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This report is taken from PN Review 199, Volume 37 Number 5, May - June 2011.

on George Whitman's Ninety-Seventh Margo Berdeshevsky
George Whitman just turned ninety-seven. He had the words live for humanity scratched into the floor of his Shakespeare and Company bookshop long ago. Dreamer, schemer, inspirer, curmudgeon, individualist par excellence, he has maintained a bookshop in Paris and filled it with readers since its birth on the Rue de la Bûcherie in 1951. Shakespeare and Company faces the squat lady of Paris across the Seine, Notre Dame, and her holy bells. George had his ninety-seventh birthday on Sunday 12 December, surrounded by his books, his daughter Sylvia (named for the legendary Sylvia Beach) and her companion David. They hold the reins of the famous shop now; a few close friends, a black dog, a white cat, well-wishers, gate-crashers, soup-stirrers, and tap-dancers downstairs on the sidewalk, waiting to entertain him, should he come down. I climbed the inner stairs to his fourth floor rooms above the shop, behind a metal door marked 'George'.

He does not like the birthday songs, in English or in French, but endures them. Puffs his cheeks and lets a sigh escape, looks about for another book. I've known him since he gave me a shop-couch to sleep on once, as he has done for many vagrants - a window to write a poem from, a time to join the Parisian parade of writers. I've watched him growing old, suddenly. A little less iconic, a little 'more than human'. I photograph - so I can see it. I sit in its shadows, at its windows. ...


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