For me, being a tourist means going to bookshops. I’m happy if I can fall over some as I wander around. As people stop reading books, however, the very notion of a bookshop is disappearing. Despite this, there are still cities and towns where one can take joy in the bookshop browse. In Europe, of the places I’ve visited, Berlin and Rome are both still waving the flag for books. And most recently…..
If you are in Holland, and furthermore in a University Town, in this case Leiden, it follows that bookshops are going to be in profusion. The Dutch are still big readers. I was nonetheless surprised, given its population of 125K, by how many shops there were.
The main street alone has several.
Mayflower Bookshop looks to be a new bookshop from the window, but its new book stock is all (?) remaindered. In fact, behind these and around the walls is a large stock of secondhand books. By the time we discovered Mayflower, we were running out of time. I left with one Coetzee – which I was happy to pick up, since all my other unread books by him are in Australia. If we’d been able to stay for the weekend, we could have seen one of the literary events which the shop holds, in this case a bilingual reading of Gray’s Elegy, celebrating a new edition.
And on Friday evening, if we’d only realised how long our plane would be delayed, we could have been part of the packed house which was treated by Dr. Ruud Hisgen
…to an enlightening lecture on both the Irish author James Joyce and his masterpiece Ulysses. Not only did Hisgen reveal many details on the relationship between Samuel Beckett and the Joyce family as Joyce’s eyesight worsened, he also showed us the development of the Joyce novel (from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to Ulysses), the autobiographical elements of Stephen Dedalus, and last but certainly not least the structure of Ulysses, the beauty and symbolism of the single day portrayed in the novel, and ways in which to tackle the text.
On the same street is De Slegte. Again, from the outside it looks like a new bookshop. Inside, however, once one steps past the new discounted section, it is mainly a secondhand bookshop, with a very large stock. Here I picked up Zweig’s Chess and, entirely speculatively, Arthur Magill’s poetry collection The Society of Mutual Backscratchers. I couldn’t resist the name and the fact that he thinks that poetry should be readable. A man after my own heart.
Much as I enjoyed both these shops, my favourite of those we visited was Antiquariaat Klikspaan. This is a proper old-fashioned secondhand bookshop and I spent several hours there over a couple of visits, purchasing a dozen books or so. One of the things I love about such bookshops is that the prices mean one can take chances. In this case, in particular, I picked up the first Leonardo Sciascia I’ve read: To Each His Own. Now, at an initial investment of 5 Euros I know I can safely buy more of his books. I loved this, having finished it today.
These are by no means the only bookshops in Leiden, which has some attractive new bookshops as well, but they will have to wait for our next visit.