“Open 24 hours” is not a phrase uttered lightly in Vienna. In fact, it’s not uttered at all. Most of the stores, boutiques, and trading posts here shut down by 6 or 7. But as a patriotic American, I still have the right to confuse shopping for entertainment. So last night at 7:30 pm, I really only had one choice: the Thalia.at superstore at Landstrasse. It’s Borders for Wieners.
Does anyone go to bookstores anymore? I can now report that yes, they do, especially when there isn’t anything else to do. Last night I was just another clod who was shuffling around, gathering up a bunch of books I had no intention of buying, just so I could indulge in a little “late-night” libro-philia. The tables, chairs and banquettes were mostly occupied, largely by people who were awake.
I plopped down with six items: Sebastiao Salgado’s Africa (beautiful, astonishing but ultimately clichéd black and white photographs of the Continent); a coffee-table book about cathedrals (did I not mention I am addicted to big picture books?); a smaller book about a Viennese movie poster artist who was working in the forties and fifties (nice local color); a black and white graphic novel about Stu Sutcliffe (who was he again? A fifth Beatle, right? Wait, this is in German!); a gargantuan new Taschen book of vintage funk and soul album covers (uh-oh, there goes thirty Euros!); and another graphic novel called The Night Bookmobile.
After a few pages of the Taschen book of funk and soul art, I knew I would have to possess it. The Night Bookmobile, on the other hand, looked sort of amateurish, and the author’s name--Audrey Niffenegger—meant nothing to me. The title is what put the hook in me. ‘Bookmobile?’ I thought. ‘That’s a phrase I haven’t heard in—oh--forty-five years.’
CAUTION: Middle-Aged Jaunt down Memory Lane to Follow! When I was seven, the Bookmobile kicked ass! The Public Library in my town had lots of branches, but it also had a book-filled Winnebago that drove around then laid anchor in various supermarket parking lots. It didn’t really have a lot of stuff in it, and looking back, I’m sure it was the same things I could have gotten at the smaller libraries. But there was something so cool about climbing up into a big recreational vehicle full of copies of Charlottes’ Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and those Alfred Hitchcock mystery stories for boys. Anyway….
So, The Night Bookmobile turned out to be a great, though slightly macabre, sorta sad book. A very nice story actually. I won’t ruin it for you. But it’s about a woman who loves to read. And after reading it, as I left the superstore and started back down the stairs to the subway trains, I felt all gooey inside. I’m really too young to feel nostalgic, but I miss books a little.
Now I live in Screen World. I’m looking at screens all day: my computer at work, my computer at home, my other computer at home, my wife’s computer, the tv screen, the screen in the u-Bahn station, the screen in the U-Bahn train. In New York, of course, one may watch tv in the back of a taxi now. Whoo-hoo. And the thing is, Screen World is sort of cold.
But a good book? Whoa, that is hot stuff. It’s really delicious to luxuriate in a long, totally fascinating history book (or novel or biography) by a writer who not only has style but really knows her or his shit. Books don’t have emoticons. Books have complete sentences. Many of them avoid slang! No one ever writes ROFL in a book.
I’m going to read one now. After I finish this post. And check Facebook. And send that e-mail.