The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

This is a writing sample from Scripted writer Lisa-Anne Sanderson

The Rag And Bone Shop Of The Heart By Lisa-Anne Sanderson No visit to Paris is complete without a trip to Shakespeare & Co. This rambling bookshop with its romantic associations with the Lost Generation – the generation of American artists who lived in Paris in the 1920's - provides a haven for book-lovers and writers. Books of all kinds fill the three floors, including first editions and novels signed by their authors. The creaking wooden floors, low ceilings, steep staircases and uncomfortable couches along with a black cat that sometimes appears out of nowhere all add to the esoteric character of this popular tourist attraction. The building used to be a monastery, an appropriate background for a bookstore that promotes the love of learning. Begun by George Whitman after the Second World War as a way to sell his huge collection of books and stay in Paris, it was originally one room. George, a Communist who wanted to make profits so that he could pursue causes that he believed in, had difficulty making money at first. Eventually, however, he was able to purchase the apartment above the stairs and the art gallery next door to contain his ever-growing book collection. Now Shakespeare & Co, so well-loved by expatriates and readers, is worth millions. George Whitman originally called the bookshop Le Mistral, but he wanted to follow in the tradition of the famous American, Sylvia Beach, who owned the original Shakespeare & Co. Forced to close by the Nazis during the war, she granted him permission to use the name and he renamed the shop after her death. Attracted to Paris not only because it was so supremely civilized and cosmopolitan but also because it was so inexpensive, the Lost Generation used to congregate at the original bookstore. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and other struggling writers found a good friend in Sylvia Beach who supported them, helped them, and even let them stay in her bookshop if they were very down on their luck. She agreed to publish Joyce's great classic Ulysses which was widely regarded as pornography then and promptly banned in most countries, including the U.S.A. Ernest Hemingway and a friend agreed to smuggle Ulysses into the States so they took copies over the Canadian border hidden in their trouser legs. George Whitman followed in Sylvia Beach's path supporting the Beat Generation, which included the famous poet Alan Ginsberg and novelists, Wright and Baldwin, who would give readings in the store. Paris was still cheap and Parisians were shocked by the racist attitudes of many Americans so black writers such as Wright and Baldwin were pleased to find refuge and people interested in their writing. On one of the walls of the bookshop visitors can find the inscription: 'Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise'. This became the motto of the store and George Whitman and his daughter, who now runs the shop, followed this advice. There are rackety old beds on the upstairs floors which are open to backpackers and writers, known as the Tumbleweeds. The only conditions for those staying here are that they help out in the bookstore and read a book a day.

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Lisa-Anne Sanderson
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Lisa-Anne Sanderson has been a freelance writer for many years. She writes about many topics, including history, business, law and beauty. Her articles have been published in national Australian magazines, such as French Provincial Magazine, and on several websites.
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