Of Books and People

After years of writing books, of wandering around in imaginary worlds, the bookstore is reality.

"To buy a book during Hebrew Book Week is a kind of cult," explained the young salesman in one of the bookstores I visited this week. Can one call that hesitant glance into the lion's den a visit? After all, there is nothing more upsetting for a writer than a bookstore.

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After years of writing books, of wandering around in imaginary worlds, the bookstore is reality. A short while ago, when my new book was published, by chance I passed by a large and empty bookstore. With misgivings, I went in and asked in a casual tone, "Where is my book?"

"Did you leave a book behind here?" the salesman asked politely. "No, I was referring to my book, the one that I wrote." "Oh, is that you?" he asked with some doubt in his voice. "You look much better in the picture on the stand." He was right of course - even I didn't recognize myself in the picture. When I left, I called the editor-in-chief of the publishing house. "You won't sell even one book," I informed her. "The bookstore is empty. There are far more books than people." I suddenly understood that to cause one person to leave the house, to go to a bookshop, to choose a book, to take out a wallet and pay, is an impossible procedure. Don't worry, we'll sell one, the editor promised me in a calm voice.

This week I went out into the reality once again. The bookstores were already decorated with various flags to mark Hebrew Book Week, and the stores were less empty. One of the flags has an illustration of a shopping wagon piled high with books and a child lying there, engrossed in reading. Are there still such children? I am pondering this when, to my surprise, I notice a boy with a skullcap sitting on a bench, eagerly perusing a book of comics.

One of the salesgirls is putting a sticker on children's books, announcing three for NIS 100. On one of the stands, signs announce 1 +1, and the third at half price. How do you remember the various reductions, I ask, it's all so confusing. "Yes indeed, it does change all the time," the salesgirl responds. "But people always ask about it. They wait for the sales. They have patience."

And now that it's Book Week, there are reductions on all the books. Does this have any kind of significance among all the other reductions? I am surprised but it appears that it does. Books that have not seen the light of day are pulled off the shelves and finally feel the touch of a human hand. Most of the books live only for a week as promotions, maximum one month - these truths are revealed to me in another bookstore - and then they go onto the shelves. During Book Week, some of them get another chance.

So despite the reservations expressed every year, and despite the disturbing feeling sometimes of disrespect for books, it is good that it still exists, this week, these ten days, in which the book takes center stage. People speak about it, argue about it, go out of their homes because of it, jostle one another among the packed stalls in the squares, so that for a few moments it seems that there are the same number of people as books.

And, as it does every year, the National Library announces the exact number of books 'born' here this year - 6,285. Most of them are native-born and the minority are translations. The number of books about the Israeli-Arab conflict is growing, while the number of new books about the Holocaust remains stable.

There has been a slight rise in the number of books published in foreign languages, mainly Russian, and a big rise in the number of books that are self-published, while the number of biographies and memoirs and memorial books has increased significantly.

We deal with ourselves a lot, so it seems, and I find myself surprised at the small amount of translated books. We are involved with remembering and memorializing; we like sales; and we have patience. So do I. With a swift step, I have moved from the side of the writers to the side of the buyers as I look for a children's book for my son.

But how disappointing, the very book I had set my heart on is not included in the sales, and I waver over the question of whether to buy this one book for the same price as that of almost three other books. Two and a half? No way! I also want to enjoy a reduction! With that in mind, I act like an intelligent consumer and buy three other children's books for NIS 99. But the book I really wanted to read to my son tonight remains in the store and I part from it with a feeling of having missed something.