Taking Stock of Paris’s Bookstores, After Closing of La Hune
After the closing of iconic bookstore La Hune, we celebrate the great Paris bookstores that remain.
Last week, the iconic bookstore Librairie La Hune (pictured), in the Paris neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Près, closed its doors for good. While news of a storied bookstore going out of business would not make headlines in the States—tragically it happens too often to be remarkable anymore—in Paris, the shuttering of this Left Bank institution prompted public hand-wringing from prominent names like Bernard-Henri Lévy and ex-First Girlfriend Valérie Trierweiler.
A petition was circulated (in vain, sadly) to Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s office. The artist Sophie Calle, who called it “my bookstore,” memorialized closing day by making a point to shop there. We understand the sorrow. La Hune was an important center for the clique that surrounded Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir; President François Mitterand was a regular. Such things should not go gentle into that good night.
Many locals have decried the general decline of the bookstore in Paris—a city with centuries of intellectual history. And it’s true, not all of them are in perfect health. But the French have long been protected against the worst of the Amazon effect with laws that forbid free shipping and ban book discounts higher than 5% to discourage dumping. In this relatively small country, there are about 3,500 sellers of the printed word—including almost a thousand that are fully independent.
Walk around any neighborhood in Paris and you’ll stumble upon a bookstore—more than a few of them serving different language communities. For Anglophones, the legendary Shakespeare & Company remains not just a fantastic source of new and used tomes, but a hub for readings and events. Pop Culture Shop in the 11th arrondissement dedicates more than half of its exhaustive selection of comics to what they call “version originale,” or non-translated editions.
For the food-obsessed, there is Librairie Gourmande near rue Montorgeuil, with more than 20,000 titles on food and wine. The niches get smaller: if you love Baroque music and art, there’s L’Autre Monde near Odéon, where you can also find that other endangered species, the compact disc. And if your inner child needs a tickle, La Boutique du Livre Animé in the Goutte d’Or specializes in pop-up books.
Alexandra Marshall is a contributing editor and the Paris correspondent at Travel & Leisure. Food, design, architecture and fashion are her specialties, which means, living in Paris, that she is very busy. You can follow her on Twitter at @alexmabroad and on Instagram @alexandra3465.