08 febrero 2013

Shopping for the right book can be: A) stressful; B) never-ending; C) too stressful?

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Confessions of a... 

by D. Morgan.- 

iN THE SUMMER of 2012, when I happened to be spending my holidays at Argentina's Atlantic Coast, I set my heart on doing some random research through a wiiiide variety of bookstores. I didn't wish to buy just any book, rather, I was in the hope of finding an English classic. 

Not that I didn't have a great too many at home already— most of them are still held in waiting in my mental list—but still, the idea of purchasing one from a shop I'd hardly visit again  before some time was as catchy as that of bringing a souvenir on my way back.

Since in Argentina the sea coast gets flooded with tourists from different parts of the world, most bookshops do keep some little corner where they store well-known English titles. So while my trip-partners hovered around malls and gawped at their next casual outfit in a shop window, I decided I'd go for the quest of my own treasure.
Scavenger Hunt?
Most of the times I entered bookstores in Villa Gesell, Mar Azul, Mar del Plata, Miramar, I was presented with the very picture of idleness: arms-crossed, chit-chatting shop-assistants would reluctantly turn back and shoot me a menacing look as if to say, "How dare you butt in the most important event of my life?"

This was the usual thing, so it wasn't as if I'd really care enough to leave the battlefield that soon. However, during my trial & error expermient I did come across an infuriating response  from the staff. To begin with, the first point at which I'd feel rather uneasy was whenever I posed what seemed to sound as the most challenging question they'd ever heard: "Do you happen to sell any books in English?" 

By the time I finished uttering it, I'd feel all eyes were on me, scrutinising my facial features in search of some foreigner's look sign. Ha! As if from merely staring they could tell whether I was an actual tourist or an addict. If I stared back at them as though meaning, "Do you really need me to rephrase that?", the assistant would give me this appallingly blank look like I was asking if they still sold any peanut butter in that bookshop. All right, the staring was pretty much off-putting, but then, there were times when it would get worse. 
Envisioning a pot of gold...
But let's not underestimate everyone. Shop-assistants can sometimes be good and kind and even recommend our next favourite book. 

On certain occasions, their response would come quick, simple and straight-forward. A staff member would eye me knowingly, like I wasn't the only potential customer asking for that sort of thing, and almost as if they actually had heard of books in other languages before! This I would easily take for a good sign, and as I was made to follow them, I'd begin wondering if I had enough in my pockets to buy not only one books but two or three. 

But hang on! "Why are you giving me that look again?" I'd wonder. "False alarm, dear, hard luck," my mind's voice would hurl at me. 

Within seconds, that prior sense of confidence and relief would be torn to pieces. After they'd say, "Yes, follow me, please,"—and I'd foolishly follow with the optimistic searcher's hunch—, it was the same story all over again. All I'd bump into was another assistant, and the conversation between them, which I'd not be asked to join, would casually run as follows,

"This girl here's looking for books in English." 

"In English, right!" would come the hope-arousing echo, and then again, 

"Oh, but I think we don't have any of those."

[Turning to face me as though I were both, deaf  and stupid]

"Nope, seems like we don't have any of those."

"I see..."

"But, we do have the latest..." 

"That's all right, thank you, anyway."


EPILOGUE: As daunting as that, while a much braver and much simpler "No" would have saved my precious time and yours, JERKS!!

Forgive me, I cannot help it. My Vanity tells me—and my Ego bets She's right— that I'm a very well-trained reader. I mean, it's not as if I'd get easily tempted to buy whatever comes in my way after having a pointless peek at your other stuff. Grrr, I know what I'm looking for! [Gritted teeth.]
Packing ur book = Being ready 4 a rainy day
Every once in a while, there would come a time when I got a real "Yes" for an answer, and the "Books in English" corner would actually prove to exist other than in my own imagination. 

Now, as for what I'd come to find there, that's a whole different issue. First, classics weren't usually on view, which I think a most dreadful mistake, since classics are the safest choice for tourists and, why not, for the so-called 'bilingual' locals. What will you do when you're out of your homeplace, looking for a good read? If you don't know the best-selling names, you're likely to cling to a classic—but no, at the sea spots there would be no Penguin logo to be seen, no Wordsworth rugged face or anything quite like it. 

Then, there was the point of the meagre range of volumes to consider. Although, to be honest, the small number of titles would not be as disturbing to the eye as their old-man looks. The poor things looked as if no one had come and checked on them for ages! It goes without saying, the dust hadn't been wiped off from their faintly-coloured covers. 

More often than not, I had no choice but turn around and leave, feeling sorry both for the books and the owner of the shop. I mean, books are an overrated part of my essentials, the one sort of thing I'd never dare travel without. Of course, sometimes I'd only have read three pages on my return. But then, isn't that the whole point about reading for pleasure on a holiday? No matter how much you get to read, as long as your book's there for you in case you need it.

After all, what can I say? My treasure hunt before last didn't come out as I'd expected—that is, with my hands clutching their latest classic acquisition to my chest—but I did get myself a little something. I ended buying Sophie Kinsella's Mini Shopaholic, the last volume from The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic series, of which I've been a great, great fan even before that hideous movie starring Isla Fisher came out—by the way, the film doesn't even get close to Kinsella's humourous yet wittily-constructed plot. 

So, hope you got my warning. "Travel safe" equals "Never travel without at least one book at hand." I don't know, what if you find no better thing to do at night? What if rains and you can't make it to the beach? What if you get ill and need to stay in bed while the others have fun? 

For that sort of situation and others much worse, my one and only sense of relief has always laid in the fact that a rainy day never catches me unawares. Whenever I pack, I'm sure a book will come with me, just in case I might not be able to buy what I want. So if no better volume pops up to dismantle my high esteem for the one I've taken from my own home library, I know I can still turn to an old book, my best and most loyal trip mate.  

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5 comentarios:

  1. Interesting! I'm also a book-in-the-bag kind traveller. Let me add they also prove fantastic company when the other members of your party are either watching TV or engaged in crosswords and the like. My holidays this year have been accompanied by Jo Rowling. I've finished her latest novel today, and liked it a lot.

    Now, back to the point. There are certain bookshops in which you won't receive those blank stares, but they are the fewer. Take Tematika or Cúspide, for instance... WHEN you are finally led to the English books, they're most of the time (soft) porn "literature."

  2. Oh, you muuust tell me all about J.K's latest novel!! Hope you write a review, so that I can hear more about it from your perspective.

    Yep, forgot to say that! Porn covers was what I'd bump into most of the times. Sometimes they had "The Picture of Dorian Gray" mingling with some other stuff, but that happened on one or two lucky days. Then, again, it was all boring stuff... Thnx for commenting!

  3. I WAS going to write a review, but I read a very good one on The Guardian and a not very good one on the NY Times. Maybe I'll write something confronting both.

    As for the bookshops, I'm very grateful that shops like SBS or Ameghino exist near my area. They are BLESSINGS, imho.

    I can picture your face contorting into shocked disgust and rage on seeing those covers!! And it comes as no surprise that Dorian would come up, as it's very popular. You couldn't imagine a bookshop which sells English books being "Dorianless" or "P&Pless."

    You're welcome!!

  4. "...but I read a very good one on The Guardian..." Allow me to say but this: the fact that someone else should have written already about that topic/theme/book/film, &c. which one had thought of doesn't mean that one can't write about it as well. Of course, if what we read is far too good, it may be discouraging—it always is!—but, are you going to let that keep you from writing? Then you don't have the balls to be a writer. Being a writer also means proving to the reading world that you're no clon, that even if your issue is some other writer's issue, you can make a difference. If one doesn't believe in oneself, who else will? "The Guardian" may be "The Guardian", and I greatly admire some of their reporters and reviewers too, but give yourself the chance to write, to exercise your hand at a cause you may believe in (whether it be a book or a crime). Better to do something and be sorry rather than do nothing and be sorry for that.

    As for your conjectures about the effects of such book covers on MY countenance, I am afraid you must be quite right. You know me too well for me to dare deny it. And, yes, I agree. I must say "P&P" is everywhere, even in Spanish, with better-looking hardcovers in Spanish than in English! I can only regret that Jane is not alive, but then, she IS alive somewhere else, and she must be watching it, having great fun, rejoicing in the fact that at last her pride and her prejudice HAVE been conquered by reaching the summit of her own ambitions as an author. Finis. =)

  5. Thanks for cheering that fuckin' comment up! haha. It shows in what a state I was when I wrote it, doesn't it? Absolutely discouraged.

    Anyway. I AM going to write something, but probably not out of the blue. That's what I meant to say. I'm going to make a review roundup and then say what I think about them and about the novel myself. Rowling has managed once again to make me want to speak. Or write, rather. And NOT writing anything at all about her novel feels like betrayal to her. It feels as if the novel is not good enough to deserve criticism, be it good or bad. And I don't think it is.

    Thanks again for making your point clear about what it takes to be a writer, for I do feel discouraged sometimes. But I do try to overcome that discourage, for it's well worth the try.


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