What’s a sign of a fantastic bookstore? How about these three elements:
- Books piled high on square wooden tables, just calling out to you to browse.
- An owner on-site, recommending books with careful consideration.
- An enticing front door and window display (and extra points if it’s the perfect shade of red):
Welcome to the Red Wheelbarrow, a little treat of an English-language bookstore in the Marais, my favorite shopping district in Paris. (And yours, too, if your pocketbook skews more to funky finds than haute couture.)
Their website is pretty minimal–a commonality I noticed with Cloud & Leaf in Manzanita (one of the recommended stops on the Oregon Coast), although maybe not as severe. I like the Luddite spirit of these book shops, where the creaky shelves of books feel hand-selected.
During my visit to the store, the owner was trying to track down every last copy of the final Harry Potter book to satiate the demand of the English-speaking populace of Paris. She had enough time, though, to heartily recommend The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which allowed me to revisit Paris via its pages even after I left.
While discussing English-language bookstores in the heart of Paris, it’s also worth mentioning Shakespeare & Company. Personally, I find the best thing about this place is the (formidable) history, not the shopping experience. Every time I’ve been in there, it’s seemed overrun with tourists (of which, of course, I’m one).
Still, as a fan of Djuna Barnes and the other Left Bank writers of the black-and-white era of Paris, I had to make the pilgrimage. My suggestion for if you do buy a book there: Ask them to stamp it. The stamp makes even a cheap paperback seem infused with literary history.
But if you want to seriously browse and find books you didn’t know you needed, stick with the Red Wheelbarrow. And if you want to read the store’s namesake poem by William Carlos Williams, go right ahead.