Connecting Dots thread #1.1 - Shakespeare and Company

Jul 05, 2024

I was shocked when I saw this story while writing the first essay for Connecting Dots. I couldn’t imagine that there was a subscription business model for bookstores in the 19th century.

The bookstore, named “Shakespeare and Company,” was founded by Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1919 as a lending library and bookstore. This bookstore became a bridge between United States and French literature, supporting many young authors who are famous today but were not appreciated back then, like James Joyce, the writer of Ulysses.

In 1930, the Great Depression hit the world, severely damaging this bookstore to the extent that Sylvia considered closing it down. Her friend, André Gide, the 1947 Nobel Prize in Literature recipient, gathered a group of writers to form a club. Each member became a subscriber to the bookstore, paying 200 francs a year to be able to read unlimitedly at “Shakespeare and Company.”

This not only brought cash flow into the bookstore but also created a unique atmosphere and public awareness for the bookstore. “Great writers are reading books here.” “Shakespeare and Company” became well-known.

I am fascinated by this story not just for its “subscription model” but also for how Sylvia supported young authors to such an extent that they formed a close community to give back. They sought appreciation from a small group of people and valued it heavily and look after each other. To me, this is the most beautiful thing.