Paris: The city’s most enchanting bookstores
By Theadora Brack in Paris—
Bookworms, ignite! This week, we’re headed to my new favorite bookshop in Paris. Located in historic Montmartre, the cozy, century-old Librairie Robert Jonard softly glows with vintage reading lamps, books, art and antiques. Truth unfold, the shop’s ambiance and eclectic collection stole my book-collecting heart immediately.
For the love of Woody Allen, I’ll give you two other bookshops that also flaunt a jazzy, romantic “Midnight in Paris” vibe. Let’s go!
1. Librairie Robert Jonard
80 rue Joseph de Maistre, 18th arrondissement (Metro Abbesses)
Meet me at the Cimetière de Montmartre gates (corner of rue Caulaincourt and rue des Abbesses), and then, depending on the weather, we’ll either hoof it or take the “95” bus. Let’s pack a picnic because there’s a park next to the shop. It’s a sublime reading spot.
As we roll down hill to the shop, keep your eyes peeled for Librairie Robert Jonard’s classic French green “Antiquites Livres Anciens” façade and gorgeous vitrine. Chock-full of paintings, photographs and African sculpture, it will stop you in your tracks. Let’s not also forget to mention the large box of discounted books at the door. Cha-ching!
Warm and fuzzy
Inside, the bookshop possesses the vibe of an old-school salon. Outfitted in rugs and antique furniture, it gave me a strong Proustian dose of solidarity with both past and present. It smelled great, too. This intimate bookshop is well stocked with new and used art books, catalogues, records, postcards and antique magazines.
Deciding exactly where to start your quest is the only glitch you’ll encounter here as you make your way through the floor to ceiling bookshelves, stocked with discounted books that have been meticulously organized by favorite categories like art, travel, and cinema, along with gardening, history and Paris.
I’ve got my eye on a Paris souvenir booklet, a Steinlen exposition catalog and a 1950 signed copy of “Paris des Reves” by Bidermanas Izis (with quotes by Henry Miller).
Looking for a specific title or subject?
Ask proprietors Annelise Signoret and Robert Jonard. Both are friendly and accessible. They are also computer savvy and speak English. Here’s another tip: Annelise keeps a stash of beverages and snacks, and she is always willing to share while you browse. Just tell her that you’re a Cheapo. She’s one, too!
Here are two more favorite bookshops. Grab a ballpoint pen!
2. Librairies Mona Lisait
17 bis rue Pavée, 4th arrondissement (Metro: St. Paul)
Place Joachim du Bellay, 1st arrondissement (Metro: Châtalet)
I’ve been known to spend entire days in the aisles of the Librairies Mona Lisait. Although this funky bookstore chain that specializes in new and used art books has shops scattered all over Paris, its Marais location is closest to my heart. Its creaky wooden floorboards, uneven cobbled flooring, tinny classical music, helpful staff, and free gift-wrapping all add up to real atmosphere.
Another favorite is the one at Place Joachim du Bellay, not far from the Centre Pompidou. Each of the seven locations has its own charm, and definitely worth a visit. (By the way, “Mona lisait” means “Mona was reading.”)
3. Shakespeare and Company
37 Rue Bûcherie, 5th arrondissement (Métro Saint Michel)
Yearning for your own copy of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris? After getting an eyeful of the real thing, cross the river and stop by the English bookshop Shakespeare and Company, located in a former 16th-century monastery in sight of the big cathedral. Both paperback and hardcover copies of the book are always available here.
A favorite Beat Generation haunt, the late, great George Whitman (Walt Whitman’s nephew) opened the rue Bûcherie location in 1951 under the name of “Le Mistral.” He changed its name to Shakespeare and Company as a tribute to his friend Sylvia Beach after she closed up the original shop by the same name, which had been a few blocks away.
Until December 2011, the grand and dapper old man himself held court here, but alas he is with us no more. You are missed, kind sir.
Nevertheless, happy browsing, Cheapos! In the words of Morrissey, “Keats and Yeats are on your side, strange love, while Wilde is on mine.”
Your favorite bookstores?
Have an enchanting bookstore to add to our list? Tell us about it in our comments section!
Also in our guide: If you’re browsing for a hotel in Paris that will enchant you without shattering your budget, check out our suggestions for affordable hotels, all visited, inspected and reviewed by our editors. Read more in our Paris guide.