The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

August in Germany

Gleebooks Bookshop - Wednesday, October 12, 2016
This month, it’s books and travel. I spent the month of August in Germany—mostly in Berlin with my son, daughter-in-law and my grand-children, Matilda and Felix. It was lovely to be with them, especially Felix, now three, who was very loving and affectionate. Matilda, six, is looking forward to going to The Charles Dickens School, which is bilingual and close to home. They love all the books I send them and have special bookshelves for Sydney Oma’s presents. After my two week stint as nanny, I did a bit of travelling. I went to Potsdam, conveniently close to Berlin, to Hamberg and to Leipzig. If I go back next year, I will go to a few more places—I’d especially like to go to Dresden, just didn’t have time this trip.
As you can guess I read quite a lot and actually had to buy books. Of course, there are many bookshops in Berlin—both small and large. A couple I visited were: Books in Berlin which was quite close to where I was staying; St George’s second-hand; and Do You Read Me in Mitte—which is wonderful for browsing, lots of great art books and magazines. Two more bookshops I must mention are Dussmann, Das Kulturkaufhaus, and Hugendubel bel Kardstadt. I knew about Dussmann, but had never made it there. This time I set out determined to find it, and (after a few wrong turns) I did. In contrast to the stores mentioned above, Dussman is a behemoth of a bookshop—five floors, with books, magazines, CDs and DVDs. I was there at five pm on a Saturday and the place was packed. Apart from books in German, there is a separate English bookshop on the ground floor. I spent quite a bit of time in there and while I didn’t buy anything, I did take note of some titles I would like to read. Although it is big, I found  the staff very friendly and helpful. It had a really good atmosphere and it was great to see people buying books! The other shop Hugendubel has branches all over Berlin, but I only went to the branch in the KaDeWe, Berlin’s famous department store. The books are on the sixth floor. They fill a very large area, with a selection of fiction and non-fiction books in English. Again, I found the staff very friendly and very happy to help me with my purchases—and this is what I bought and read.

Being in Berlin I thought I should sample a German author so I picked up The Other Child ($20) by Charlotte Link, first published in German as Das andere Kind. I loved this book. I became totally involved, and actually saved the last bit for the plane trip home. With the evacuation of children to the country during the second world war as the background, the discovery of a young student’s body and later that of an elderly woman with no obvious connection leaves Detective Valerie Almond is at a loss as to what is going on.

I read the first volume of Louise Welsh’s Plague trilogy on the plane and was most happy to find the second volume, Death is a Welcome Guest($20), in Hugendubel’s. They are quite gripping and I am really looking forward to the final book.

Next, A Manual for Cleaning Women ($20)—a book of inter-connected short stories by Lucia Berlin . This was published for the first time last year, a decade after her death. She has been called one of America’s best-kept secrets. This was recommended to me by one of the staff, and I thank her for it. It is quite an amazing collection. It tells of a world of beauty, pain, laughter and drink, in Mexico, Chile and the American South-west. In laundromats, hospitals, motels and bars. For lovers of Alice Munro and  Raymond Carver, this is the kind of book that takes you to a place  that is both real and yet unreal at the same time. Read it it for yourself.

Apparently, Fates and Furies ($23) by Lauren Groff was Obama’s favourite book of 2015, but it wasn’t as quite as good as the President’s recommendation had me hoping. The story of a modern marriage, I found the first part, the husband’s story interesting, but felt a bit let down by the wife’s story.
I also reread the wonderful Christopher Isherwood’s wonderful Berlin Stories ($32). I have loved Isherwood’s writing for what seems like for ever, and I felt it was almost compulsory to read then while visiting Germany. They never fail to entertain and it was very satisfying to read these Berlin stories while walking the very same streets Christopher and his kind walked.    

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