Francoise Gilot and her son Claude Picasso visited often to Dennis Will’s bookstore in La Jolla.
PLEASE NOTE. THE SCOPE OF THIS BLOG IS LIMITED BY PERSONAL VISITS BY PILLARTOPOST.ORG. WE WILL UPDATE WITH FUTURE VISITS TO OTHER LIKE BOOKSTORES.
D.G. WILLS BOOKS, LA JOLLA
Founded in 1979, Dennis Wills built his bookshop by hand with the help of friends. He chose the La Jolla site because it was near the Salk Institute and the University of California, San Diego.
He wanted to attract serious book lovers, including students and faculty to his bookstore. Now, 41 years later he’s succeeded in creating a literary haven, which has attracted a long list of brilliant minds, who on occasion show up to read from their latest works.
Mr. Wills is still in business selling new and used books, including rare, eclectic and antique editions.
Recently, he was asked by the La Jolla Blue Book who were some of his favorites: “...Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer and Christopher Hitchens were clearly the most entertaining and witty. Francis Crick and Freeman Dyson were the most brilliant scientists here. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins was the most entertaining poet, although Allen Ginsberg drew the largest and most chaotic crowd, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti was the funniest. Playwright Edward Albee’s appearance was like attending a graduate seminar on theater. Pulitzer Prize journalist Maureen Dowd and Jill Abramson, then Managing Editor of the “New York Times,” were a brilliant team when they appeared here together...”
"...I created this bookstore like a man would write a novel, building each room like a chapter, and I like people to open the door the way they open a book, a book that leads into a magic world in their imaginations."
—George Whitman, owner Shakespeare & Company bookstore from 1951 to 2011.
This English-language bookshop in the heart of Paris, on the banks of the Seine, opposite Notre-Dame is a story of two bookstores operating between 1919 and the present. It is a story of two remarkable owners and one bookstore. The first Shakespeare & Company closed because of WWII.
Since its rearrival in 1951, it continues to be a meeting place for anglophone writers and readers, becoming a Left Bank literary institution.
The 2nd incarnation of the bookshop was founded by American George Whitman at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, Kilometer Zero, the point at which all French roads begin.
Constructed in the early 17th century, the building was originally a monastery, La Maison du Mustier. George liked to pretend he was the sole surviving monk, saying, “In the Middle Ages, each monastery had a frère lampier, a monk whose duty was to light the lamps at nightfall. I’m the frère lampier here now. It’s the modest role I play.”
When the store first opened, it was called Le Mistral. George changed it to the present name in April 1964—on the four-hundredth anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth—in honor of a bookseller he admired, Sylvia Beach, who’d founded the original Shakespeare and Company in 1919. Her store at 12 rue de l’Odéon was a gathering place for the great expat writers of the time—Joyce, Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Pound—as well as for leading French writers.
Through his bookstore, George Whitman endeavored to carry on the spirit of Beach’s shop, and it quickly became a center for expat literary life in Paris. Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Anaïs Nin, Richard Wright, William Styron, Julio Cortázar, Henry Miller, William Saroyan, Lawrence Durrell, James Jones, and James Baldwin were among early visitors to the shop.
When George was in his early twenties, during the Great Depression, he set out on a “hobo adventure,” as he called it, with only $40 in his pocket. He walked, hitchhiked, and rode the rails from one end of the U.S. to the other, through Mexico, and on to Central America. Acts of generosity experienced on these travels—like the time he fell seriously ill in an isolated part of the Yucatan and was found and nursed back to health by a tribe of Mayans—had a profound effect on him. It inspired his philosophy: “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”
From the first day the store opened, writers, artists, and intellectuals were invited to sleep among the shop’s shelves and piles of books, on small beds that doubled as benches during the day. Since then, an estimated 30,000 young and young-at-heart writers and artists have stayed in the bookshop, including then unknowns such as Alan Sillitoe, Robert Stone, Kate Grenville, Sebastian Barry, Ethan Hawke, Jeet Thayil, Darren Aronfsky, Geoffrey Rush, and David Rakoff. These guests are called Tumbleweeds after the rolling thistles that “drift in and out with the winds of chance,” as George described. A sense of community and commune was very important to him—he referred to his shop as a “socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.” Three things are asked of each Tumbleweed: read a book a day, help at the shop for a few hours a day, and produce a one-page autobiography. Thousands and thousands of these autobiographies have been collected and now form an impressive archive, capturing generations of writers, travelers, and dreamers who have left behind pieces of their stories.
In 2002, at the age of twenty-one, Sylvia Whitman, George’s only child, returned to Shakespeare and Company to spend time with her father, then eighty-eight years old, in his kingdom of books. In 2006, George officially put Sylvia in charge. On the shutters outside the store, he wrote: “Each monastery had a frère lampier whose duty was to light the lamps at nightfall. I have been doing this for fifty years.
Now it is my daughter’s turn.” Sylvia introduced several new literary endeavors. In June 2003, Shakespeare and Company hosted its first literary festival, followed by three others. Participants over the years have included Paul Auster, Will Self, Marjane Satrapi, Jung Chang, Philip Pullman, Hanif Kureishi, Siri Hustvedt, Martin Amis, and Alistair Horne, among many others.
In 2011, with the de Groot Foundation, Shakespeare and Company launched the Paris Literary Prize, a novella contest open to unpublished writers from around the world. In recent years, the bookstore’s had cameo appearances in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset.
Shakespeare and Company also continues to host at least one free literary event a week, and has been delighted to welcome young and emerging writers along with today’s leading authors, such as Zadie Smith, Lydia Davis, John Berger, Jennifer Egan, Carol Ann Duffy, David Simon, Edward St. Aubyn, and Jeanette Winterson.
The shop’s latest projects include a Shakespeare and Company publishing arm and an ongoing search for a farm and writers’ retreat in the countryside around Paris.
For readers looking to fall further down the rabbit hole, we've recently published “Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A history of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart. This 400-page book, the first ever about the shop's history, features more than 300 images—including photographs, Tumbleweed autobiographies, and rare materials from the shop’s archive—and 70 editorial contributions from writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Anaïs Nin, Kate Tempest, Ethan Hawke, and Jeanette Winterson.
Although George Whitman passed away on December 14, 2011—two days after his 98th birthday—his novel, this bookshop, is still being written, both by Sylvia and by the thousands of people who continue to read, write, and sleep at Shakespeare and Company.
The very droll Lawrence Ferlinghetti (icon poet and co-founder of City Lights Books in San Francisco) is pictured reading from his works at a D.G. Wills bookstore appearance in La Jolla.
CITY LIGHTS BOOKS, SAN FRANCISCO
Founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, City Lights is one of the few truly great independent bookstores in the United States, a place where booklovers from across the country and around the world come to browse, read, and just soak in the ambiance of alternative culture's only "Literary Landmark."
Although it has been many decades since tour buses with passengers eager to sight "beatniks" began pulling up in front of City Lights, the Beats' legacy of anti-authoritarian politics and insurgent thinking continues to be a strong influence in the store, most evident in the selection of titles.
The nation's first all-paperback bookstore, City Lights has expanded several times over the years; we now offer three floors of both new-release hardcovers and quality paperbacks from all of the major publishing houses, along with an impressive range of titles from smaller, harder-to-find, specialty publishers. The store features an extensive and in-depth selection of poetry, fiction, translations, politics, history, philosophy, music, spirituality, and more, with a staff whose special book interests in many fields contribute to the hand-picked quality of what you see on the shelves.
The City Lights masthead says A Literary Meetingplace since 1953, and this concept includes publishing books as well as selling them. In 1955, Ferlinghetti launched City Lights Publishers with the now-famous Pocket Poets Series; since then the press has gone on to publish a wide range of titles, both poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction, international and local authors.
Today, City Lights has more than 200 City Lights published titles in print, with a dozen new titles being published each year. The press is known and respected for its commitment to innovative and progressive ideas, and its resistance to forces of conservatism and censorship.
All City Lights Publications that are currently available are proudly featured in the bookstore and on this website as well. With this bookstore-publisher combination, "it is as if," says Ferlinghetti, "the public were being invited, in person and in books, to participate in that 'great conversation' between authors of all ages, ancient and modern."
City Lights has become world-famous, but it has retained an intimate, casual, anarchic charm. It's a completely unique San Francisco experience, and a must for anyone who appreciates good books.