Israel Stories

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Bookseller

“So what type of book are you interested in?” I looked at the bookseller, must have been half my age, acne ridden and the air of one who I suspect has never read a book in his life. I turned to my friend.

“Er, preferably made of paper, maybe a cardboard cover.” He stared at us blankly. Was my humour too English for him? “I like old books,” I explained, “I collect old books about Israel or Palestine, you know from the turn of the last century, travel books are the best”. He stared at us blankly. “Don’t worry,” I said sympathetically, “I’ll look for myself.”

The shop was very dusty, badly lit and so disorganized I thought I would need the bookseller after all.

“Can you explain your library system, I don’t seem to be able to find anything, and there is no consistency regarding genre or author.” He stared at us blankly.

So I continued searching among the books. Eco was next to Rushdie. History was mixed with Judaica. Old books sat next to new ones. I was ready to give up when I realized a pattern and asked the bookseller if I was right. Actually that was a lie I just wanted some sport.

“I think I have worked out your system. On this shelf are all the foreign authors divided into countries. Former British colonies are here, unless they are still part of the commonwealth in which case they are here. Of course American authors are not with the former British colonies and have been separated here. Books from the 19th Century and prior to the First World War are here. Post 1918 books are here, unless they are in German in which case they are here with all the foreign literature. Foreign literature is sorted according to international boundaries unless there is a dispute between nations. Poland is more or less in the middles and the other countries surrounding it. Scandinavian books are at the top and you work your way down accordingly.

My friend continued

Books in Turkish and Cypriot are not next to each other as explained. Middle Eastern books are here again according to geographical location, except for Israel which is separated on account of border disagreements. Jewish books in Hebrew are next to foreign languages as are Jewish books in English that may have Hebrew in the title. Books in Russian are with books in Greek and German because they use all those funny looking letters. All books from the former Soviet Union are in one bloc, pardon the pun, unless they are renegade states in which case they are here with the Turkish and Cypriot books.

We were really enjoying ourselves.

“If the authors surname starts with an E or R then they are placed in the medical section. If the ISBN numbers of the book start with 100, 999 or 911 then they placed with books to be read in an emergency. Of course if they are Egyptian Judaica books written by an African, published in the USA and only sold in Gibraltar then they are on the top shelf straddling former British colonies, protectorates and mandates.

I paused for air and saw the booksellers face, I thought he was going to cry but he just stared at us blankly.

We continued to look around. “I cant read,” said the bookseller, “I am dyslexic”. “I’m sorry to hear that I said. “What about the owner, is he dyslexic too?”

“No the owner is not dyslexic.” “So how is it that the shop is so disorganized, doesn’t he tell you what to do, where to book the books?”

“Yes, he does but he is blind! So he tells me and I guess and he doesn’t know so I don’t say anything!”

Astonished is not the word. But this is Jerusalem after all and anything can happen here. My friend was on the floor laughing. I picked him up and walked out of the shop into a cool sobering Jerusalem winter morning.

There is a book by Edward Whittemore called Sinai Tapestry. It explains how the original Christian bible was dictated by a blind man and written by an insane one. I always thought this type of idea only lived in the realm of stories.

I’m not so sure anymore.


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