for the love of books

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Around this time, towards the beginning of summer, we celebrate books. It’s called book week, or the book fair. And it’s a long standing tradition here. But this year has been a little different. There’s been a lot of discussion about books and the way they’re sold for some time now. And because I’m one of many who feel a personal connection to books, I’ve been following the public discussions and debate. Books are very important in Israel. I believe there are more books published and translated from other languages here, per capita, than anywhere else in the world. And I would guess that Jerusalem houses more books than anywhere else in the country.

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When I was young and traveling abroad, I remember learning what mattered to other peoples just by noticing the proliferation of certain types of shops or stores in a particular city. There was this one town in the far west, where I saw filling stations on every street corner. Well, at the time, it was hard to find a petrol station in our town, but there was a bookstore on almost every street.

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you can still see the rails in the old train station

In recent years though, there’s been a change in the way books are sold. For one thing, instead of the many Mom & Pop bookstores, each one with a certain expertise and interest, catering to a specific customer base, we saw the rise of chain book stores. It was a bit like MacDonald’s. Steimatzky, one of the major booksellers in our city, and known for its wide collection of English language volumes, first sprouted a few offspring, in different neighborhoods of our city. Following that, they spread across the country. Then publishers started selling their books retail, setting up chains of bookstores countrywide. They would sell all kinds of books, but pushed the volumes that they’d published themselves. As the competition increased, you could hear advertisements on the radio. Books were offered to consumers in the same commercial way that they had sold us movies in the past.

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It’s commonly thought that competition improves the market place. But what started out as playful sport between people of like pursuits and tastes, eventually turned into the fierce competitive spirit of commercial giants. By the time stores were selling 4 books for a hundred shekels, people started wondering if this was really advantageous. True, books used to cost between 70 and a 100 shekels. But what if you’re only interested in buying one particular book? Of course, you can always buy one for a friend… Still, that’s only two, and you had to buy 4 to meet the provisions of the deal. In your mind you’d already reduced the price to 25 shekels… it was a nuisance. And then we started hearing what the authors of these books were earning per book.

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Needless to say that the store owners were recompensed for their trouble. And so were the publishers. But the authors couldn’t even buy a pack of cigarettes for what they got from the sale of a book. I know what you’re saying; the author should stop smoking. But I’m just bringing this up as an example.

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Last year, parliament passed a law which insured that the author would receive a decent part of the income derived from the sale of his or her books. It prohibited the bundling of new books in sales campaigns. But the results weren’t that gratifying. It turns out that during the last year, less books were sold than in previous years. And it’s harder than ever for a new writer to break into the business. Aside from that, one has to keep in mind that there are not that many people in this world who’re looking to read a good book in Hebrew. Not to speak of the fact that there’s always more reading material available on the internet. Newspapers are going out of business. We wonder… are books the next to go?

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blues for women

The book fair this year was a great celebration, despite the controversy over sales methods. All the stores and publishers set up booths in the old railroad station, and most of the books were available at discount. Local bars and restaurants set up shop on the perimeter of the fair. A big tent top was erected pretty much in the middle of the area, and all comers were invited to listen to some of our finest native talent. At seven we heard blues for women. And by nine, we were listening to a wide variety of musical offerings played by some of our favorite musicians. The sound was great. We were entertained by some really excellent local versions of blues, hard rock, psychedelic rock, folk and jazz. It was wonderful.

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In fact, it was close to what I imagine as heaven. In the old days, I used to go to nightclubs to listen to fine jazz, while eating a light repast and having a couple of drinks. But since they outlawed smoking, I just don’t enjoy it as much, and hardly go out anymore. In this fine arrangement, smoking was allowed. Because most of the places were outdoor affairs, on balconies or patios. Even the music was considered outdoors, with just the tent top to give us some protection. And here I was, surrounded by books and friends, listening to music that just swept me away, drinking beer and smoking as much as I wanted. Just like heaven, don’t you think?

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Shimon in heaven by Chana

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60 responses to “for the love of books

  1. Books, books… I love too dear Shimon. Freedom for writers, freedom for books, freedom for readers… Ah, hit me sadly. I hope everything will be better and especially will be changed soon in my country. I loved your amazing writing and expressions about this book fair. Seems great. But what impressed me so much, bookstores more than petrol station! and another point the heaven what you means 🙂 Cheers young man, you are so nice, one day yes one day in a cafe to drink something with you but more than this I wish to listen to you, to your amazing life stories. Thank you, have a nice day and weekend and a new week…. Love, nia

    • Such a very sweet comment, Nia. We do communicate her in cyber space, and I have no doubt that it would be even better face to face. All the same, how good it is that we have the freedom of the internet, to exchange ideas. I agree with you, the greatest freedom is found in literature. All those who have tried to suppress it, have failed. And it ties people together from different cultures… and even from different time frames. We can find joy and excitement reading the works of a writer who is no longer in this world. How wonderful! My best wishes to you always.

  2. OK first things first….wonderful to see you looking well and so relaxed…

    As far as the sale of books is concerned, I can say ditto to so much of what you have written. All the same nonsense has happened in the UK and I believe just about everywhere else, and so it’s wonderful to see your railway station book Fair.

    We do have things like the Hay on Wye Literary Festival here in the UK, which I have attended or more than one occasion, and in Hay there are numerous real books stores….but that’s a one off….and long may it live.
    On a side note I used to paint nudes in Hay on a Monday – it’s only 20 minutes from The Magical Town of Crickadoon….and would always take some time in the day to enjoy one of the books stores.

    Have a wonderful weekend, and stay relaxed….Janet:)xx

    • Sorry to hear that you have the same situation in England, Janet. Though it doesn’t really surprise me. When I first noticed certain social changes happening very quickly in our country, I thought the these were local phenomena. And then, when visiting abroad, I saw similar fashions everywhere I went. Now it more or less expect that the things I see here are happening in other places as well. Sometimes, even popular expressions are translated into our language. They aren’t always immediately recognizable. But after a while one realizes. Thank you so much, Janet for your kind words regarding my appearance. Actually, with the coming of spring, and now summer, I’m feeling much better. I think I even have some mischief in me. Those winter months were hard. Wishing you a beautiful day, today and tomorrow, with the inspiration of hummingbirds to keep you company. xxx.

  3. Jews Christians and Muslims are ‘the people of the book’, so it is only fitting for there to be a festival, a celebration like this great gathering, and to see–as noticed in your photograph–children sitting on the curb reading books–and something for young and not so young, alike. Here, we sadly have only about two used bookstores left — the others having gone out of business — and no homegrown ‘best sellers’ bookstores. Those (two–in a city of 100,000) are chainstore ones, and even they are struggling. It is the onslaught of electronic devices which decimates the tradition of actually reading an actual book. But I have started selling bookmarks in our little Gallery. People are abandoning their Kindle Readers and going back to paper. You are always bringing us glimpses into the soul of a great nation.

    • Well, if you say so, Lance, I’m sure it’s true that Jews, Christians and Moslems, are all people of the book. But please don”t leave out the fine people of Las Vegas. I hear they’ve been making book for years now. There is a certain sadness when we see the decline of bookstores. But if the internet and electronic reading devices supply similar content to the young, I will find consolation in that. For what ultimately matters, is the content; the interchange of ideas and thoughts, and learning more about our world. If people keep on learning, and just exchange paper for a digital screen, that’s not really something to dampen our spirits. Thanks very much for your comment.

  4. A wonderful post Shimon. Those dim, smokey jazz clubs where you could cut the atmosphere with a knife, enjoy a smoke along with everybody else and enjoy such fine music are of course a thing of the past.. A renowned jazz trumpeter in this country blamed his lung cancer on playing in jazz clubs, he’d never smoked himself and he was probably right of course. These changes are for the better but you can’t enjoy an evening the same when you have to go outside every time you want to smoke. Book week sounds like such a wonderful celebration and you certainly do look like a very happy man in this photograph. It’s the move to ban smoking even in outside venues too now that is taking things too far to my mind. Sure, people have a right not to breath your smoke but you too have a right to smoke if you wish to. There has to be respect from both sides here and perhaps this pendulum is starting to swing just a little too far now.. but isn’t this always the way of things. שַׁבָּת שָׁלוֹם Shimon

    • If I were to believe that the population would become more healthy… happy, and free of illness as a result of these anti smoking laws, I would suffer them even if they weren’t too my taste. But having studied history, I know of such fashions that swept through society in the past. And they usually didn’t bring very positive changes. At this point it looks like they’re making some headway with cigarettes, but the population is threatened by obesity. It reminds me of certain allergies. People will take a pill to get rid of one symptom, and then soon after, they will be troubled by another on a different place of their body.Taking things to excess is certainly a dangerous course… in smoking too. But also in consuming of medicines. Living a life of moderation is truly healthy in all things. But it is a hard thing to learn, I believe. Thanks very much for your comment, Chillbrook.

  5. We share this love of reading…and of books. I specify because many people now purchase their use of a book on their electronic device. I love the idea of a book market. Here in Calgary we have a few book fairs that occur and everyone shows up. You can find really interesting volumes at a bit of a deal, although many vendors price them quite high, I think. Enjoy your summer reading, Shimon!

    • Fortunately, I always have a few books waiting to be read. I’m never without a book. Even when I’t traveling somewhere, that’s part of my personal equipment. I do love the feel and smell, and the illustrations in a bound book. But I can understand the enthusiasm for the new digital books. And what matters to me most, is the content. Reading a new book is like visiting another planet. And if it’s good, it doesn’t matter what form it has. I’m all for reading, whether it be on paper or on a screen. Thank you very much for your comment, Kathleen.

  6. Yes, it sure does sound like heaven, and I LOVE Chana’s picture of you shining in the firmament. I’d write more, but I have to get back to the exciting conclusion of the book I’m reading and start the next… 🙂

    • Thanks so much for the kind words, Kitty. I know most people look better when they’re happy. And I was very happy that evening. And as for books, you and me, both. When I’m really deep in a book, I’m barely aware of the world around me.

  7. It does sound like my kind of heaven (even if I don’t smoke). Janet… I love Hay, as you know… But yes, it’s a rarity.

    • Well, you’ll be happy to know, I checked the by laws of the book fair, Olga, and it turns out that they’ll let you in, even if you don’t smoke. I heard this rumor, that you don’t even have to drink beer. I’m sure you would have loved it here.

  8. It is, indeed, heaven. Turning me loose is a bookstore is a bit like turning a child loose in a candy-store 😉

    As to the new law that was supposed to protect authors – I’m not surprised that book sales went down. The effect of the law was to reduce the price of a new paperback in Hebrew from an extortionate 96-98 NIS, to a still exorbitant 65-78 NIS. People can’t afford to buy books! On the other hand, it’s true that the ability of the giant chains such as Steimatzky to sell 3 books for 99 NIS and still make a profit was driving the corner bookstores of the kind I love, out of business.
    There must be some kind of golden mean, but I have no idea what it could be. At any rate, you can be sure that I used the loophole in the law allowing reductions during Hebrew Book Week to buy a couple of new books at a 20% discount. And even so, they still cost more than a new paperback would cost me in the UK.

    • I really appreciate your concern for the pocket of the book buyer. And I certainly wouldn’t complain if they lowered the prices a bit. But I see that buying a family pizza with drinks and trimmings will come close to the same sum, or dinner for two at the Burger Ranch. And eating those dinners won’t keep us entertained for nearly as long as a book will. What with people taking off for Europe for a weekend, or going to Mt Hermon for a ski, I get the impression that those who love books really could afford them. And if not, there is always the library for a lot of free reading. I know you are a lover of culture, Shimona, so I am confident you won’t misunderstand me.

  9. Interesting and enjoyable post. Great picture. Well done, Shimon!

  10. Shimon your posts always enlighten and inform but they also take the reader RIGHT THERE, listening to the music and loving books. As an author about to publish my third book, this time a novel, which will be available world-wide on the force they now call Amazon, I am aware of the publishing industry and the ongoing debates and changes. It is too big to fight, what is happening, but the joy of writing trumps everything – if only 5 people read my book and love it then I am smiling…very much the same as the paintings I do. It is primarily and above all else a creative expression to write or paint and therefor unstoppable no matter what happens.

    • I am really looking forward to finding out more about your upcoming novel, Jo Ann. There are some subjects I avoid, but I’ve always loved reading about art and artists, adventures, and finding meaning in life… and that’s just a bit of the many things that interest me. I also agree with you completely about how many people have to enjoy your work for you to be satisfied. I feel the same way. About blogging too. It’s enough that we find a handful of like minds for us to be happy. We don’t need a crowd. Best wishes for your success.

  11. I have heard rumors the trend toward ebooks is no longer gaining but holding at 60%. I love trying new authors on the less expensive ebooks. My old favorites I want in paperback. I’ve never had a paperback crash and need rebooting or need to be recharged. 🙂 Glad to hear you had such an enjoyable time.

    • Yes, books have really captured our interest for many years without trouble. And we can loan our books, and a number of friends can read them… one after another. The electronic books do have their limitations. But my guess is that eventually they will replace the book as we know it. Still, as long as people are entertained and inspired, and learn a thing or two from what’s written, i won’t complain, Judy. It’s the content that’s most important. Thanks very much for your comment.

  12. This sounds to me an idyllic way to spend one’s time, Shimon! Apart from the smoking, of course … 😉 Each to his – or her- own!

    • The nice thing about smoking, Gill, is that once you get really good at it, you can do that and still manage to do a lot of other things at the same time… like read a book, or listen to music. I suppose they call that multi-tasking nowadays.

  13. What a special way to enjoy books, music, beer… I see many happy faces. Thank you for sharing it with us, Mr. Shimon! 🙂

    • Yes, it was a beautiful day, Amy… and that led to a very enjoyable evening too. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to include the music and the many good conversations that were heard that day. It was a lot of fun.

  14. It is interesting to hear your views on books, bookstores, and authors.The trend here is turning to self-published books by many authors, thus eliminating the publisher, who takes all the profits. More and more ebooks seem to be the craze, especially with the younger generation. I still like a real book in my hands, but I do have a Kindle.

    • I agree with you, Bev. The new medias have added a lot of ease to the process of publishing one’s own works. And that means there is a wider field of opinions and tastes, which is all to our advantage. This leads to more freedom, which is in everyone’s interest. There is reason for optimism. Thanks for the comment.

  15. You look wonderful, Shimon. No, you look heavenly!

  16. What a fantastic day! Books and music – life forces for me. A whole day to wander and get lost in both? Magnificent.

    • Yes Mimi, for me too. Nothing is better than books and music. And there was good food and drinks, and a whole lot of really good people, It was wonderful.

  17. Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing with us. Hugs. 🙂

  18. Being quite an old-fashioned girl, I continue to write thank-you notes by hand, send paper birthday cards through something called the postal service, and read real books: old and new, leather-bound and paper, sometimes crumbling and sometimes as pristine as the hills at sunrise.

    I can’t help it. Reading from something like a Kindle removes all of the sensory elements from the act of reading: which isn’t, after all, purely mental. Turning pages, inhaling the aroma of old paper, making notes in the margins — all are part of the act of reading.

    Besides, when the great EMP takes out our computers and electric lights, a real book still can be read in the sunlight. When the hackers take down the web, there still will be books. Perhaps, in the end, we’ll depend on a new generation of scribes: people with the patience and dedication to copy texts by hand, to preserve them for the future. It wouldn’t be the first time.

    • Glad there are others out there who still like the old-fashioned world of writing hand-written cards and reading real paper books.Your outlook for the possible future made me nod my head and smile. Thanks for being old-fashioned.

    • I was just like you as a young man, Linda. I remember having great pleasure, writing by hand. I used to write with a fountain pen, and blue-black ink on bond paper. I can still remember the smell of the ink. But you know, after a few years of using the computer, I lost the feel for it. I miss it, but can’t bring back those old feelings. And though I still have a lot of books, I do read with a kindle part of the time. And what’s really important to me, is what’s written. If the ideas are good, if the story is fascinating… it doesn’t matter how the words find their way to my brain. Thanks very much for your comment.

  19. We are a ‘book’ family. I read voraciously as a child and my parents had a wonderful library of books. My wife probably reads a book a week, I’m not so fast but at the last count I had over two hundred books about mountaineering, and that’s just one topic. I have always found it strange to go into other people’s houses and find a complete absence of books. Books are a source of enrichment. We have book festivals, and book fairs in this country and a vast number of second-hand book stores. What is depressing is that buying books on-line at rock bottom prices is making it harder and harder for traditional book shops to compete on price.

    • It doesn’t surprise me at all that you’re a reader, Andy. I know there are some doctors who do so much professional reading, that they don’t find the time for literature. But I can tell you’re a man who likes to appreciate many aspects of life, and I’m sure we’d have much to talk about if we ever got together. As for the market, as in a number of other areas, the internet will probably change our habits. But it won’t affect the content which is the essence of the written word. There was a time when people copied books by hand. Now it’s electronic. But it’s the thoughts and stories that really matter. Thanks for the comment.

  20. Ahhhh….I just love that picture of you Shimon, you have such character, kindness and humour shining through! And how good to hear that you could sit with books, good music, a beer and enjoy a really good smoke without being hounded….here’s to more days like that!!!
    How interesting to hear how many books there are in Jerusalem, and what a shame re the authors always losing out, commercialism has much to answer for. I hope we do always have books, but it does look like the writing is on the wall.
    I did enjoy these vibrant, bustling pictures and your post….as always!xxx

    • Thanks for your sweet comment, Dina. It was really a very special day. I agree with you, that commercialism has wrecked a lot of fine things in our world. But I take comfort in all the inventions and innovations that are constantly appearing. There are so many things that are available free these days. There was a time, when only the rich could afford a library or could study in a college, These days, almost everyone in our society has access to a computer, and can read and study just about anything. On the whole, I do believe that this world is becoming a better place. The change might be a little slow for some of us. But there is progress. My very best wishes to you. xxx

  21. I am happy to live in Seattle, which has not only more bookstores per capita, but more libraries per capita than any other city in the US, making it the country’s most literate city.
    But our little neighborhood bookstore went out of business, the owner told me, because Amazon can afford to sell its merchandise so much cheaper due to volume sales, and also the big publishing houses order the lion’s share of new releases so that small bookstores can’t even get hold of new releases when customers come in looking for them. I do sometimes order from Amazon, but I also make a practice of ordering books from our little neighborhood stores.

    • How wonderful to hear this about Seattle. I visited your town more than 50 years ago. And I have very good memories from there. But then, the place where I spent the most amount of time in bookstores, was in Berkeley California. But there was much I enjoyed in Seattle too. And I love libraries too. They have always been a second home for me, especially when traveling. Unfortunately, here in Jerusalem, libraries are open less hours than they used to be, and I was told that this is because of the internet too. Amazon is a fierce competitor, and I can imagine that they make it hard for the little book shops. But what’s important is that people still read and write, and are able to improve their lives and broaden their horizons through the written word. Thanks for your comment, Naomi.

  22. I was told (read?) once that all of the written knowledge of mankind is available to the individual due to computer digitization. While this is a nice thought, I wonder of its veracity.
    Oh the other hand, No, there will be no smoking in Heaven. 🙂

    • Okay you got me there, Bob. You found me out. I’ll admit it. For some time now, I’ve realized that I was going to hell. That’s why I spend a lot of time in the desert. To get used to the hot weather. On the other hand, don’t you think that maybe smoking is an allegory on spiritual values? You can smoke as much as you want and you don’t get fat. The smoke itself is physical, but you can see right through it. If you try to grab it, it’ll escape. The only way you can really get close to it is by internalizing. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve got me convinced. How lucky I am that they allow smoking in hell. Thanks for your comment, my friend. You got me smiling!

  23. Very interesting. Here in the US, bookstores (old and new) seem to be a vanishing breed.

    • It is sad, Frank… especially for folks like me. But I think in the long run, that’s what’s going to happen all across the world. Just like the horse and buggy. Things change with time. And it looks like the computer is going to change the world as we knew it. At least it still keeps us reading… but who knows what lies in the future… Thanks for the comment.

  24. Thought I would check up on what you were up to, Shimon. As usual, it’s books and a blissful look on your face.

    • Thanks so much, Mary. I suppose I have my ups and downs like everyone else… so I’m glad you caught me with that blissful look. It was a wonderful day that I’ll remember for some time.

  25. Life would be insignificant without books. I learn that when I was 3 years old, and still I wasn’t able to read…
    Books mean a lot to me. Too much, I guess. Since I started to write down my deepest feeling and memories, and after that I was taken to publish… I realized what you express. I wish to be able to do only my writing, but for making a living you need quite a bit of luck. With 56, I do not expect radical changes, even since I do not write to please the mass but to pass a deep message to my readers.
    Me too I wish I could spend few hours with you Shimon, walking along these old little street full with precious stories, chatting about the beauty of diversity, of religions or philosophy, or cats and animals…
    Serenity :-)claudine

    • It’s true, Claudine, that each of us chooses what is most precious to him or her, and those things become a vital part of life as we know it. Like yourself, I was raised surrounded by books, and they became my path to understanding this world, and a source of great joy in life. Yet on the other hand, there are people who find their joy in other areas… as well as cultures (mostly in the past, I imagine) which put no emphasis on the written word. I was most impressed by a sentence I read many years ago, in a volume by Margaret Mead, She said, ‘happy people have no history’. And I would imagine some happy island people in some far away place, eating a coconut when it fell near them, and jumping into the sea to catch fish… spending their time making love and playing with their children. I suppose there are so many variations of life on this planet. My cat thinks I spend too much time with my computer. Perhaps she’s right… Thanks very much for your comment.

  26. Love the final photo!

  27. It’s always a delight to combine pleasures -no wonder you look so happy in the photo. As long as we can help pass on the love of reading, the method of delivery won’t be so important.

    • I agree with you completely, yearstricken. It is the reading, the inspiration, the transcendence of time an place through the exchange of thoughts and ideas and feelings that make books so precious to us. I am so grateful for the many gifts I’ve received through books, scrolls, and internet pages…

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