Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Five conversations with booksellers at HBW, part 1

If on Thursday I commented that Hebrew Book Week (HBW) is an event that's enjoyable even without purchasing books (enjoyable for the "literary experience"), my experience from last night stands on another end of the spectrum. For what now rests on my desk if not twelve books that I'm quite excited about? And a further eight or so that are officially "shared" and so will come to me after passing through yesterday's partner in book-purchasing crime?

It'll sound weird, but the fact is that buying books at HBW is actually completely in line with everything I've already said about the events. It's all about the experience. At every booth - whether this was a major publisher or one of the smallest - I struck up a conversation with the bookseller. Some were more forthcoming than others, yes, but at the end of the day, even the booksellers at the big publishers are readers. Once steered past the predictable titles, they offered some bizarre and awesome things.

Kineret, Zmora-Bitan
One of Israel's most prominent publishers (and part owners of its second largest bookstore chain, Tzomet Sfarim), it's not hard to find Kineret's representation at HBW. It's right there are the entrance, bold, bright and really big. So it was actually rather surprising to find myself entering a conversation with one of the booksellers - the big publishers typically just try to shove the new bestsellers down your throat and that's it.

I'd already determined that I was going to buy Sofi Oksanen's Purge (this was the deal-breaker review). As I scavenged around for the remaining books (3 for 100₪), one of the booksellers looked at me curiously. "Did you ask for Purge?" he asked. "Yeah," I responded. "I know it's supposed to be a difficult read, but I'm really curious..." I continued with my usual comment. He nodded. "Oh, it's brilliant. Really difficult, but brilliant. I have something to show you, though. If you think it's weird, then this book isn't for you." He pulled out his cell-phone and began to flip through his photos emphatically. Finally he showed me a photo of the author. "This is what she looks like."

I laughed. "If anything, that makes me want to read the book even more." The bookseller nodded, somewhat relieved, and turned to assist another reader. I meanwhile waited for my mother to finish picking her books. The bookseller suddenly reached over to the neighboring booth (still within the same publisher) and told the man next to me in a low voice, "Look, on the down-low, here's a brilliant book, not many people know about it, it wasn't a bestseller or anything, but it's really great." Nodding next to them I added, "Yeah, it's really interesting and I still think of it sometimes, a year and a half after reading it..." Excited, the bookseller turned back towards me. "Really? So, listen..." He looked around furtively. "This author has a great book sold over at another publisher. You have to read it." "So is that the secret?" I asked.

The bookseller grinned and nodded. "Yeah. But it's a really good book, who cares who's selling it?"

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