These surely aren’t the easiest of times for bookstores, though it didn’t look like it when I stopped by to take some pictures on a Monday morning at 11am. Visiting Mediterraneans were shopping for Hornby and Coupland, an academic on her way back home to the States was parting with her gorgeous Ottolenghi cookbook, and I, unable to help myself, bought a respectable stack of Lispector, Nothomb, and Lydia Davis. As the phone rang off its hook, orders were taken, and customers directed to relevant shelves, one girl just curled up on the old couch, deep inside a book the cover of which she was keeping to herself.
I’ve been coming to Saint George’s for some six years now (it’s been around since 2003), even rented my first Berlin room from one of the guys who works there, and there’s no doubt its great selection of second-hand treasures (and selected brand-new ones) is perfectly geared towards my admittedly catholic tastes. Now they might not have the hands-on service that dearly departed Dialogue offered, nor the seriously delicious bagels and wide selection of contemporary literature of Shakespeare & Sons or the gorgeous art books and rarified atmosphere of Motto, but it’s still as close to a perfect English-language bookstore as we could wish for.
I know it takes just about all our patience not to just impulse-order anything online whenever and wherever the mood strikes, but I only have to think back to my teenage years to remember the excitement of ordering a book or a cd and then just having to wait for the much-awaited object to make its way to you in its own time (which at Saint George’s is often the next day or within a week). It’s not a skill I have re-mastered, patience, but it might be worth it, no? There’s something to be said against instant gratification, however much our lives have come to depend on it.
That’s not to say that avoiding Amazonian temptation should be your only reason to patronize local bookshops, another is the very real probability that you’ll run into something (or someone) you didn’t know existed, or didn’t know you all of a sudden so dearly needed.
That book below, for instance, Joe Brainard’s I Remember, a deceptively simple excavation of childhood memories in single sentences starting with “I remember”. Just wow.
If you don’t know where to start looking, here’s a few pointers to get you started: the New York Review Books underneath the counter when you walk in not only offer a gorgeous range of rainbow spines for any bookshelf organized by color, they are also sure-fire and stone-cold classics of a sort that more staid publishers like Penguin haven’t come round to yet—just try some James McCourt, Nancy Mitford, or maybe James Schuyler. You can also ask Shane to show you some of the gorgeous poetry that’s being published right here in Berlin, or leaf through an issue of Sand or n+1 to get some inspiration. Meanwhile, the thriller shelves in back serve up delicious Cold War thrillers courtesy of John Le Carré or the psychopathological delights of Patricia Highsmith.
And if you’re afraid to commit, or feel like your tsundoku problem is getting out of hand, they buy back used books, even offering half the purchase price worth of store credit for books purchased at Saint George’s.