Tuesday, June 20, 2006


I wrote, a bit earlier, about Massolit, that extremely unusual English-language bookstore here in Krakow. They are one of my sources of English books, but not the only one.

All around town are little shops with the same name--Antykwariat. It's as if every store that sold bread simply called itself "Bakery," but these stores sell books--specifically, used books. You might notice the word "antique" in there--although antiques are simply "antyki," and the books sold by an antykwariat are not necessarily antiques. I am familiar with probably eight or ten of these little shops, and no doubt there are more that I have not encountered.

My usual habit is to enter and browse for a minute, just to get an idea of how organized their books are. Some stores have neatly labeled shelves for history, literature, art, and so on. Others have books crammed into corners and stacked in piles in a chaotic state that makes the prospect of the shopkeeper knowing where anything might be found highly unlikely. After my brief assessment, I usually just ask if they have any books in English, and almost invariably, I will be directed to a single shelf (or sometimes a pile) in a remote corner, if anything can be called remote in a shop half the size of a single-car garage.

Nearly every one of these shops has a small cache of books in foreign languages--German, Italian, French, Russian, and of course, English. They don't get new inventory in that category very often, so I have found that one or two visits per year to each store are usually enough. I have found more books than I can remember in these little shops over the years, but there are a few splendid purchases I will never forget, such as the day I found a copy of A Child's History of Art (still in its paper dustjacket!). That book is hard to find anywhere, so finding a copy in Krakow was quite remarkable! Then there was the copy of the History of Flight, published by the Smithsonian and gorgeously illustrated, just in time for a Christmas gift for my only son, who loves airplanes. You just never know what might be under the dust.

I visited one of "my" antykwariaty (plural form) last week, and came out with quite a "haul," because of course I sometimes leave empty-handed. However, I will buy every book on the shelf that I think is worthwhile, as don't visit these shops often. My finds this time were:

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (I didn't already have a copy!)
The Mother by Pearl S. Buck (One of my favorite authors, and I haven't read this one before.)
The Cabala, Heaven's My Destination, and Our Town by Thornton Wilder. (This single volume was printed in Russia, and the preface and table of contents are all in Russian, but the text is English.)

Peter the Great by Alexei Tolstoy--a fictional biography in two volumes. (This one was printed in the USSR--it says so in English!)

I know that looks like a short list, but it is quite a few worthwhile books to find at one time, on the single shelf in the store devoted not only to English, but all foreign language books.

Obviously, I haven't visited any of these shops in over a year...I'll have to make a point of getting to each one I know sometime during the summer! There may be gold in them thar hills...of books.


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