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Greece: Bailouts and Bookstores

As I mentioned in my earlier posting, I fell in love with Atlantis Books in Oia on the island of Santorini when I visited Greece with my mother and sister in 2011. I discovered it the way many people did – through crazy Internet rankings of the best bookstores in the world. Knowing that we were going to be visiting Oia, I surfed over to their website to check it out. At the time, Atlantis was making a desperate plea on Indiegogo to save the store from ruin. I pledged because I wanted to keep the bookstore open until I got there and because I thought one day I might take them up on the promise of a free place to stay in return for my donation. Everyone who donated had his or her name written on the ceiling in a great outward spinning spiral. I was thrilled to see mine in person.

An old friend recently visited Santorini and I directed him toward the shop. To my dismay, he reported that, although the bookstore itself is going strong, they might be losing their lease in the next year. That would be a terrible development; their location is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, I doubt that a second crowd-funded campaign will help much this time. The store is in no short supply of publicity, however. Atlantis recently released details of their upcoming 2015 Caldera Arts and Literature Festival headlined by two of my all-time favorites former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins and the always-brilliant David Sedaris. The festival runs September 11-13th, 2015. Helping the Greek economy and Atlantis Books at the same time –that’s the kind of bailout that keeps on giving.

In a matter directly related to City Books, Atlantis has its own imprint called Paravion Press that produces limited editions of short stories and poems in runs of 500 – 1000. They sell these lovely little books with airmail envelopes to send them to friends as gifts. I sent three home to myself while I was still on the island so I would have a little bit of Greece waiting for me when I returned to the States. Atlantis has a few “sister stores” around the world where the books are sold. I am hoping that City Books will be a stockist sometime before the end of 2015. These tiny books fit easily into a pocket or bag to read and reread on the go – and they remind me of lands far, far away.

Reading Greece

With Greece dominating the news in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reliving a 2011 trip with my mom and sister to Santorini, Naxos, and Mykonos. When I travel, whether in preparation for the journey or while I am away, I try to read literature native to the country I’m seeing.

Because we were going to be skipping from island to island, I decided to reread The Odyssey as we ferried around the Cyclades. I first read the book as a freshman in college — at a time when I never could’ve appreciated the phrase “the wine-dark sea.” I actually took that same tattered and dog eared copy with me and it was a happy irony to reacquaint myself with the sheltered young woman that I was back then, although her handwriting in the margins was almost unrecognizable.

When we were in Oia, on the island of Santorini, I made a pilgrimage to the Atlantis Books about which I had read so much on the Internet (more on that at a later time). There, I bought two copies of Sophocles’ Theban trilogy to read once we returned to Athens at the Theater of Dionysus. On the stone steps of the theater ruins, my sister and I read Oedipus to each other in the June heat. When she left to continue sightseeing, I sat quietly and finished Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone (perhaps my favorite play of all time) among the hordes of sunburned tourists.

In light of the drama playing out in Greece this week, I think I will dig out another classic on this slow, cloudy afternoon. Who I will find on my shelves first, Aeschylus or Euripides? I wonder what the wise old playwrights would have to say about Tsipras and Varoufakis. Maybe I will find the answer on the page.

In Memoriam

It is with the deepest regret and sadness that I announce the death of Edward Gelblum, the founder of City Books. It is only as a result of his hard work and dedication over the past thirty years that I was inspired to become a bookseller. In April, he endowed me with his finely curated book collection and it is in hard-to-fill footsteps that I continue his trade into the 21st Century. I am deeply honored to have known him and to have been chosen to carry on his life’s work. Rest and read in peace, Ed.