Sir -- It was with mixed feelings of sadness, tinged with wonderful recollections of a unique Paris institution, that I and my uncle read the article on George Whitman (Sunday Independent, December 18) and Shakespeare and Company, his unique bookshop cum soup kitchen cum literary hostel.
I, as a Beat-obsessed (and blonde French student-chasing) boho, was blessed to experience the joys of George's esoteric tea parties, which he regularly held on Sundays upstairs in his bookshop, in the mid-Eighties. I had yearned to see where William Burroughs' Naked Lunch first raised its definitely ugly but also literature-changing head and where Allen Ginsberg (fortified by copious quantities of wine) performed his Howl on the pavement outside.
The original Shakespeare and Company was on Rue de L'Odeon, run by Sylvia Beach, another American who ran a haven for writers that just happened to be a bookstore, where the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound discussed books and drank tea in the private parlour.
My uncle reminded me yesterday that George Whitman himself first started his unique literary endeavour as an impromptu book-lending initiative, which he ran out of the room he rented (and lived in) in the Hotel De Suez, a small suitably seedy hotel (according to my uncle, who stayed there) off Boulevard St Michel, just around the corner from where Shakespeare and Company now resides on Rue de La Bucherie, facing Notre Dame.
And it was here that Whitman first started feeding and putting up writers in Paris. My uncle was in Paris earlier this year and spent a suitably languid afternoon at Shakespeare and Company, pottering through the never-ending bookshelves and listening to impromptu music and readings on the promenade.
Although he did not see George Whitman this time, he assured me that the place still held the same air of mystique, excitement and a whiff of anarchy that we both experienced in the Eighties and Nineties. Long may Sylvia Beach Whitman (George's beautiful daughter) keep the books (and tea, soup and wine) flowing at 37 Rue de la Bucherie.
Au revoir, George!
The Coombe, D8