April 26, 2004

An Uneventful Weekend

We didn't do too much this past weekend: I guess that after a week and a half of doing something every single day from morning to night, we were ready to sit around.

Still, we got around: I investigated the English-language book market, we celebrated the enlargement of the European Union, and we each finished a book about ancient conspiracies.

On Saturday, I decided to cross off an item that'd been on my to-do list for a while and check out The English Bookshop, a store near the Holstenstraße S-Bahn stop that supposedly offered a good selection of used English-language books. It appears in just about every guidebook I've seen; after just a few minutes, I had to wonder if any of those guidebook authors had actually been there. The store occupies three adjacent storefronts on the same street; each individual shop was dirty and dishevelled in that seedy-used-bookstore way. I didn't linger too long; not only could I not find a book under five Euro (even among a stack of battered and sun-faded Penguin Classic paperbacks), the store was testing my fear of death -- either I'd pull the wrong book out of a stack and bury myself, or would perish in a fire started by rogue sparks from the eight or nine plugs protruding from every electrical outlet. For extra wierdness, an English food store co-existed with the bookshop, so you had a box full of marmelade jars sitting on the floor in front of the true-crime paperbacks, and bottles of shandy sharing a shelf with a stack of National Geographics.

I made up for the disappointment of The English Bookshop by checking out another bookstore, this one selling new English-language books, and was pleasantly surprised -- not only did they have a good selection, but they also don't try to nail you on the Pound-Euro or Dollar-Euro exchange rate. A mystery: this shop (and others we've visited) was selling new paperback copies of The DaVinci Code, with a cover price in dollars and the imprint of an American publisher -- but you can't find the paperback for sale in the USA! Are they dumping these overseas while they milk the American hardcover market for as long as they can? (Similarly, you can buy trade-paperback copies of Neal Stephenson's latest two books, Quicksilver and The Confusion, over here, even though the second book has just been released! They're no bargain, however -- the paperback copies cost 23 Euro a piece because they weigh fifteen pounds each. Other people seem to like them, but I worry that this is the series where Neal Becomes Too Famous For An Editor Who Says No.)

On Saturday night, we went to a food-drink-and-culture fair held in the plaza in front of the Rathaus. The European Union will be getting larger soon, and this was a state-sponsored chance for us to celebrate our EU bretheren and soon-to-be-bretheren. Booths sold food, drink, and handicrafts from the various countries, bureaucrats tried to hand out pamphlets nobody was interested in, and a couple of stages provided music. Shelby and I chose to celebrate by drinking German beer and eating Italian pizza and garlic bread. Scout came along, too; for the number of potentially stimulating things going on around her, she was a very good dog -- just sat next to our table and waited patiently as we finished our food.

On Sunday, we just lazed around and read -- Shelby finished The DaVinci Code (not one of those paperbacks, but a hardcover that had come over as her dad's on-the-plane reading material), while I finished Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, a book that came to my attention after several DaVinci Code reviews referred to Eco's book as "the thinking man's DaVinci Code". Both books involve the Knights Templar, conspiracies, and Deep Secrets kept across the centuries. I can't speak to Shelby's reading experience, but I found Foucault's Pendulum to be suitably gripping, despite being incredibly dense throughout (with a near-constant flow of historical references, both conventional and esoteric, it was able to make me feel significantly undereducated much of the time; however, I suspect part of the flood is meant to create the mood that the conspiracy theorist feels when he is Decoding the Plan -- that everyone has gotten into the act).

Posted by Kevin at April 26, 2004 12:13 PM

Kevin you are blind. There are books for less than 5 euro. In fact the books in the 6 boxes outside cost 1.50 each. The books for 5 always cost 10 or more in a new store.
Sorry I was not there to show you around, perhaps the next time.
The socket you refer to is the computer socket, show me who does not live with this plug jungle
For weeks now freinds of mine have been helping to tidy up shop I will show them your comments to motivate them further.
Regards Robert

Posted by: robert berridge at June 1, 2004 06:59 AM

Still no reply to my comments, come on Kevin. I think Bushes economy with the truth has brushed off on you.
Sympathetic regards Robert English Books

Posted by: robert berridge at July 12, 2004 04:53 AM

Sorry, Robert -- your comments (both times) managed to catch me while I was on vacation. I meant to reply to the first comment, but more pressing matters kept getting in the way until it was pushed out of my mind ...

Anyway, a more precise recasting of my statement might be "not only could I not find a book THAT I WANTED TO READ under five Euro ..." -- I did scan the bargain bin as I went between the shops, but decided that its contents weren't for me.

As far as price in general, I do realize that it's harder to keep up the stock of an English-language bookstore in a non-English-speaking country, that new English books cost more here, and that commensurately, used English book prices are going to be higher. Still, nothing that I browsed through hit that "I'll buy it!" sweet spot of price and condition. But we've been fortunate -- we came over here with a large supply of books, and we've been able to replenish during trips to the US and the UK. Had my circumstances been otherwise, I'm sure that the spot would have moved markedly downwards, and I'd have been more receptive.

And if you've tidied up considerably in the months since my visit, more power to you. I'm completely ready to believe that I came in the middle of a bad day/week/whatever (and while I didn't find the store's ambiance to be particularly inviting on the day I came to visit, it was far from the most disshevelled used bookstore I've ever been in ... )

Posted by: Kevin at July 20, 2004 04:15 PM

Thanks for taking time to reply to my replies.
It is a strange thing with buying books that one day you find nothing and the next readable books fall off the shelves. And what is a readable book, all very personal values.
Enjoy your next holiday.
Robert Berridge

Posted by: robert berridge at September 7, 2004 09:44 PM
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