.

Vivid word portraits of the “bunnies” (short for abonnés, or subscribers) overflow the pages: Ezra Pound putting his carpentry skills to use while talking like Huckleberry Finn. James Joyce and Eugene Jolas, who “had plenty of words at their disposal” and “didn’t see what could prevent them from getting all the fun in the world out of them.” Dolly Wilde, “much resembling her Uncle Oscar but better looking.” Shakespeare and Company’s “best customer”—Ernest Hemingway—“holding his son carefully, though sometimes upside down.” Erik Satie with his ever-present umbrella. The beautiful poet Mina Loy, whose hats were “very like her lamp shades; or perhaps it was the lamp shades that were like hats.”

The vignettes are enhanced by candid black-and-white photographs: André Gide in Africa; Adrienne Monnier, Beach’s partner, sporting an ankle-length cloak; Paul Valéry leaning against a bookshelf.

The saga ends with Hemingway liberating the rue de l’Odéon from the Nazis in 1944. “I flew downstairs; we met with a crash; he picked me up and swung me around and kissed me while people on the street and in the windows cheered.” After borrowing Monnier’s last cake of soap, he rides off again in his jeep—to liberate the cellar at the Ritz.

The bookstore is long gone, but the stories remain.

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