Seven Greek readers who live and work outside of Greece talk to us about their relationship with literature and books, the difficulty of getting hold of Greek books abroad, how they keep up to date with new releases, and explain their own reading habits and the reading habits of their fellow city-dwellers.
Nena Kazantzidou, London
I came to London in 2014, to study at Goldsmiths, University of London. I did an MA in Media and Communications entitled “Photography: the image and electronic arts”. What a tremendous experience that was!
I still live in London and now work at Goldsmiths as the marketing manager for the catering company that manages all of the university’s restaurants and cafés.
The most recent statistics (2012) on the number of Greeks living in London puts them close to 180,000 people. I feel like they must have significantly increased since then.
Every time I visit Greece, I bring books. I make sure I travel on almost empty luggage, so I can fill it up on the way back! I remember telling my mother once that, when others bring back Greek food, I keep bringing back Greek books. Aptly, she replied: “Books are sustenance as well”. I am very grateful to friends who visit from Greece and bring along any new releases I’ve been coveting for a while. I keep up to date through social media, journalist friends, and my friends’ recommendations. Unfortunately, it’s easier to find Terkenlis tsoureki around here than books in Greek. The only thing I’ve found is Penguin’s recent bilingual collection of Greek poetry; I even pre-ordered it!
I love the sheer scale of Waterstones Piccadilly: it’s so big you can get lost in it. But I’m always astonished at the history and the prestige of Daunt Books, too. Yet, were I to choose one place to read for days on end, without leaving, that would be the Goldsmiths library. It operates 24/7 and it’s open to other Londoners who are not necessarily connected to the university through a simple membership procedure. I felt at home there during my year of studies – and I still do.
My recommendation, when it comes to writers in Greek, would have to be Glykeria Basdeki, for her original use of language, the tender pain contained within the truth of her words, for reminding me of the strength and tenacity of love. It’s been so long since I was last excited with a writer. With Basdeki I keep catching myself thinking damn, can she write or what!
I’m blessed enough to be surrounded by book lovers every day. It’s wonderful to see people reading everywhere, at all times: at lunch, on their gym bikes, at the traffic lights waiting to cross the street, in line for their morning coffee. I guess you could say that a university is an ideal reading environment, so my feeling of readership trends is biased – but this is the reality I live in! One my favourite scenes is seeing a family of readers on the tube: the parents read to the youngest child and the older children read their own books. I’ve tried listening to audiobooks thinking that they would come really handy on buses and the tube, where you often don’t have the space to hold a book up, but the external noises and the general fuss made it quite difficult, so I quit trying.
I am currently reading Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, in English. But I know it’s been translated into Greek too.
From Greece I miss most my family, my friends, and walks by the sea.
Giorgos Mikrogiannakis, Edinburgh
I’ve been living in Edinburgh since September 2014. I came to study for an MA in Sound Design, then worked at the university, and am now a freelance sound engineer.
I can’t possibly tell you how many Greeks live in Edinburgh with any sense of certainty, but my feeling is that there’s more and more as time goes by. A number somewhere in the hundreds, I suppose.
I rarely read in Greek. And any books I read in Greek, I bring back from my travels in Greece.
As for new titles, I usually learn about them from friend’s posts on social media, or through personal recommendations. But I don’t really keep up to date with new releases in Greek.
As far as I know, there’s no bookstore here carrying titles in Greek.
My favourite bookstore in Edinburgh is Blackwell’s on Nicolson St. But I mostly read on Kindle, so I rarely visit bookshops nowadays.
I have never been a member of a book club, in any language. It could be an interesting experience, even though I’d probably join more for the socialising aspect of it, rather than the books themselves.
I have to admit I am not very familiar with Greek literature. I only know of the more established Greek writers. Nor do I know who amongst them might have been translated into English. Were I to recommend a single Greek writer to the Scots, it would have to be Nikos Kazantzakis: not only because he’s translated into English, but also because he’s an important writer and well worth reading.
Edinburgh has the highest number of qualified professionals, per capita, in the United Kingdom. So the quality of readership is high. We also have thousands of academics, graduate and postgraduate students around. You don’t see people reading in public as much as you see them London, say, but that’s only because distances are much shorter here and public transport is a brief affair. I can’t be certain, but I have the feeling that people up here don’t necessarily read what’s on the best-seller lists.
I have tried listening to audiobooks, but I wasn’t won over.
I am currently reading one of Bill Bryson’s travel books, More notes from a small island.
What I miss from Greece is the obvious: family and friends. And yet, I think Athens nowadays sports an interesting and unique art scene, which is often overlooked. It’s got art cinemas, a buzzing theatrical scene, and bars that play fantastic, trendy and specialized music. You don’t often see that in Europe, least of all in the UK.
Maria Xanthoudakis, Milan
I’ve been living in Milan since 1999. I now work as the Educational Programmes Director at the National Science Museum. I left Greece in 1992 to do a Master’s in the UK, after which I worked for art museums in the UK and Italy, and then in science museums.
There are Greeks in Milan, but I am not sure how many. Books in Greek I mostly buy from Greece, during my trips there, but I get most of my books through Amazon. They arrive promptly and in my preferred format: electronic or paper, depending on my mood.
As for new releases, I keep up to date through newspapers, or via Amazon’s recommendations, or I simply ask in bookshops in Greece when I visit.
I have not found a bookshop that carries titles in Greek in Milan. Neither do I have a specific favourite bookstore in the city. I like Fetrinelli’s because it’s central, big, and has the right ambience: one can find anything in there, or simply browse for hours.
If I were to suggest any Greek writers to the Milanese audience, I’d have to pick, first and foremost, C.P. Cavafy – for his ability to communicate the depths of our thoughts and actions. Then, Petros Markaris and his “Crisis Trilogy”, because he manages to convey the deeper Greek reality, beyond the surface. He’s been translated into English too, and I think his stories are a valuable lesson to those not familiar with Greek reality.
I am currently reading Elisabeth Stout’s Anything is Possible. I’ve read two wonderful, previous books of hers, The Burgess Boys and Olive Kitteridge. I’m not sure whether they’ve been translated into Greek: I usually try to read books in their original language.
From Greece I miss the sea and my loved ones.
Kostas Poulopoulos, Copenhagen
I’ve been living in Copenhagen for the past 8 years or so, since December 2009. Before that, I used to live in Tokyo (2007-2009), where I worked whilst studying for a Master’s degree at the University of Tokyo. I am an architect and I now have my own practice in Copenhagen, founded a year and a half ago.
I have no idea how many Greeks live in Copenhagen but I am sure their number has increased since 2009: I do hear people talking in Greek in the streets nowadays.
Books in Greek I only buy from Greece. I have close to zero time for reading, I am afraid. Having two small children means no time on my hands. I have not seen a bookstore selling books in Greek in Copenhagen, and my guess is that there is none in the whole of Denmark. My favourite bookstore, due to my professional interest, is the bookshop inside the Danish Architecture Centre.
To be quite honest with you, I don’t think I’d be able to participate in a book club. I know that the politically correction here should be “sure, of course”. But the truth is, as time goes by, I am less and less interested in various interpretations of text, especially when I already find it difficult enough to listen to my own inner monologue. Maybe if the book club members exchanged written reports on books, rather than oral opinions, maybe I’d be interested. Is there a book club that does that? Dialogue is overrated, if you ask me, and a waste of time.
If I were to recommend Greek writers to the Danish audience, I’d suggest they read M. Karagatsis, whose blunt style excites me – this “prosaic prose” of his. Also, Lenos Christidis, because his humour is out of this world, even when he’s not trying to make you laugh. I’ve never seen anyone else strip the truly ridiculous nature of Greek reality naked. I’d suggest they read Aris Konstandinidis, not so much for his architectural works, as for the way he uses language in order to transfer his love of architecture to the paper itself: it’s almost as if the reader is redundant in this relationship between the writer and the paper he writes on. I find Konstantinidis’ complete disregard of anything outside himself and his thoughts, fascinating. C.P. Cavafy I’d recommend also, mostly for a couple of his poems, especially the one entitled “As Much As You Can” (try not to degrade [your life] by dragging it along).
As far as I’ve gathered, the Danes read a lot of crime novels,
And yes, I would listen to audiobooks. Who knows, it might be the only thing that can make me go on reading.
I am currently reading Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love.
From Greece I miss my family and friends. Also, the nonchalance of my life there – which probably has more to do with how young I was, rather than Greece itself. It’s just that, in y minds, nonchalance and Greece go together. So does summer. There is no other definition of summer for me than the dry, hot summers of my childhood, with children eating lemon sorbets on the squares, the taste of watermelon in my mouth, and the sound of crickets in the air (I used to think it was the sound of stars sparkling at night).
Sophia Lambrinidou, Brussels
I have been living in Brussels since February 2013.
Even though the Debt Crisis was, of course, a reason for me to leave Greece, it wasn’t the only reason. Nor was it the main one. I’ve always wanted to live abroad but I had never found a professional opportunity that would allow me to do so. When that came along, I moved here, where I now work as a secretary.
I think there are about 12 to 15 thousand Greeks in Brussels. A lot of them are second-generation immigrants, the children of families that emigrated to Belgium in the sixties, the seventies, and the eighties, to look for work. There is a well-organised Greek community here, which arranges cultural activities and Greek lessons. There are theatrical groups and sports clubs, founded by Greeks many years ago and still going strong today.
Books in Greek I buy from Greece. I keep myself updated on new releases via the Web.
There is a Greek bookstore in Brussels, called Periple (Περίπλους http://www.periple.eu ). It also serves as a cultural centre, hosting exhibitions by Greek painters and photographers, book readings for Greek writers that visit the city, and sells tickets to theatrical shows and Greek concerts. I haven’t seen Greek books being sold in any other bookstore but this one.
My favourite bookstore in Brussels is Filigranes. You can lose yourself for hours in there! Apart from a large collection of books in French and Flemish, it has a huge selection of magazines, comic books, children’s books, picture books, travel guides, and gifts. It also has a café where people can have lunch or drink a cup of coffee during the day, whilst leafing through a book, or attend a book presentation or some other talk.
When it comes to Greek writers, I’d recommend Eugene Trivizas: rereading his children’s books as an adult, I discover things I missed as a child, and that’s something rare and special. I am afraid that most of his linguistic puns will probably be lost in translation, or Greek speakers in Belgium will probably not be able to get them. They’d be greatly missing out on his genius as a writer.
I haven’t gone around discussing the locals’ relationship with books with other people, but I do see loads of people in bookstores and I see a lot of book-related events happening. Don’t forget that Belgium has a special relationship with comic books too: there’s a Comic Strip Centre and a lot of specialized bookshops that cater to both locals and tourists.
When it comes to audiobooks, I’ve only listened to short stories, but I liked it. I am not sure I could handle listening to a full-length novel, but I’d like to try.
Right now I am reading Simon Napier-Bell’s Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay: The doggy business of popular music. I discovered Napier-Bell during my MA in Arts Management, when one of our professors suggested that the only book we’ll ever need to read about music management will be his Black Vinyl, White Powder. It’s a book of stories from his own life and career as a manager of many popular bands during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Napier-Bell is a formidable storyteller: you catch yourself smiling all the time whilst reading, as if he were standing there in person, recounting his stories over a gin and tonic (or many thereof). Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay is his latest, and it’s about the story of the music industry as we know it today. As far as I know, none of his books has been translated into Greek.
Marina Papadopoulou, London
I’ve been living in the capital of the UK for 238 days now. Love was the reason I moved here.
I got a job straight away as a Sales and Events Manager at the City Hall.
There’s more than 310,000 Greeks living in the Greater London area. Yet, even though London is renowned for being multicultural and catering to all tastes, I feel like it’s lagging behind when it comes to books in Greek. Theoretically, there are three Greek bookshops around, but I am not sure how up-to-date they keep their stock. Usually, if I want to read Greek books, I ask friends to send them over, or I buy them online, where I can see what’s new as well.
Londoners read anything and everywhere, and what I love about this is that it makes me want read more. I feel as if, were I to open any bag around, I’d find some sort of book, or a newspaper, in some format or another.
One of my favourite bookshops – a mainstream one, I’ll give you that – is Waterstone’s Islington. That’s where I purchase most of my books. I prefer buying books on paper rather than downloading them on some device; I’m pretty traditional like that.
Were I to pick one Greek writer and recommend it to a colleague, I’d look no further than Homer himself. I think that the man behind two of history’s greatest epic poems begs to be studied more widely and deeply. By reading Homer, one can learn what it means to be human, to fight, to travel, to fall in love, to love lastingly, what it is to believe in something.
Sometimes, after work, I pop into a small bookstore close to the London Bridge station and I browse through the newest releases, or the contents of recommended books, and that’s how I let steam off.
Right now I am reading Artur Perez-Reverte’s The Flanders Panel.
One of the things I mostly miss from Greece – and which is very intimately connected with my memories – is the smells: the smells as harbingers of spring, or the smells of family feasts; Saturday morning coffee; the smell of the coming summer, the smell of the summer as it recedes. I am very lucky to be able to carry all these memories within me.
Constantina Stavrianou, Berlin
I have been living in Berlin since February 2016. I moved here with my partner, who is German, after our child was born. I’ve been working in the same film production company since 1999, but now I do it online.
I have loved books ever since I was a little kid. I remember hiding Love in the Time of Cholera and Number 31328 inside my Physics and Chemistry books in class, in order to be able to read them uninterruptedly.
According to the official figures released by Germany’s Federal Office of Statistics in January 2016, there are around 340,000 Greeks in Germany, 15,000 of them in Berlin.
I buy books in Greek only when I travel back to Greece.
In Berlin, one can find Greek books in Artificium bookstore, on Schwedenestr. 4, close to the Osloer Straße stop: they carry literature, crime novels, thrillers, essays, philosophy books, children’s books, what have you. One can also take Greek lessons there, in a specially designed classroom. There’s both adult and children’s classes available.
About Greek new releases I mostly learn from newspapers or magazines. Also, from friends who read a lot and whom I trust; if they recommend a book, I go and purchase it immediately.
I like reading in English a lot, so I often find myself in a bookstore called Dussmann das KulturKaufhaus οn Friedrichstrasse. It has a pretty big section of books in English.
From Greek writers, I’d suggest to my German friends Christos Chomenidis. I like his books. My favourite ones are The Wise Child, Niki, and The House and the Cage. I like the directness of his prose. I usually read his books in one sitting.
Germans read a lot, in the metro, on the bus, in cafés – you can find them everywhere with a book in hand.
Yes, I would listen to audiobooks. I think they’d be interesting, even though I am not sure I’d prefer them to the printed version.
Right now I am reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan tetralogy. I am currently on the third volume, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read! It’s about this unique friendship in the city of Naples, Italy.
What I mostly miss from Greece is the sunshine: 350 days a year!