I now live in a world of books.
On the many driftwood shelves of the store, there are books in Greek, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and English (though fortunately for me, English dominates.) The selection is comprehensive and diverse – what has sprung out of an improvised set up by some enthusiastic amateurs five years ago has evolved into a stock collection that puts many a professional bookshop to shame. Cookery, coffee table books, fiction, non-fiction, Greek interest, contemporary Greek authors in all languages, classics, poetry, philosophy (in the philosophy tower)…all is represented.
We have a library of our own behind the till (mostly consisting of poetry, high faultin’ fiction, Greek language books and chess books), alongside a set of beautiful old Penguin classics and leather bound books. Ostensibly on sale, we massively overprice them in order to keep them in the shop.
Living in a bookshop, I am surrounded by literary temptation, but there are limits to how far I can indulge myself. It is general policy that we don’t read the new books, but that the second hand books are fair game. Like Tantalus in the underworld, there are countless books that I crave to pull down and read, but professional duty obliges me to resist. I hunt through the shelves, looking for the creased spine, peeled away corners and yellowed, misshapen pages that mean it is ripe for plucking.
There are so many books (and they are so essentially involved in the design of the shop) that you begin to feel like a book yourself after some time – skin turns to paper, blood to ink, and perhaps you can even feel the reading creases of your life when you run your hand down your spine.
What kind of a book would I be? Not a Faber and Faber poetry book, which is what I’d like to be, for I am, alas, not beautiful enough for that. Perhaps a Penguin Modern Classic – tasteful black and white cover, silver backing and white lettering. Not as noble as the Penguin Classic, nor as heart warming as the old orange paperbacks, but it has a charm of its own. A slightly knackered copy that has floated around in backpacks and on dusty bookshelves for many years. Perhaps it has been dropped in the bath once, and the pages have that stiff and crooked character of paper wetted and dried in the sun, but a book that is still intact, respectable, not showy but inviting to read.
The first book I sold? East/West by Salman Rushdie.
The first book I read? I found a very handsome copy of Fitzgerald’s majestic translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, one of my favourite pieces of poetry. Still in a daze, I read it to still my mind, and those rhyming quatrains, dedicated to wine, love, pleasure in the moment and the acceptance of entropy and change, seems to capture something of the spirit of the bookshop…
Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of Spring
The Winter garment of repentance fling,
For the Bird of Time has but a little way
to fly – and lo! the Bird is on the wing!