Kai Meyer’s new book Die Spur der Bücher [The Trail of Books] came out a couple of weeks ago. Being my favourite German author, I usually get his books close to publication date. This time, however, I hesitated. When it comes to German books, I don’t really buy them in bookshops anymore. Nope, I don’t buy them online either. That’s pretty much the last place I’d get them. Instead, I buy them directly from the publishers because those colleague discounts are neat. Ah, the perks of working in publishing! Anyways, with the Frankfurt Bookfair only a couple of weeks away, I first decided I would be totally fine with waiting till then. However, an idea crept into my mind: I had two weeks off of work and was spending those in the town I grew up in. The town that has a small bookshop that is very dear to me. So I decided to order Die Spur der Bücher there and have a nice little chat with its owner Johannes – just like good old times …
Walking Down Memory Lane
I don’t remember when I first came upon our bookshop Libretto, or how, or why (well, probably because I wanted to buy books, duh). Since he knows the owner, maybe it was my Dad who took me when I was 9 or 10. But when I look back, I remember the smell of chipboard wood, the room crammed with shelves and tables, and the shelves and tables crammed with books. I remember being a little anxious, because that’s the effect small shops have on me when I’m not familiar with them and the people working there. But that wouldn’t last. I’d soon become familiar with both the shop and the owner Johannes, excitedly hurrying up the stairs and to the counter in the back of the shop, prepared to order or pick up my books. Since the shop was so small and hadn’t had a broad assortment, that was my routine: ordering books one day, picking them up the next. For a couple of years, this was the place I got almost all my books from and my parents all my Christmas and birthday presents, which, of course, were books.
Some Random Memories
When I was in 5th grade, I had to give my first speech in German class. The topic: my favourite book. I picked Sehnsucht nach Winnie [Yearning for Winnie] by Nortrud & Nikola Boge-Erli, a horse novel I was quite obsessed about back then. To get more information on the book (after all, this was before I came in contact with the Internet), I went to Johannes to have him look up the details on my edition. I only remember that the book was already out of print, which didn’t keep me from doing my presentation.
I remember preordering Eldest (The Inheritance Cycle, #2) by Christopher Paolini, a book I was really looking forward to. I picked it up on Saturday, started reading immediately – and on Sunday, I discovered that I had a faulty copy. I hadn’t realised it at first, because the sentence that crossed the pages even made sense: about 130 pages in, the previous 30 pages were repeated and the 30 pages that were actually supposed to be there were missing. I was really mad I couldn’t continue. On Monday, I went straight back to the shop, not knowing how to handle the situation. Johannes just took it back and handed me a replacement copy he had on the shelf – the preorder shelf. Whomever I ‘stole’ the copy: I’m terribly sorry. Or not. I really wanted to continue reading. And maybe you wouldn’t have picked it up that day anyway.
I used to look up the books I wanted to get online and then went and ordered them at the shop. That’s when I found out that indie bookshops can’t match online prices of English books because of additional handling costs and discount differences – the hard way. I had ordered Harry Potter 6 in English and another German book and only brought the money I thought those would cost according to my online research. The German book was fine, of course – we have fixed pricing on those. The English, however, was more expensive than I thought, so I didn’t have enough money on me. I was horrified. For Johannes, it wasn’t a big deal. Being a regular customer, he said I could just bring what I owed some other day – which, of course, I didn’t. I immediately ran home almost all the way, grabbed my wallet, and hurried back to settle the accounts. I just couldn’t leave it like that.
In my 12th grade German class, I had to give a speech on Poetry at the Local Bookshop. I’m really not into poetry but that topic was one of the more bearable ones. So I just went to Johannes and spent a couple of hours at the tiny bookshop which had quite a large assortment of poetry for its size, looking through all the poetry stuff I could find. I took notes, wrote everything together, gave the speech and got 12 points (a B+). I had a good laugh afterwards: after all, it was a silly topic compared to some of the others and I’d had next to no work with it. Couldn’t have been happier with the result.
Times Are Changing – Or Are They?
When I finished school and moved for uni, I started to preorder my German books online or got them in other bookshops. I started to use the wishlist function of a certain online retailer because it was much simpler for my parents to keep track. When I visited home, I went to Libretto once or twice with my Dad when he was looking for presents, maybe even ordering a book now and then. By that time, Johannes had moved the shop to a new location right in the busy town centre. Now it was all bright, modern, and spacey (although still small) – not at all like the tiny honey toned shop of my teenage years. The shop and I, we had grown apart.
In 2014, when I was an intern at Arena, I ran across Johannes at the Frankfurt Bookfair and we had a little chat. Getting into publishing changed my perspective on the book industry. I developed a new sensitivity and understanding for the German book market, so I stopped getting my German books online and started to give my parents wishlists with the explicit instruction of getting those at Libretto. My Mum took this particularly to heart, leaving on the price tags to prove it. And yet, I hadn’t been back at Libretto myself for years, hadn’t seen Johannes since that run-in in October 2014.
Until two weeks ago. So there I was, entering the shop, heading straight for the counter. And there “my” bookseller was, immediately recognising me. We had a nice chat, catching up – where I was, where I had been, what the book industry was up to, what titles from our programme I could recommend so he could stock up on children’s books. And then, just like good old times, I said I’d like to order a book.
“Which one”, he asked.
“Die Spur der Bücher”, I answered.
He smiled, knowingly. “Ah, still Kai Meyer.”
Well, some things never change …