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From Shakespeare to the World Wide Web and Back

Shakespeare and Company shop in Paris
Shakespeare and Company

Saturday was a Zoom-a-thon day with six solid hours parked on my desk chair in front of the computer. First with the 55th annual “Bloom Where You’re Planted” and following that with “Escape to France—It’s Easier than You Think,” a webinar produced by the Adrian Leeds Group in partnership with Opportunity Travel.

Bloom Where You're Planted in Paris

Escape to France It's Easier Than You Think

I’m not complaining, mind you. “Au contraire”…just remarking once again on how much our lives have changed with the advent of Covid-19 and new technology. With very few glitches, both webinars went very smoothly, all things considered. Both were recorded so that they could be re-watched by the participants.

I just completed watching the Netflix series “Halt and Catch Fire” from as long ago as 2014 that originally aired on AMC. I had never heard of the phrase before, but it refers to computer code instruction “HCF” that would cause the computer’s central processing unit to stop working. The series spans ten years during four seasons and 40 episodes depicting an insider view of the PC industry of the 1980s and well into the 1990s when the “World Wide Web” revolutionized our lives. The series didn’t do very well in the ratings and viewership, although it grew over time in acclaim and finally considered one of the best shows of this decade.

Halt and Catch Fire poster

I could relate, especially in today’s world, where without technology we’d be totally lost. I remember my first Apple Mac, my first fax machine, my first email address (Compuserve) and learning how to hard code HTML myself working for a web developer here in France. I named my first company “Western Web Works” (WWW!) and published guides to Paris as pdf documents sold on the Web. When I started the Adrian Leeds Group in 2004, I built the sites myself from scratch—nine of them under different domain names:,,, and others.

An early Mac computer

An early Mac computer

And now look at us…glued to our computer screens (or smart phones or pads or watches or whatever works) communicating remotely since being physical with one another simply isn’t healthy. When the programmers depicted in Halt and Catch Fire were starting out, they had “ideas.” Ideas became reality. And in the aftermath of these ideas, now in today’s world, others are struggling to stay alive.

Let’s take Shakespeare and Company. It’s not just an English-language bookstore in Paris. It’s a community of “readers and writers, drawn together from around the world.” The first Shakespeare and Company was founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919, and like the WWW, “became a creative hub for expatriate writers, including Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.” In 1951, a new bookstore of the same name was opened by George Whitman in a different location on rue de la Bûcherie. He claimed to have had Sylvia’s permission to take the name and he named his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman in her honor.

Sylvia Beach Whitman and George Whitman

Sylvia Beach Whitman and George Whitman

George was quite a character who opened the store to anyone and everyone interested in literature. Many of our greatest writers congregated there: James Baldwin, William Burroughs, Anaïs Nin, Allen Ginsberg, Richard Wright, Julio Cortázar, and Henry Miller to name a few. He invited aficionados to sleep in the store in exchange for whatever work they were willing to do—”Tumbleweeds” he called them. It once again became the center of English language literary life and under the management of Sylvia, who returned to Paris at the ripe old age of 22 to run the store, it seriously prospered and grew, taking on even new life. Over the past decade, new adventures included a café in the adjacent space, a literary festival, a writing contest, and a publishing arm.

Sylvia Whitman inside Shakespeare and Company

Sylvia inside the shop

But Sylvia’s battle has been uphill with technology encroaching on the old-fashioned printed book. And now this…the pandemic, the lockdown and a drop in sales of 80 percent. All independent bookstores are feeling the pinch, but as I said, Shakespeare and Company is not just an English-language bookstore in Paris. It’s a community that has spanned more than a century. And that’s where we come in.

A Community event at Shakespeare and Company

A community event at Shakespeare and Company

Sylvia has launched a membership to “Friends of Shakespeare and Company” at an annual fee, invited members to readings with T. S. Eliot, André Gide, Paul Valéry, and even Ernest Hemingway, who made an exception to his rule against public events. As she so aptly puts it, “As we can’t bring all our members to Paris and to the bookshop, we’re committed to bringing the bookshop to you.” Membership starts at just 45€ for the year. Even if you never take advantage of it’s advantages, anyone who has ever stepped foot inside should want to support this Paris institution and keep a little bit of non-technological life alive…while we’re still alive.

Read more about it and for the love of books, Paris, English language and our community, join now!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds with Sylvia Beach Whitman

with Sylvia Beach Whitman

Adrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®


Parler social networkingP.S. Do not confuse the new “Parler” microblogging and social networking service launched in August 2018 with “Parler Paris,” our Nouvellettre® that has been online since 1998! This new imposter has a significant user base of Trump supporters, conservatives, and right-wing extremists…the exact opposite of us and ours! How dare they choose such a special name! Should I be insulted or flattered?


1 Comment

  1. KAREN on November 16, 2020 at 8:46 pm

    Adrian, thanks for letting us expats in the U.S. know about the struggles of Shakespeare and Co. I visit the store on every trip to Paris and would hate to lose the community. I plan to buy a membership and will tell other Paris fans to do the same. Crossing my fingers that Sylvia gets the support she needs to keep things going.

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