Here’s a special post brought to you by Ryan, a guest author often featured here on From Narnia to Neverland. He recently moved to Germany to continue his schooling and found that books are more than just books when you’re in an unfamiliar world.
An Expatriate’s Life, One Good Book at a Time
Until very recently, I had never wasted a minute thinking about how much my books weighed. This didn’t seem very pertinent as long as the book was good and I had a comfy spot to read it in. Unfortunately, the good men and women of the global airline industry thought otherwise. Bottom line — a simple smile and a chat about some recent publications goes a long way when trying to cram ten books into your checked baggage.
Months ago, I completed a move that challenged me in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated, even after planning it for two years.
On August 8, 2015, I left my home in America and became a real expatriate, beginning my life in Europe. The packing was stressful at best and entirely arduous at worst. Things were thrown into stacks: clothes for winter, clothes for summer, shoes for all seasons, and a few keepsakes stuffed in where space allowed. However, these piles took a backseat to the most important one of all — the books that I would bring with me to start my new library. I’m a proud father to a flourishing library back in the states comprised of nearly 400 books from every genre, with classic publications ranging from the early 20th century to the newest NYT bestsellers. Now, from humble beginnings, I would begin my second collection, comprised of all the books I would read during my time abroad.
Every book I have read and will read while abroad offers a special and very real connection to home for me. I envision a day where I can unite my two collections in a proper library, complete with a comfy chair and a nice view. I have realized, now more than ever, the gravity that a simple book contains. Reading translates across borders, languages, and cultures. Waiting for the train, traveling by plane, or just perusing the local bookstore, it’s easy to strike up a conversation when books are involved.
I was recently in a used bookstore in Freiburg, a university city on the German side of the French-German border, when I got to talk to the shop owner about his impressive collection of Goethe. We talked about the different versions of Goethe’s Faust in print, production, and film (I’m partial to F.W. Murnau’s classic silent film from 1926). After speaking for a while about Goethe, the owner showed me to a beautiful copy of Faust, published in Berlin in 1922, complete with old German typography. He even offered me a friendly discount, which I gladly accepted and took my new treasure home with me where it would reside in my already flourishing second library.
Reading often provides an escape from the sometimes-stressful expatriate experience. Many expatriates struggle for the sheer newness of everything — culture, food, language, and more. Books of all sorts provide a daily respite. Taking an hour to sit at the local café (indeed, the young ladies at the coffee shop near me know my order by heart) with a good book can provide a much-needed rest to the weary expatriate. Books in English with familiar characters and motifs are a simple reminder of home; however, I try not to be limited to just my “comfort zone” of reading. Always on the search for something new and interesting, the best way for an expatriate to make a connection with his new home is to see it through the eyes of a native. This makes local books in the local language an invaluable tool. Before long, and after frequent trips to the nearby bookstore, a foreign land will begin to have a comfortable, familiar feeling.
I have been lucky enough to expand my collection of dated publications — a small but growing number of hardcover classics dating from the early 1900s to the 1960s, each found in used or antique bookstores. From beautiful and memorable bookstores in multiple countries, my collection now boasts publications in English, German, and Italian (I couldn’t string together five words in Italian, but a gorgeous 1928 copy of The Divine Comedy published in Florence seemed too good to pass up). I continue to look forward to finding hidden treasures no matter where my travels take me.
Around corners in every new city, a bookstore awaits. Luckily enough, the feel of a good book and the joy of finding a new treasure are the same in every corner of the globe.
“Where one burns books, in the end, he will also burn men.” Heinrich Heine, 1820
About the Author
Ryan is a student of business, politics, and German. Having experienced Oktoberfest and lived to tell about it, Ryan is looking forward to his next adventure. Winter is coming, but, undeterred, Ryan is prepared with a full stock of coffee, a warm blanket, and a pile of unread books just waiting to be explored. Up next on his reading list are Stress Test by Timothy Geithner, The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean, and For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming.