As a boy, I coveted books. Book Tokens were the gift I requested most and armed with them I would prowl the bookshops hunting the books I most desired. The hunt brought me almost as much pleasure as the books themselves.
Now, I live in a non-English speaking country and my hunting is most frequently restricted to browsing Amazon. While I love the convenience that Amazon brings, it is still a sterile, passionless experience by comparison to visiting a bookstore where I can feel the heft of a book in my hand, open each book at any page to sample its worth, be enticed by the books piled high on the tables to catch the eye, be guided by recommendations from knowledgable staff and feel the quiet satisfaction of carrying a basket that grows heavier and heavier as my trove of books grows.
This weekend, my wife and I were in Zurich, 200+km from where we live. Bahnhoffstrasse is the poshest shopping street in Zurich and my favourite place on Bahnhoffstrasse is the Orell Füssli English Bookshop: three floors of English books. On Saturday we spent a pleasurable couple of hours searching out the books that we will read this summer. We split up, the better to cover the ground, and met periodically to compare acquisitions and confirm choices.
I went into the shop with a list of “must haves”:
- “Wonder” by Robert Sawyer – the final book in the W.W.W. series that was published this month
- “The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi an award-winning dystopian thriller
- “The Watchers” by Jon Steele a supernatural thriller that appeals to me partly because it is set in Lausanne
I also found some new things from favourite authors:
- “Zero History” by William Gibson which continues with the characters last seen in “Spook Country”
- “A Noble Killing” by Barbara Nadel which is the latest Cetin book
- “The Ambassador’s Mission” by Trudi Canavan which is the first in the new “Traitors” trilogy
- “I Shall Wear Midnight” by Terry Pratchett which continues the Wee Free Men books ( I am, I confess, a little in love with young witch Tiffany Aching)
Then there were the spontaneous purchases, the ones that are harder to make on Amazon but which, if you get them right, can bring new authors into your life.
- “Backseat Saints” by Joshilyn Jackson which has a labrador on the cover and opens with “It was an airport gypsy who told me I had to kill my husband.”
- “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman that I’ve been thinking about since I saw part of the British TV series that it spawned
- “Einstein’s Trunk” by James Haberkorn, a debut novel by an American living in Zurich which is a fantasy thriller (hey, I got a signed copy)
- “The Seas” by Samatha Hunt, a piece of lit fic with a great opening: “The highway only goes south from here. That’s how far north we live. There aren’t many roads out of town, which explains why so few people leave.”
To this haul, my wife added two Alexander McCall Smith books: “The Dog Who Came In From The Cold” and “The Unbearable Lightness Of Scones” – who can resist titles like that?
She also added: “When God Was A Rabbit” by Sarah Winman and a ghost story by Susan Hill called “The Small Hand”.
My vacation starts in two weeks. We’ll be in Italy but we’ll also be travelling far and wide into the worlds created by these books. It doesn’t get better than that.