Where to find books in English in Berlin?
No. 3 – Saint George’s New and Secondhand English Bookshop in Prenzlauer Berg. Well-stocked with interesting titles. They know what they are doing.
You enter through the fiction section. Plenty of good things here. The nonfiction section – starting by the cash register – is ample and organised into many themes. Genre literature and children’s books are in the very back. There are a few comfy chairs around – leather chesterfield ones, the type I would like to have in my own library, should I ever have the room for one. #classyreadingnook
The food book shelf, directly to your right as you enter the back room, is moderate in size but quite exciting – beside a couple of quality recipe books, they have Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (my new mantra: everybody should read Michael Pollan!) and the extraordinary Alice B. Toklas Cook Book. Written by Gertrude Stein’s partner Alice B. Toklas, it combines recipes with memories of their life in France together, including some gossip about their famous friends, like Pablo Picasso. It would be even more exciting if I didn’t already have both those books, but there you go, good for you or whoever else gets there first!
I took the chance, while I was here, to pick up another copy of Robert Pirsig’ Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Not that I have a collection of them, but I have repeatedly urged my own copies onto friends and, I’ll admit, also pretty random acquaintances: “We’ve just met but trust me, you must read this!”
I first read the book when I spent a year at a US high school, at a very impressionable age. In fact, I wrote a paper about it, along with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. All three books are beacons for those who dream of lives less ordinary. No wonder I never quite fitted back into my provincial home town after that. Which I don’t regret for a second. Big shout-out to my inspiring English teacher, Ms. B.!
All three books are, incidentally, also early examples of creative/literary nonfiction. Yes, Zen and On the Road are thinly disguised as novels, but we don’t really believe that, do we? Literary nonfiction is only starting to be properly recognised now, but these were some of the trailblazers for the genre.
But back to Prenzlauer Berg and Saint George’s, where I can also recommend the Travel Section (plenty of travel stories – creative nonfiction! – next to the guidebooks) and then the Science/Latest Titles/I-am-not-sure-what-this-was-called section. This is where you find interesting books about the world around us, such as Mark Kulansky’s Salt (which should be in the food book section! But I bought it so no need to rearrange for the time being, Saint George’s), and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, which is not only fascinating but one of those books you should read if you really want to understand the material world, including food. Why do we farm? Why did peoples of some regions fail to domesticate plants? Why was a huge part of the population of the Americas wiped out by the common cold (hint: no cows)? Food writing is not just cupcake recipes. Read this.
Tell me: Does your favourite bookstore have a nice reading area?