By Liz the Editorial Intern
Intern Liz recently returned to intern-life after backpacking around Europe — she blogged about that here. We asked her to do a blog piece about any of her book-related experiences. So here’s a look at books and reading in Europe, from the prespective of an American college student. Very interesting!
The adjustment from my seven weeks abroad as a solo backpacker back to life in my American reality has been interesting, to say the least. While I am happy to be back, the lifestyle I had lived the past two months has been absolutely different from the one to which I have returned. I knew that, upon my return, I would probably be overwhelmed by the amount of “familiar” I encounter on a day-to-day basis—such as my near breakdown over a communication between five friends over weekend plans. But, there have been other such realizations that have contributed to my reverse culture-shock which have surprised me. One of these has been the difference in the presentation of books between the European countries I visited and the United States.
One trait that struck me early in my trip was Europe’s extensive presentation of books. Typically, I found that bookstores held prominent positions in cities along their main shopping streets. In Lisbon, a bookstore was my solace along a main square when I was unable to find a tour group. Labeled awnings scrawled with “Libraire” lined the streets of Paris, and Shakespeare & Company, which is situated across the Seine from the Notre Dame Cathedral, filled my need for an English-language bookstore. I also couldn’t help but stumble over bookstores in both Oxford and Cambridge—not that this is at all surprising. The case was the same in both Edinburgh and Dublin. Both of which also boast their own Writers Museum, showcasing their respective nation’s impressive history of literature.
My discovery of books around these cities was not limited to bookstores or museum gift shops. Nearly everywhere I went, there was a book in someone’s hands. Whether it was on public transportation, cafes or pubs, inevitably someone would be engrossed in some type of literature. Even the majority of the hostels I stayed in had a bookshelf that operated on the practice: leave a book, take a book. Although I was also constantly reading throughout my trip, my Kindle seemed out of place. The Kindle was incredibly convenient and proved to be one of the items I packed which I deemed invaluable, but for some reason, reading an ebook instead of a paper copy seemed to make me stick out. It seemed as if the phenomenon of digital books has not quite hit Europe. Or at least, the emphasis is still on the actual copies of paper books.
Indeed, it has been a strange transition away from this type of public display of literature. It may take a little while to not expect running into a monument of James Joyce in Stephen’s Green or Oscar Wilde in Marion Square. I may long to appreciate the Grimms’ fairy tales while viewing the statue of Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf in Munich or Hans Christian Anderson’s alongside the infamous Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. I may also regret leaving Edinburgh and the emphasis on storytelling I found at its Scottish Storytelling Centre; or Dublin, where the St. Patrick’s Day parade was themed after the short story, “Brilliant” by Irish author, Roddy Doyle. However, not is all lost. There is not a lack of appreciation for literature in America, just a different way of showing it. And besides, since I am done traveling, I am free to pack up my Kindle until the next adventure, and bring my own copy of the book I’m reading along my ride on the L to and from work. This way I can bring a little bit of European display back to the United States, and maybe transition back more smoothly.