Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Land of Flourishing Bookstores

Posted by Simcha 4:35 PM, under | 2 comments

While running some errands in Jerusalem today I was surprised to come across a second-hand bookstore which I had somehow not known about, even though it's been open since April. I pride myself on knowing all the bookstores in downtown Jerusalem (and there are quite a few) and so it was strange that this one had managed to sneak past me somehow. And since I can't bring myself to pass a bookstore without stopping in, no matter how many unread books I have waiting for me at home, I went inside and was pleased to discover that it was actually quite a lovely store.

Most bookstores in Israel have a very utilitarian feel to them, as if you are meant to do no more than step in, purchase your books and leave. It's not uncommon to hear Anglos in Israel fancifully remarking on how they would love to open a bookstore here like the ones back in America, where you can
unhurriedly peruse through stacks books while sipping coffee on a comfortable couch. But this store had a nice, relaxed atmosphere, which I enjoyed (and which might have had to do with the hippy looking guy manning the store). Upstairs, where the English books were shelved, there was a carpeted alcove where the walls were lined with paintings and a couple was playing chess together on a low table on the floor. I believe there was even a sign saying that coffee was available for purchase, but I didn't follow up on it. There was a just a really good vibe to it all.

I did find a number of books that interested me but none of them were of the Must-Have-Now variety so I managed to refrain from buying anything. As I headed out, the hippy-shop guy asked me if I found anything I liked and we had a short conversation about books, which was nice. One of my pet peeves is bookstore owners, or workers, who have no interest in books. Unfortunately this seems to be pretty common in Israel and really bugs me. Why would someone choose to have a bookstore if it's not something they are passionate about? It's certainly not a money-making business. When I sold books at conventions, or while I was working at a book store, my favorite part was getting to talk to customers about books. So the fact that this guy made an effort to engage me in a conversion about books impressed me, though I was less impressed when he cut me off suddenly for a phone conversation with a friend. Not cool. But I'll probably still be coming back, when the pile of books on my nightstand begins to dwindle.

But what I really thought was interesting about all of this was the fact that new bookstores keep cropping up, here in Israel, while in America (and perhaps other places as well), many bookstores are going out of business. While I have been hearing for a while now about the sad state of bookstores and libraries in America, it wasn't until I was actually there a couple of weeks ago that I really got a sense of what was going in. While visiting in Philadelphia I kept looking out for a bookstore to go to but it took me a week to finally find one. All the small, second-hand shops that I remembered frequenting, were now gone.

So I find it surprising that in Israel bookstores appear to be flourishing because I don't actually notice people here reading that much. When on a bus or at the playground with my kids, I rarely see anyone, besides myself, with a book. Though I can't say I'm complaining because I love bookstores and seeing how they are slowly becoming extinct in other places makes me really glad to be living here, when new bookstores are opening up all the time. I just I hope that someday I'll get to have my own bookstore - coffee, couches and all -where I can talk about books for hours with other book loving readers.

So that's my rambling post about bookstores, which might or might not have had a point. I'll leave it up to you to decide. And if you'd like to read an interesting post about Japanese bookstores stop by Brizmus Blogs Books where you can read about a Tokyo bookstore that Audrey recently visited.


Hey, thanks for mentioning me in your post!

It's really sad, the state of book stores in America, isn't it? There's one called the Book Inn right by my home town, and I'm so excited to go there every time I go home. And so afraid each time I go home that it will no longer be there. My fingers are crossed for this December.
I agree with you as well, that it's upsetting when store owners don't seem to care about books - what's the point, if books don't matter to you?

Audrey: I've been seeing people discuss all the bookstore and library closings, on Twitter and blogs, but it was only once I got to the US that I saw what they meant. It was really sad and I was so glad to come back to Israel and find a new second hand bookstore.

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