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In Memoriam: George Whitman 1913-2011 December 19, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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This is the first of two posts remembering literary figures who passed away this month. The first is George Whitman, owner of the famous bookstore Shakespeare & Co. in Paris. I visited his store only once, in 2004, and immediately found it to be a home-like place. Books in English filled the walls floor to ceiling, with sections covering every topic you might imagine and tucked in among the stacks were narrow beds, like secret hiding places. When I found out that George allowed people to stay at the store for free (if you worked in the shop and read a book a day), I only fell more in love. My friend Kay and I each purchased a book there (I bought Tumbleweed Hotel, a collection of autobiographical sketches by various people who had stayed at the shop) and when we were told “Tomorrow is Sunday, so come back for tea in the afternoon,” we immediately resolved to do just that. We met George (sitting downstairs behind the register proclaiming loudly “Tea! Go right upstairs!”) and climbed the rickety stairs to a room crowded with English speakers, jars of tea and tiny cookies. People were interesting, the conversation was brisk and I’ve always been grateful to George for giving me the one place in Paris where I really felt like comfortable.

Over the years, I’ve read many articles and books about George and his shop, and I’m glad that it still exists, with its motto “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.” George Whitman lived a rambling, extreme life and wherever he is now, I’m sure he has many books to enjoy.

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