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An engrossed reader outside Shakespeare and Company│© Catherine Zenino
An engrossed reader outside Shakespeare and Company│© Catherine Zenino
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20 Pictures That Prove Paris is a Book Lover's Paradise

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 13 January 2017
Ever wanted to pack in the day job, move to an attic in Paris, and finally write the novel that’s been rattling around in your head since college? Or even simply to walk in the footsteps of those who’ve taken that leap across the Atlantic, the Channel or whichever bodies of water lie between you and here? Well, here’s a taste of why that might just be the thing to do.
Bouquinistes │© Benh LIEU SONG
There are hundreds of bouquinistes to be found│ | © Benh LIEU SONG

Paris wouldn’t be Paris without its Seine-side bouquinistes. There are 240 of these second-hand booksellers operating along the riverfront (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and their 900 iconic green boxes contain over 300,000 old books, as well as journals, prints and stamps.

Second-hand bookstore in Paris │© Alexandre Duretz-Lutz
A second-hand bookstore in Paris │ | © Alexandre Duretz-Lutz

No matter where you are in the city, you’re liable to find a densely packed used bookstore nearby. At the stalls outside the Boulinier stores on the Boulevard Saint-Michel and Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle, you can pick up a paperback for as little as 20 cents.

A bookshop storeroom in Paris │© Jorge Royan
A bookshop storeroom in Paris │ | © Jorge Royan

Despite France having approximately one-fifth of the population of the United States, it has slightly more independent bookstores. And the local industry is thriving, with a 5% increase in the number of traders recorded between 2009 and 2013.

Getting lost in amazing Parisian bookstores │© martingreffe
Getting lost in amazing Parisian bookstores │ | © martingreffe

With all these incredible independent and second-hand stores to discover, you might want to alert your next of kin about any planned shopping expeditions, in case you get lost among the thousands of bookshelves. Bright clothing and a trail of breadcrumbs are also advised.

Inside the Bibliothèque Mazarine, the oldest public library in France │© Marie-Lan
Inside the Bibliothèque Mazarine, the oldest public library in France │ | © Marie-Lan

Paris also has some of the oldest and, without wanting to sound biased, most beautiful libraries in Europe. The oldest of the 57 public libraries is the Bibliothèque Mazarine, and the capital’s total lendable collection amounts to 3.5 million documents.

One half of the BNF seen at sunset │© LuxFactory
One half of the BNF seen at sunset │ | © LuxFactory

The modern buildings of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) are a standing tribute to the city’s love of literature and its status as a haven for book lovers. The four book-shaped towers were roundly mocked by architecture critics but they do have their own kind of charm.

Library users in the atrium of the BNF │© August Fischer
Library users in the atrium of the BNF │ | © August Fischer

The public libraries are free to use and open to everybody. If you want to take a book home with you (temporarily, of course), all you need to do is enroll yourself for a one-year membership using a valid form of ID like a passport or driving license.

A gargoyle on one of the towers of Notre-Dame │© Moyan Brenn
A gargoyle on one of the towers of Notre-Dame │ | © Moyan Brenn

There are hundreds of novels, short stories and memoirs set in Paris, the locations of which, if not explicitly given, the careful reader can deduce without too much trouble. One setting that everyone’s surely familiar with is that of Victor Hugo‘s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Les Deux Magots café │© roger.salz
Les Deux Magots café │ | © roger.salz

The city’s cafés are synonymous with the French literary scene. Voltaire downed dozens of coffees every day at the Café Procope, and Les Deux Magots on the Boulevard Saint-Germain was the place to be for native writers and their expat friends during the 1950s.

Harry’s New York Bar in Paris │© Emily Jackson
Harry’s New York Bar in Paris │ | © Emily Jackson

In Paris, a booze cruise is undoubtedly a legitimate literary outing. During the Roaring Twenties, Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, and their crew did some serious drinking in the bars of the Left Bank and in Harry’s New York Bar on the other side of the river.

A pilgrim reading at the graveside of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir │© Frédérique Voisin-Demery
A pilgrim reading at the graveside of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir │ | © Frédérique Voisin-Demery

While many literary stars only stayed in Paris for a while (usually until they had found success), others made it their home. In the cemeteries of Montparnasse and Père Lachaise, you can lay flowers or plant a kiss on the tombs of Sartre, de Beauvoir, Wilde and others.

A beautiful day for reading in the Luxembourg Garden │© Phillip Capper
A beautiful day for reading in the Luxembourg Garden │ | © Phillip Capper

Paris’s gardens were made for readers. There are benches if you don’t mind having neighbors while you get stuck into a novel, but there are also individual (sometimes reclined) chairs that you can move into a secluded spot. Or, like this chap above, the sunniest one you can find.

Shoppers at Shakespeare and Company │© Tobias Staebler, Courtesy of Shakespeare and Company
Shoppers at Shakespeare and Company │ | © Tobias Staebler, Courtesy of Shakespeare and Company

Shakespeare and Company is much more than a bookshop; it’s a literary institution. The store’s first incarnation, opened by Sylvia Beach on November 19, 1919, was a meeting place for the talented new writers of the era like Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford.

Interiors at Shakespeare and Company │© Kiren, Courtesy of Shakespeare and Company
Interiors at Shakespeare and Company │ | © Kiren, Courtesy of Shakespeare and Company

The store that you can visit today was opened by George Whitman in 1951 and adopted the name of Beach’s shop on Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary in 1964. An estimated 30,000 ‘Tumbleweeds‘ have slept between its bookshelves in exchange for a few hours of work.

A set table in the library of Merci │ Courtesy of Merci
A set table in the library of Merci │ Courtesy of Merci

The Marais is full of excellent places to curl up with a good book. One of the best is the Used Book Café at the Merci concept store. There are over 10,000 volumes to work through on its shelves and a great selection of cakes to help you on your way at its counter.

Lonely reader │© Théau Jurgens
You can easily find yourself a quiet spot to read│ | © Théau Jurgens

For those of sturdier stock – those who have no need for soft seating, sweet cakes, and the murmur of café noise to get on with some serious reading – there are limitless steps, ledges, nooks and crannies in Paris in which to park it with a book.

The Musée de la Vie Romantique │© OTTAVI Alain
The Musée de la Vie Romantique │ | © OTTAVI Alain

A number of writers’ residences have been transformed into, or partially transported to, museums in Paris. Two of the best are the Maison de Victor Hugo in the Marais and the Musée de la Vie Romantique in Montmartre, the former home of George Sand.

Display at the Beat Generation exhibition at the Centre Pompidou │© Yann Caradec
A display at the Beat Generation exhibition at the Centre Pompidou │ | © Yann Caradec

The city’s museums also regularly mount literary exhibitions. In 2016, the Centre Pompidou had a five-month show focusing on the work of the Beat Generation, and the Oscar Wilde exhibition at the Petit Palais will be wrapping up at the end of January 2017.

Reading on a café terrace in Paris │© chrisd90
Reading on a café terrace in Paris │ | © chrisd90

To be sure, Parisians don’t need their cafés to be exceptionally historic or trendy in order to read in them. No, just about anywhere will do, so long as there’s coffee on the menuu and interesting enough people to steal a glance at between chapters.

So absorbed in his book that he fell off his bike │© Pop H
So absorbed in his book that he fell off his bike │ | © Pop H

This guy is the ultimate proof that Paris is a city of and for book lovers. So absorbed was he by the book he’s reading, that he appears to fallen off his bike mid-page without even noticing. What a champion!