Book People | December 2011 | Rebecca Rego Barry

George Whitman, of Shakespeare & Co.

103334242.jpgIt would greatly remiss of us not to pause for a brief moment and think about George Whitman, a 98-year-old Paris bookseller, who died yesterday, fittingly in the apartment over his bookshop, Shakespeare & Co. According the shop's website, Whitman was born in 1913 in East Orange, New Jersey. He moved to Paris in 1948, opened Le Mistral bookshop, and soon renamed it Shakespeare & Co. after the famous shop owned earlier in the century by Sylvia Beach. Whitman was known for his free spirit, and for allowing thousands of lodgers to stay in the shop in exchange for a few hours of book sorting and shelving.

One of those many lodgers over the years was journalist Jeremy Mercer, who, in 2005, published an account of this bohemian lifestyle, Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. I greatly enjoyed reading this memoir several years back, and for anyone who knows little about Whitman or his amazing bookstore, it is absolutely worth a read.

The store remains open, run by Whitman's daughter. For more about Whitman, see the Shakespeare & Co. website and the New York Times obituary.