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Life in Britain


Love of the Written Word

 article about Love of the Written Word
2007-03-06 11:51:46

This article belongs to Life in Britain column.


 


I am not sure whether I am allowed to sort of advertise here, but I absolutely love Waterstones, a big chain of bookstores in Britain and Ireland. They feature rows and rows of books of all genres, well-known as well as rather obscure authors, and special handwritten recommendations of books from the staff. Naturally, Britain's famous price deals aren't missing here either: you can buy three books for the price of two, or get one book half price if you buy a second one. Cosy chairs invite you to sit down and browse the books, and many stores even have a café attached to them. This is my idea of paradise. Another thing I love in English book stores, and really shops in general, is the fact that you can browse through them completely undisturbed. In Germany, you are often assaulted by a shop assistant the minute you enter the door, "Can I help you?" (My preferred answer in that case would be "Yes, by leaving me alone!"). But comparing customer service in Germany and Britain will be a whole separate topic for a different column.


 


British people just love books and written language, in general. You can see that in so many places. Newspapers are ridiculously cheap, they all cost way under a British pound, while German ones can be three times that price. Books are everywhere, even in supermarkets, for discounted prices. In Germany, there are fixed prices for books, so that no one is allowed to offer them for a cheaper rate, unless they pretend that the item is damaged (or it really is, for that matter). In Britain, books are hardly more expensive than magazines, sometimes they are cheaper.


 


British libraries are another form of heaven! In Beeston, Nottinghamshire, where I lived, there was a wonderfully equipped library open every day 10:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m., and until 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays. They are only closed on Sundays. In Germany, libraries stay open until about 6:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m. if you are lucky, never later than 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday, and, at least in my home town, they are closed on a Monday. Plus, the state of British library books is excellent; they are often new or at least look like it. You can usually get the latest bestsellers there as well. In Germany, you often get yellowing pages in the books, or spots in them. Either British readers treat their books with more care, or damaged books are simply taken out of stock in British libraries. Obviously, I have seen yellowing pages and signs of wear and tear in British library books as well, but these were exceptions rather than the rule. Several copies are usually ordered of new bestsellers, mostly in paperback, but that's the most common form of books in Britain anyway. In Germany, many people buy hardcover books for ridiculously steep prices. Yes, I know, there is something about hard covers that makes a "more proper" book, but if you really want to read something, wouldn't you look at the content rather than the fact that there is a solid cover around the pages?


 


Creative writing is offered as programme you can study at many British universities. It is even possible to do a Ph.D.! There is no chance of such a thing in Germany. Most books in German stores are translated versions from English originals. Is it any wonder? German people don't really drown in encouragement to become writers. It's a shame, thinking about the way some great writers and poets used to come from Germany.


 


In my own personal interpretation, this must be because German culture is strictly efficient, grounded in reality. In Britain, people don't push themselves to be perfect all the time the way Germans often do, instead they leave more room for themselves to escape to other worlds, for example by either reading or writing. Celebrating books and writing in the way the British do would be seen by many Germans as a waste of time and energy. Yes, there are book stores in Germany, and nice ones too, but they look much more functional to my eye. Books aren't praised there, they aren't loved the way they are in Britain; they are merely presented for sale. Most German book stores have no chairs, and in my whole life I can't recall seeing one with a café in it.


 


I love books, in all shapes and sizes, as any reader has probably gathered from the above. I love their texture, smell, and most of all their content, the way you can enter into a completely different world just by following words on pages with your eyes. My world would be a very sad place indeed if, for some reason, I was no longer able to read. Many British people seem to share this feeling, or they wouldn't cherish their books so much. Thinking about this fact, and enjoying the opportunity to have access to books at every corner in their country, made me feel that I had come to the absolutely right place when I arrived in Great Britain.


 


 





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