Paris: The city’s most enchanting bookstores

Vintage reading lamps, antiques and books at the Librairie Robert Jonard. All photos by Theadora Brack
Vintage reading lamps, antiques and books at the Librairie Robert Jonard. All photos by Theadora Brack

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!

Paris books of all ages in the Librairie Robert Jonard.

1. Librairie Robert Jonard
80 rue Joseph de Maistre, 18th arrondissement (Metro Abbesses)

Getting there

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!

What's not to frame?

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.

Annelise at Librairie Robert Jonard

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!

Pass the day at Mona Lisait

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.”)

Browse within sight of Notre Dame at Shakespeare and Company

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.

About the author

Theadora Brack
About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.
Posted in: Paris Shopping
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Cheapo Comments

4 Responses to “Paris: The city’s most enchanting bookstores”
  • The Bookworm says:

    RIP George Whitman. Old George would probably have been aghast to hear Shakespeare and Company listed under ‘enchanting’. He wanted to be provocative more than enchanting.

  • Rebecca says:

    As someone who was often enchanted by George, I couldn’t disagree more with the previous writer’s assessment. He reveled in his role as an in-betweener: his shop was the one place visited by young English-speaking readers from elsewhere where they could always count on a friendly book recommendation, travel advice, or even–if you were female–the offer of a sofa if you had no other place to spend the night. The latter was always provided in a completely gentlemanly way, not at all a come-in. Perhaps he just gave his customers whatever they needed most, or maybe he saved his gruff (and provocative?) side for bearded and bookish men, but after dealing with so many Parisians who were (understandably) tired of dealing with the ignorance of visitors like me, it was enchanting indeed.

  • Sandy says:

    Ahhhhh. Which place to try first??? Warm and fuzzy are “My Thing!”
    Postcards and magazines will be my first sections. Well done, Theadora! Your pics are so clear and the colors so vivid!

  • Such a interesting contrast in the comments here. Although in another thread here we took issue avec The Bookworm for being so down on St Moritz, it could be he or she has a point here in Paris. Sadly neither of us ever met George Whitman, but he certainly had a reputation for nicely challenging people’s assumptions – and in a manner that was urbane, sincere and ever-sensitive to others’ feelings. From what we have read, he was so very good at nudging people out of their comfortable preconceptions, sowing a few seeds of radical thought, persuading them indeed that a socialist world was perhaps the only credible way forward. In that respect, he was definitely provocative rather than merely enchanting.
    Susanne and Nicky

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