At this small bookshop in Paris, lodging is free… as long as you follow three rules: work in the store for two hours a day, read at least one book per day, and leave behind a one page autobiography.
Climb the tiny staircase to the second level of Shakespeare and Company and you’ll find shelves upon shelves of used books, an old typewriter and a few makeshift beds. For more than 60 years the bookshop has housed traveling artists and vagabonds — affectionately known as Tumbleweeds — whenever they find themselves homeless in Paris.
Flipping through the stacks of autobiographies, today’s Tumbleweeds connect with past visitors, comparing their experience with those who came before them. “It was so interesting to see that the experience of living there was just as whimsical and lovely for me as it was for a girl from Australia in 1972,” said Kristi Stout who, for a few days this summer, slept on a tiny leather couch on the book shop’s second floor.
“The ones I loved the most talked about their first encounters with George, the original owner. He was a pretty eccentric guy. He died recently so I never got to meet him, but I loved reading about him and seeing how his presence still influences the bookshop.”
George Whitman opened the bookshop in 1951, two years before its sister store — City Lights — opened in San Francisco. Even in the earliest days, when George was also sleeping on a couch amongst the books, he always made space for traveling writers. Today more than 30,000 people have passed through the shop.
Ready to head to Paris to join the community of Tumbleweeds? Ask your Scout to book you a bed in the shop (and maybe a flight and some extra reading glasses).