A distinctive lack of books…

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02/05/2010 by etiennefish

There is a distinctive lack of books in my life here. Sometimes I am able to ignore this travesty and I think I’ve done a decent job at ignoring my plight by filling my days with such time-wasting fluff as downloaded TV shows, facebook, and youtube, until I don’t even realise that I’ve been missing out. Yesterday I awoke, melancholy and a bit sad, despite the amazing night out I’d had the night before. I felt like I was missing something. I wandered the drizzly grey city, contemplating what it could be. I rang up loads of friends. They were all either busy or not answering. I was just about to go home and head out on a run, so as to get whatever pent up emotion and crap that was in my system out, when I happened to wander past the Portuguese bookstore. My shoulders perked up. Despite the fact that it wasn’t that late in the afternoon, and the sign proclaimed it’s openness, it was in fact, shut. There was a dramatic sigh and much re-slumping of the shoulders, but as I carried on down the road, I knew what it was that I needed in my life. I needed books. I was going to the English bookstore.

Okay, so for all of those who heard me complain for hours about the lack of decent bookshops in New Orleans, I take it all back. The bookstores in New Orleans are amazing and I miss them dreadfully. Well, not as much as I miss Powell’s Books. Portland, you spoiled me forever. Powell’s is like my idea of heaven and I could and did spend many hours/days/weeks in ecstasy, rummaging through your seemingly infinite collection. But back to the present. Geneva has one major English bookshop. There are others, or at least other bookshops that happen to sell English books, but there is only one devoted to reading material exclusively in English that I am aware of. It is tiny. Like the size of biggish bedroom. It is also expensive (read: a bookshop in Geneva with books imported in). The people who work there are nice, and they do their best, but as the shop is so small, there is not much room for much beyond travel books, humanitarian-related works (read: many of the expats here work for the UN or related organisations), and the most popular of fiction books. I really need more than that! I need dusty second-hand shops, piled high with forgotten tomes that contain untold treasures and innumerable secrets, just waiting for me to discover them. I need the smell of ancient bindings, and a certain sense of contented disarray. I need a place big enough that I feel comfortable soaking it in for a few hours at a stretch.

Now some of you may be asking yourself why am I not interested in going in to a typical bookshop here. Why don’t I want to hone my French skills by reading in French? Well, here’s the thing. I do want to do that, and I do, do that, but reading in French is still a matter of work for me. I can read it well enough, true, but I can’t yet enjoy what I’m reading in the same way. I do hope to get there, but at the moment I am not able to lose myself in it in the same way. I can’t forget the real world, and become lost in the drama and intrigue taking place in my imagination. I love to read. Perhaps more than anything else. Plays, books, short stories, I devour it all. I always have. I was the kid who wanted to spend all weekend at the public library. I was the one who was yelled at daily for bringing my books with me to the table at every meal. I remember going to friends’ houses on the weekends, and we would just sit next to each other for hours, reading. My most treasured childhood memories include those of curling up under a blanket next to my dad while he read us kids chapters from books like Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Huckleberry Finn, The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and so many others (thanks Dad). I still have the deluxe copy of Alice in Wonderland that I was given for Christmas when I was 8. I re-read it about once a year.

I miss my cheap access to books here (even the public libraries here cost money). While my literary tastes do vary (although they never especially grew up (much to my mother’s chagrin, I think)), I don’t tend to read the cheap mass-produced paperbacks found in every corner shop, nor do I enjoy badly written romances and crime drama. I find little else available here, and I am starved for more. I did find an English translation of a book I love that I had only read in it’s original Spanish, and bought it yesterday (despite ridiculous pricing. Quoting a friend: I needed to be happy, dammit.). It’s ridiculous how fast I’ve been breezing through it. The pros, even translated, are so vivid, that I just can’t help soaking it up. It’s the best kind of magic I’ve ever known. And… It’s an addiction, its true. I need to find a better method to feed it soon.

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