8: The Fate of Literature

Good-bye little books. See you sometime this summer, way across the ocean.

For months we have agonized over what to do with the little Swiss library we have amassed. Our dedication to this matter is all out of proportion to its long-ranging consequences.

We could leave Alice, Tom and Irene (Munro, Boyle and Nemirovsky) here in our hotel library and they would live quiet purposeful lives entertaining the hotel’s English-reading guests for years to come. That is the altruistic thing to do, but we have not done it.

Our attachment to our books is inexplicable even to us, and so while we have whittled away at the lesser authors – who shall remain nameless just in case we should ever meet – Alice, Tom, Irene and the rest of our favored tribe are at this moment heading for Canada via Swiss Post’s slow-boat system. We love our books, but we’re still careful financial managers so they travel economy class, the same as us.

The cost is only 58 Swiss Francs – quite a bit less than the courier bill that was estimated at almost 500 Francs (although that included our full pre-pared-down library so it is not an apples-to-oranges measure). And sadly, if Swiss Post cannot find our little cottage in Ontario, the destination for the books, we left instructions to treat them as ‘abandoned.’ Even checking that box on the Swiss Post export form depressed me a little bit.

Why is it so hard to part with books?

 

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The Book is Our Friend

No one is lonely as long as books are around.

We are heading into a conundrum. During our time here, we have amassed a small library, one that I assumed would be absorbed into our hotel’s library upon our departure. I may have been wrong about that.

Dave has declared his intention to lug T.C. Boyle, J.D. Salinger, Jennifer Egan, Alice Munro and the rest of the gang to Canada when our time here is done.

That will be some fun, because our Swiss library is gaining weight at a pace that frightens even me. A forest of book stacks is growing on a corner chair as I write this, and paperbacks are forming a mossy sheath over our desk space. Were we to extend our stay here another year, there is no telling if the hotel cleaning staff would be able to find us amid our fecund library.

And yet, we cannot stop our cheesecake-for-the-brain indulgences.  The Swiss ‘buch haus’ community draws us in with not only their English shelves, but also the German and French.

Through some mystery of distribution rights that elude us, German titles of English books appear to predate releases of those same books in North America. By recent example, consider Steven Job’s death, which sent booksellers sprinting to deliver his biography to store shelves. I can report that the same biography was in our little Swiss town’s bookstores – in German – well before the Canadian and U.S. press issued their reviews of same.

And yet, it takes months for Europe to catch up to North American film releases. I cannot explain it except that it suggests Europeans are still avid readers.

But I drift from my point, which is that books are our friends, and come the end of our term here, we’re going to bring as many of them home as we can. “Leave no bound pages behind” will be our motto. I just hope it doesn’t cost more to ship the books than it would to buy replacements for them once back in Canada.

Where our European-bought books will be if Dave has his way.