Friday, January 26, 2018

An Uneventful Chronicle

I did something dangerous this week.

I went to a bookstore.

A bookstore that I avoid at all costs - because when I go into this particular bookstore, horrible things happen to my wallet and to the Improve Kate's German Skills Project.

Let me back up.

During the summer of 2015, when I did Wheaton in Germany, I made a startling discovery: for the first time my German was good enough that browsing a German bookstore was tantalizing, rather than overwhelming. I found that I could read the average book in German without undue effort - not necessarily understanding every word, but certainly getting the gist of the content and the atmosphere the author was creating.

I went a little crazy - if I remember correctly, in the span of 7 weeks I bought 21 books, justifying this to myself because I didn't know when I'd be back in Germany, and ordering German books is cost-prohibitive.

Now, I'm living and working in Germany, and, ironically enough, I speak English around 75% of the time. I speak English with my students, with my Chinese roommate, and with the members of my choir (it's an international choir and English tends to be the common language). Church is the one place I speak almost entirely German.

So, I decided that this year I need to read as much German as possible, both to broaden my literary horizons and my vocabulary. I got myself a library card and started reading any book that I pulled off the shelf that seemed interesting. I do allow myself to read English books at bedtime, when my focus isn't good enough to process in a second language, but I try not to pick up any superfluous English books or think about my extensive TBR (to be read) list.

Via Pinterest
However, I am in a Skype book club with some pals from my semester in Oxford, and our next book is Wide Sargasso Sea, a spin on Jane Eyre that tells the story of Mr. Rochester's mad wife Bertha. Wide Sargasso Sea isn't on kindle, and it's enough of a niche book that I knew I wouldn't find it in the English section of a German bookstore.

The one place in Munich I thought I might find it was The Munich Readery, the largest English language secondhand bookstore in Germany. The only other time I'd been there, I spent far too long browsing and had a very hard time controlling my impulse to buy 10 books. Hence why it's a personal rule to avoid it at all costs.

But on Tuesday I had a mission: find Wide Sargasso Sea.

I gave myself a strict talking to - I could buy one other book - and took myself to the Readery after work.

I'm not kidding when I say that being in that bookstore is both dizzyingly delightful and excruciating. The owners have impeccable taste and an incredibly well-stocked store, with a wider, more carefully chosen selection than I've seen in any used bookstore in the states.

Via Pinterest
They didn't fail me: I found Wide Sargasso Sea in no time, filed correctly under R for Rhys.

And then I browsed. I think I groaned multiple times as I saw books that are either dear favorites or have been on my TBR list for ages.

One more book became two, and then I circled the shop multiple times which two I would splurge on.

The Contenders:

Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry - TBR
Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson - a favorite
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman - TBR
The Gift, by Lewis Hyde - TBR
Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris - a favorite
Dakota, by Kathleen Norris - TBR
Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salmon Rushdie - a favorite
several slim volumes of poetry by Denise Levertov

There were more, but those are the ones that held me captive as I tried to reconcile myself to not getting them.

I finally made it to the register with my selection:

Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, by Kathleen Norris
Little, Big, by John Crowley

As the owner tallied up my bill, I commented on how impressed I was with the Denise Levertov selection. She's an exceptional poet, but I have never seen so many of her volumes in one place. (The Readery has 5 or 6, and most major bookstores in the States carry one, if that.)

He responded: "Yeah, they don't sell well, but I keep them around because I know someday someone will come in and say 'This is exactly what I'm looking for!'"

I replied ruefully that that someone is me, but I cannot justify buying more poetry before I finish working my way through Czeslaw Milosz's collected poems - a volume more than 700 pages long.

"Hmmm. Well, I also have Levertov's memoir."

He had me. Hook, line, and sinker. Levertov is not only an amazing poet, she also has an intriguing background - her father was a Russian Jew who converted to Christianity, and she emigrated to the US as a communist atheist before eventually returning to Christianity herself. So I added Tesserae: Memories & Suppositions to my stack. And promptly spent all my pocket money.

Buying four books at once always leaves me feeling a little tipsy. I left the shop, euphoric that my backpack now contained not only a haul from the local library but also four precious books in English bound to bring much reading pleasure.

And with that, I wrap up what may seem an "uneventful chronicle" (to quote O. Henry) to the few faithful who read this blog, but which has left me tickled pink all week.

1 comment:

  1. it's like "where do you come from?" which could also be applied to your mother.
    one reason i was thrilled to go to Vassar, "english" was not a required subject!
    where did your mother pick up this love of reading?
    (you obviously have her example.......)