Wednesday, July 31, 2013


August 2013
A few nights ago I watched an old film on TV. Nothing unusual about that – in Greece the TV channels (those that are left) wallow in the doldrums during the summer. The good series have drawn to their conclusions, news programmes rely heavily upon interviews on beaches or on city pavements that, together with the pedestrians who are trying to avoid the facetious questions of the TV  interviewer, are about to melt.
Two of the Greek channels spend entire weekday evenings on Turkish serials that are immensely popular and seem to have had an inordinate amount of influence on the current fondness of the Greek male for heavy beards and bald heads, others show the same foreign series that are showing at the same time on satellite channels.

It all gets very confusing especially when you remember that Greeks are supposed to hate Turks, but then few people really bother with TV in summer and it is too hot to carry on with the hatred anyway..
Me, I am going to pause here for a granita.

The old film, however, was one of my favourites.
‘You’ve Got Mail’ with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
The plot is quite Shakespearean in its way. Two people, carrying on an email correspondence that becomes a cyber romance. In real life, they have met and don’t much like each other, do not realize they are getting quite cozy with each other on the Internet and each is involved in an unhappy relationship. See what I mean? Very As You Like It. He owns a chain of giant retail book stores, she owns a tiny bookshop that is threatened by the opening of one of the superstores round the corner from her premises. True love prevails  and he learns that life is not all about huge profits. Charming.

I adore films about bookshops. Remember the one in ‘Notting Hill’? Hugh Grant never managed to convince me that he really cared much about his shop until Julia Roberts walked into it. His assistant was much more true-to-type. A man with a real knowledge of books.
A favourite film of this genre was ‘ 84 Charing Cross Road’. Starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins it was adapted from a book of correspondence  exchanged between an American woman (Helen Hanff) and a London antiquarian bookseller during WWII . The book became a classic, adapted for stage, film and TV, but sadly not available in Kindle format. This was the original bookshop.

Yes I know – I always said I would never buy a Kindle. But then one was bought for me, and I have rediscovered the infinite pleasure of browsing for books. With a Kindle, you can get samples of books – and quite generous samples too – delivered to your own device, to be pored over in comfort and at leisure. You don’t even have to buy them if they prove to be less interesting than you expected, or too expensive. Two thirds of the fun is in browsing the virtual bookshelves, just as it was in a real bookstore. Imagine the joy of browsing in one of these bookstores, in Portugal and Holland respectively.

But in the old days, sampling the books meant leaning uncomfortably against the shelves, or squatting on the floor, or perching on the bottom rung of the handy ladder. Kindle lets you take the samples home and keep them too.
It’s almost as good as this:

It’s rather like re-living the days when I joyously discovered the modern bookshop.
Books were always a big part of my life – at home we had books everywhere including in the loo, and my first job after leaving school was in a public library.

When I first lived in Greece, books were for many years not top of anyone’s list of priorities; it came as a revelation to visit Canada for the first time and discover Chapters.
Chapters was the appropriate name of a chain of bookstores across Canada, that offered not only a huge selection of books, magazines and computer software, but the opportunity to browse in comfort at one of the many convenient tables, or lounge on a comfy old sofa and read for hours without being moved on or urged to buy anything. (There was even a fireplace – albeit fake – to add to the sense of homely relaxation). You could select as many books as you liked and take them to a seat, read for hours or make notes on your laptop, and return the books to the shelves when you had finished. You could get coffee, soup or tea and a muffin and there were toilets. Members of staff would read to kids. You could also read magazines, with the proviso that if you stained, creased or removed pages, you would have to buy the thing.

Chapters was and I hope still is, highly popular with seniors, the unemployed, and students. They do also sell quite a lot of books.
Similar user-friendly bookstores opened in the UK and there are even some in Greece.In Corfu there are some amazing book collections, mostly in private homes. I had the great pleasure some years ago of cataloguing the many books belonging to a very wealthy man with a superb villa (or two) in Corfu. I was able to handle antique books of great value and scarcity. Corfu was at one time a repository of many ancient and historic books and documents but so many of those were destroyed or looted during the Second World War. Other books. including valuable Venetian tomes, have literally mouldered away in abandoned mansions or have 'disappeared'. That makes me very sad, but them I am a devout booklover. I cannot bear to see them mistreated.

What a fascinating world that of books is. And now there is the Kindle, a boon to those with deteriorating sight, a gateway to that world that was in danger of becoming lost to someone like me who simply does not see as well as she once did but still hasn’t lost all her marbles.

Time for a classic Greek frappe methinks!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Angie. From a fellow book lover and one time librarian.


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