Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another Country

Getting ready for winter. Clearing the apartment. In winter Berliners with Kohlheizung -- coal-burning ovens -- wear 5 layers of clothes indoors. They quit smoking in September (the windows won't be opened for 5 months).

I had a small suitcase full of books that I had wanted to get rid of, and a small stack of books on a chair. I hate going to secondhand bookshops with books to sell, so I had cleared the books off the shelves months ago and then left them. Today I went to Another Country, a secondhand bookshop in Riemenstraße that sells English books. It operates partly as a bookshop, partly along the lines of a video rental store: if you buy a book you can bring it back and they will give you what you paid for it, minus €1.50 -- the difference from a video rental store being, of course, that you can keep it as long as you like and still pay only €1.50 for the rental. While Alan went through the books Tim said the good thing about the system was that it meant they always had good books in stock: in other 2nd hand shops all the good books go as soon as they come in, and then sit on a shelf in someone's room. I said yes, these were books I did not expect to read again, or not any time soon, so I would rather they were available to other people; when I lived in South America we were dependent on the supply of cast-off paperbacks that people had happened to bring with them and leave behind, and though there were more English-language books in Berlin it was still better to have them in circulation.

Tim (or possibly Tom) said they showed films; they were showing Blow-up on Friday, Georgie Girl next week. Alan offered me 40 euros for the books; I said I would be happy to take a credit, so he offered 45. He then showed me a room in the basement full of science fiction, and recommended two books by M. John Harrison, Viriconium Nights and Travel Arrangements. They had a large selection of books by Ballard. He said Ballard had been made a figurehead of New Wave science fiction; Michael Moorcock had taken over the editorship of New Worlds, previously a traditional sci fi magazine, and turned it into a magazine with very innovative writers, getting funding from the Arts Council (for science fiction! unheard of!) and Ballard was one of the writers he had published extensively in the magazine -- though not necessarily a writer who could live up to the expectations placed in a figurehead.

This looked like a good system. I felt I was not being as vivaciously thrilled as the excellence of the system and recommendations of Alan deserved -- my mind was taken up with the business of getting ready for winter, and the question of whether I might finish another book in the month before winter set in, and the question of whether it might be possible to sublet the apartment to someone recently returned from Antarctica and so spend the winter in Morocco -- so I greeted each new amazing feature of this innovative bookstore with faint Wows and Greats, feeling that the really important thing was that I had transferred books that had been in a small suitcase for 6 months to the custody of professionals. But it is a good system. Another Country has a website, here. If you're not in Berlin, you could recommend the system to your local source of secondhand books.


Jenny Davidson said...

Very nice post. Did you ever read a children's book called "Mr. Popper's Penguins"? He ends up building a sort of ice rink in his basement, at least as far as I remember. If you do not find the ideal Antarctic subletter you might invest in some very high-tech clothing, it is amazing what some of that cold-weather gear will do for you nowadays (also I was just reading a slightly foolish shopping article in the New Yorker about those disposable chemical handwarmers).

Lee said...

I will pass this on to my daughter - and now son - who live in Berlin, they're always looking for sources of English books.

Helen DeWitt said...

JD -- "Mr. Popper's Penguins" rings a bell, but if I have read it I must have done so a very long time ago. Anyway, yes, if a postpolar subletter cannot be found I could look for kit suitable for a live-in refrigeration unit.

Lee -- I think your daughter (and son) would like this place. I wish I'd discovered it sooner, I spend far too much ordering books online.

Lee said...

Helen, you probably know about St. George's, the secondhand English bookshop which I usually visit when in Berlin because it's close to my daughter's flat in Prenzlauer
Berg. Not always cheap - maybe half the list price, though sometimes less - and the selection could be better, but I always manage to find stuff anyway! Here's the link just in case: