Happily, one-of-a-kind bookshops are alive, well and thriving in Paris, and everyone seems to have their favorites. More than just stop-offs to find a good read, these three are slightly off-the-radar and provide just enough zip and zing to keep me coming back.
LIBRAIRIE ALAIN BRIEUX
It is no accident that Librairie Alain Brieux is located almost around the corner from the College of Medicine Paris Descartes on rue Jacob. More than a bookshop, the librairie is a portal to the past that feels like you’ve walked onto a Harry Potter film set. Besides its formidable selection of antique medical books, it is the cabinets of curiosities and objets packing their shelves that will grab your attention: stuffed animals, skeletons and skulls, cringe-worthy scientific, medical and dental instruments, other-era globes, fossilized eggs, antique maritime brass telescopes, engravings, parlor games… In short, a place guaranteed to ignite your inner adventurier. More good news is, everything you see – save for the enormous crocodile hanging from the ceiling in the front room – is for sale. Browsing is encouraged and one does not have to be in the medical profession to appreciate this easy-to-walk-past gem.
48 rue Jacob 75006 Paris; www.alainbrieux.com; Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Prés (Line 4), Mabillon (Line 10)
Coffee, art, and seriously funky art books co-mingle in this “concept space” that used to be an enormous covered market. An unexpected oasis known to induce gasps in first time visitors, Halle Saint-Pierre is a world away from the nearby tourist hordes at the foot of Sacre Coeur. On the left as you enter is an inviting café with a health-conscious array of baked goods, light salads and quiches on the countertop at lunchtime. If you get lucky as I did one morning you’ll be kept company by macabre papier-mâché sculptures while nursing a grand crème. Wander behind the black curtain into the Musée d’Art Naïf where works by heavy hitters such as New York enfant terrible Warhol protégé Jean-Michel Basquiat might be on exhibit. The can’t-miss light-flooded bookstore with its fringe art-related titles – many in English – makes this destination truly exceptional (top photo).
2 Rue Ronsard 75018 Paris; www.hallesaintpierre.org; Metro: Anvers (Line 2)
Artazart first caught my eye as I walked out of Marcel’s on the Canal Saint-Martin about a year ago. Its friendly graffiti-feel red façade across the water promised an artsy experience – and I am all about the experience – and it was. Seventeen years ago the bookshop started out selling art books only, but later design, photography, architecture, and a très originale children’s section were added to its repertoire. Their appreciation for the avant-garde began to attract alternative publishers, which translates into a trove of some of the most creative content you’ll ever leaf through. While their kids’ books are primarily in French, many feature pop-up cut-outs, which make them coveted by parents and grand-parents from all language backgrounds. Artazart’s location on the canal, smack in the middle of many fabuleux places to eat, drink, and hang, will turn a visit to this intimate librairie into an outing.
85 quai de Valmay 75010 Paris; www.artazart.com; Metro: Jacques Bonsergent (Line 5)
3 Brilliant English language book nooks in Paris that you will totally fall in love with
Barbara Pasquet James is a U.S. lifestyle editor, speaker, and urban explorer who writes about food fashion and culture, from Paris. She is known for helping launch, write and edit USA Today’s City Guide To Paris and can be contacted via her photo blog FocusOnParis.com