Eulogy for Orell Füssli The Bookshop

by Susan Platt

My Dear Old Friend,

it was with great sadness that I recently learned about your fate—from Switzerland’s biggest tabloid, of all places. And although it does not come as a complete surprise to those who have been close to you in recent years—who saw the writing on the wall before and after changes in ownership and circumstances that made it increasingly difficult to thrive under the corporate thumb—the news that you are indeed being shut down this coming spring, while in still excellent health, made no sense, and still came as a shock.

OFTB Xmas

You and I, we go back some 23 years, my dear. While this may be but a trifle in your lifespan as a bookshop at house zur Werdmühle, since your inception by Kurt Stäheli & Co. in the early 1930s, it means you’ve been along for the ride for more than half of my life. And that, to me, is quite a feat.

I remember walking through your doors in 1992, with a rather long, Xeroxed (yes, Xeroxed) list of choices for required reading material, handed out by the University of Zürich, where I had just started to study English literature. Several sheets of paper listed essential and optional reading material, including the King James version of the Bible (yep), Beowulf (of course), and a myriad of choices of drama, poetry, prose and fiction spanning five centuries.

Needless to say, I felt a slight pang of overwhelm knowing full well that my picks would have a great impact on my further academic path. But how was I supposed to know which books to choose, when I hadn’t read them yet?

Conundrum alert!

Enter your booksellers: the beating heart and breathing soul that is at the very core of you, many of whom had been with you for decades and some of whom I have had the privilege to get to know over the years.

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Ah, yes, your booksellers. A passionate lot, each and every one of them. A special breed now as they were then, taking pride in guiding those who have entered their domain, glowing with a smug joy at a satisfied customer leaving the store with a copy of their favourite book or a book by a beloved author when they made a successful recommendation. It is they who made you what you are today, my dear bookshop, because—let’s face it—your new parents, the Orell Füssli AG, never really knew what to make of you over the last dozen years or so since they acquired you in 1998.

You were their red-headed stepchild, in their eyes merely the English branch of a German bookstore chain, sticking out like a sore thumb with your talent of catering both to the English expat community in the greater Zürich area as well as the Swiss readership with your cunning mix of extraordinary in-house events providing local as well as renowned international authors and small businesses with a platform to promote their work, your knack for knowing how to truly make your customers happy by including English comfort food section (Marmite! Vegemite! Cheerios!), and bringing the joy of reading to people of all ages and walks of life.

But you do not merely sell books.

IMG_2120

You are a nexus of human connection. And a home away from home for so many. A place to meet, to sit and to chat on your red leather sofas.

You celebrate the English language, its multi-coloured culture and basically life in general.

Every. Single. Day.

And it works.

In an increasingly dire economic climate, in times where online giants were starting to take over the bulk of the book sales and the naysayers predicted the imminent end of the book as nigh, you managed to consistently make a healthy profit over the last ten years*.

Mindbogglingly, at a location on Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich—one of the world’s most expensive shopping miles.

And, even more surprisingly, you managed to pull this all off without the support of a proper web- or social media presence.

Because, sadly, the fact that you always have been—and always will be—neither a department, nor a branch of a chain, but your own persona (or brand if you will) with your own loyal (!) tribe, went largely ignored by your parent company who repeatedly smothered any advances by your management to bring you into the 21st century with a decent online presence.

Yes, you are unique. One of a kind. And successful. So much so, that other bookshops such as German KulturKaufhaus Dussman came to visit you for inspiration of their new books section of their store in Berlin.

But none of this seems to matter to the new powers-that-be since the latest merger with Thalia a little over two years ago.

While your old adoptive parents may have never fully understood you, they at least allowed you to continue based on the fact that you were somehow, miraculously, thriving.

But your new guardians, the Orell Füssli Thalia AG, have decided that neither your successful past nor present mean anything and—without even as much as conferring with the people who have effectively guided you for more than a decade—determined you had no future, and sold your rent contract at a bargain price for the sake of a quick buck.

So it goes.

I accept that the dice have been cast and your fate has been sealed.

However, I take comfort from the fact that I understand that you will not go gentle into that good night.

Knowing you and your quirky bookseller bunch, the next Halloween, the inherent All Hallows Read, the twinkly Xmas lights and Santa’s visit to the children on the monthly Saturday morning story hour and all of your other spunky shindigs before you will have to close your doors in the spring of 2016, will be extra special.

Santa OFTB

Santa reads to the children

I look back fondly and in deep gratitude to all the joy that you have brought into my life, moments of laughter and great pleasure at your happenings that will be forever etched into my memory:

Riding high with David Sedaris on Panta Rhei on the lake of Zürich, journeying along with Michael Cunningham at Sternwarte Zürich, mesmerized by Nicolas Sparks in the Puppentheater Stadelhofen, fascinated by our very own Alain de Botton at the Bookshop and many more … but, to me, most memorably, the epic two-hour roller-coaster ride with Tad Williams in your basement in 2011.

OFTB Tad Williams 2013

Tad Williams, 2011

Oh, how I will miss you and your shenanigans.

Case in point: The Night Circus, the book club meetings, the women’s night, the roaring twenties, the James Bond night, the Harry Potter midnight openings, or the Long Night of the Books … among many, many more.

OFTB 20ies

Roaring Twenties

As both the local media and our city’s culture department barely acknowledged the fact that you will be gone soon, shrugging their indifferent shoulders at the most recent loss of a colourful dot that will turn Bahnhofstrasse into a another grey blur of global brand monotony, I trust that my—and hopefully other people’s—expression of appreciation will help preserve your memory.

‘Tis but a tiny blog note, considering the opposition silence, but it is enough to keep the general show of disinterest from being unanimous.

Qui tacet, consentit.

I hope others will join me by wishing you and yours a safe journey to the next chapters in your lives. #GoodbyeOFTB

Good night, and good luck.

Susan

Susan Platt is a professional spunk, reluctant blogger and occasional hashtag abuser @swissbizchick.

Photos courtesy OFTB Facebook page.

*citing Orell Füssli The Bookshop’s Managing Director Sabine Haarmann

OFTB Night Circus 2011

Night Circus 2011

The literature of exploitation

by Johanna Sargeant

Why is it that we love reading about exploitation? Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha sit stoically on my bookshelf next to Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Richard Overy’s The Dictators. For most of us, delving into these worlds of both the victim and the perpetrator is like reading any good fiction: It is escapism, it is voyeuristic, it gives us avenues through which to explore ourselves. Few of us would choose to read stories of the great battle to find a good soy latte in Switzerland or the joy of a toddler’s bedtime antics, when instead we could read about an exploited opium-addicted prostitute in the newly colonised New Zealand (the 2013 Booker Prize winner, Catton’s The Luminaries) or Continue reading

Emily Bronte is Dead

By Johanna Sargeant

I recently uncovered a ghastly secret: David Nicholls, actor and writer, thought Wuthering Heights was ‘an insanely over-praised piece of nonsense’. Within seconds, I found myself wide-eyed and tumbling through the over-analytical mind of my early twenties. Surely there was an explanation for his obvious mistake. Surely he must have been in a bad place at the time of reading: Stressed about an upcoming exam? In the midst of a break-up with a particularly narcissistic other? Or perhaps it wasn’t him at all; perhaps it was me. Perhaps I was in a particularly wonderful place at my time of reading (which, upon reflection, I indeed was). If this is really the case, the implications are enormous. Our love of Wuthering Heights has very little to do with the text itself. I found myself revisiting a much-debated concept in the history of critical literary theory: that the author is dead. Continue reading

Engaging with Story

Jill Marsh, Nicola Hodges

The basic substance of imaginative literature … is not reason but emotion, which is expressed not by the denotations of words, nor the grammar of the sentences but in connotations and colorations of the words as employed by the author’s style … it exists not as words written in books but as images with feelings attached.”

—Jane Smiley, 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

The reader/writer relationship involves two minds and the flow of ideas between them is where creation occurs. Whether spoken or written; stories, fiction, related events and communication of an experience through the medium of words is a pleasure universally valued.

What elements of the human mind make us so susceptible to story? For me, three factors make the difference: imagination, empathy and language. And in order to expand on that argument for fiction, three works of non-fiction take centre stage.

jane smiley

Image: Faber & Faber

Imagination features heavily in the first. Jane Smiley’s book, quoted above, builds on the fundamental tenets of theatre in her chapter The Psychology of the Novel. She takes the concept of ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ and explores the tacit agreement between reader and writer. A reader is willing to become involved, to emotionally identify with character, experience or thematic conceit, to permit the writer to invoke a cathartic experience and with sufficient mutual points of reference, that reader comes away from the book affected, entertained, discomfited or profoundly moved. I Continue reading

In Conversation: Slatebreakers

Sarah Sullivan and Brianna Stapleton Welch are the blogger-reviewers behind Slatebreakers: ‘finding feminism in Kid Lit and YA’. Libby O’Loghlin asks them about their feminist lens, and exactly how they manage to get through so many books …

First of all, tell us a bit about Slatebreakers: how long have you been doing the blog, and how did it start?

Brianna Stapleton Welch

Image courtesy: Brianna Stapleton Welch

Brianna: Sarah and I discovered our mutual love of books when we became friends during grad school. We both loved following book blogs and eagerly read posts by great bloggers such as Betsy Bird, the Forever Young Adult team, and the Book Smugglers. We wanted to venture out into the book blogging world, too. I recall a long afternoon at a bar when we brainstormed themes and blog titles. Finally we settled upon Slatebreakers, a feminist, Anne Shirley inspired lens for reviewing that we could both be excited about.

Image courtesy: Sarah Sullivan

Image courtesy: Sarah Sullivan

Sarah: I think a big part of it as well was this idea that we were reading all the time, and talking about it, and as feminist readers, had a really specific perspective on what we wanted to read about, both as adults and when we were young readers ourselves. When we coined the term Continue reading

Context: Crossings

old-school steam train shot from above

Distractions

A migrant’s tale: Shaun Tan’s graphic novel, The Arrival. A moving outsider’s tale with barely a word in sight.

Where to read online: http://flavorwire.com/407418/the-25-best-websites-for-literature-lovers

Synaesthesia – crossing senses. Check out the worlds of David Eagleman, expert on the idiosyncrasies of the brain. http://eagleman.com/synesthesia

Coney. “The experience starts when you first hear about it, and only ends when you stop thinking and talking about it.http://www.youhavefoundconey.net/about-us/

Playing at it: http://www.thenovelistgame.com/

Translation

Respect for Translators. “The paradox about literary translation is that the better it is, the more invisible it gets.” —Author Inka Parei http://publishingperspectives.com/2013/07/seeking-more-respect-for-translators-and-what-they-do/#at_pco=tcb-1.0&at_ord=0

An experiment in languages. Multiples. “It is possible to translate a story whose language the translator does not speak.” http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/aug/11/multiples-adam-thirlwell-review-portobello

Accessories

“It all started with a book, a bag and a banana …” http://www.thebookwrap.com/DE/howto.php

Quotable chocolate bars (ssh – it’s not Swiss) http://www.theliterarygiftcompany.com/good-books-good-friends-quotable-chocolate-bar-7415-p.asp

Classic Kindle covers: To Kill A Mockingbird, Peter Pan, Pride and Prejudicehttp://www.notonthehighstreet.com/klevercase/product/classic-book-case-for-kindle