Treasure Hunt: Searching For Books in Thessaloniki

I’m a bookaholic.  I gotta have my books.  I can’t stand being without books.  And when I say books I mean the paper kind with binding and covers and so on.  I did, to be honest, at my wife’s prompting, look into getting a Kindle, but when I did a little research I got completely discouraged about it.  First of all, Kindles are much more expensive here in Greece, either to buy here or order; okay, I can get around that by having one of my sons buy one in the States and bring it here.  But then the troubles begin.  Everything I download has taxes added onto it so the price of e-books multiply out of control, sometimes to two or three times what they would cost if downloaded in the States.  I can’t leave the country every time I want a new book.  In addition, the e-book store available here in Greece is at least a third smaller than the one in the States.  There’s no way around that without leaving the country either.

So, forget the Kindle.  I don’t care that much anyway.  I like to hold a book in my hand; whenever I do I feel I am embarking on an adventure.  Maybe I’d get used to doing it the electronic way and I’d have the same sensation in time, but for the reasons above that’s not feasible now; so there it is:  I need paper books.

But where to get them?  Obvious first choice:  a book store.  Oops, no.  Not here.  There are English books available in a few bookstores here, but even the best one has a very limited selection:  one shelf of just a few hundred books.  They used to have some of the Science Fiction Masterwork series, but once those sold out they never got replaced.  Now the pickings are slim indeed.  I have been there twice recently.  I went the second time because I thought surely I must have missed something good the first.  But no.  I couldn’t find a thing I wanted to read.  Sigh.

Where else can I look?  Libraries might be the logical next choice.  Well, there are very few English libraries in Thessaloniki.  The British Council library closed down and was absorbed by a local college.  They charge an exorbitant price to use the few yellowed old British novels on the meager shelves.  Definitely not worth it.  Fortunately, years ago one of my sons won a scholarship to an elite private high school here, one of the best in Greece.  They have a library – two, in fact – one for the high school and one for the associated college, and the libraries are primarily in English.  They are tiny by US standards but they are a (literary) lifesaver.  I go there frequently, and whenever I am searching for books on my computer I do searches in their catalog, which is online.  I believe I am one of their best customers.

But, as I said, the library’s resources are limited.  It’s budget has been cut recently, and a lot of what I want to read is unavailable, especially new books, that is, whatever has come out in the last few years.  So where to find these books?

Online, of course.  Whatever I can’t find locally I order from  When I can I order from the UK branch, because the postage is cheaper and, as a matter of fact, they have just initiated free super saver shipping to Greece.  But its catalog is much smaller, and so sometimes I must order from US Amazon.  The problem is, the postage is often about two or three times the cost of the book.  To get around this, I often order several books and have them sent to one of my sons if I know he is coming for a visit, and he couriers them to me.  If I’m in a hurry, I pay the postage.  It depends on my reading schedule.

I am always reading something.  I can’t stand finishing a book and not having the next book right there ready to go.  I suppose you would say I’m a chain-reader:  I light one off the smoldering remains of the other.  But then, to be ready, I have to plan ahead.  I try to know what I am going to read several books ahead so I can arrange to get them.  Usually, because there is so much I want to read in so many fields, I alternate reading fiction and nonfiction books.  Sometimes if I am contemplating, or have already begun, a piece of writing for which I will need to do research, I plan my reading accordingly.  For example, last year I wrote a novel set in the hippy era of the late sixties.  To prepare I read a book on the history of the Haight/Ashbury scene, another on communes in the 60s, and so on.  But I planned the reading ahead so that by the time I was ready to write about it I had already done the research without having to stop the writing itself.

Because I like to plan my reading ahead I do considerable research.  I search lists of all-time favorite books, lists of award winners, lists of recommended books in my special fields of interest, bibliographies in the backs of other books, reviews, blogs, recommendations from writers I trust, and so on – whatever I can that will help me find things I might not have heard of.  When I do come across mention of a book I think I might find interesting I look it up in Wikipedia, I read the Amazon reviews, I search for other reviews.  All of this may seem time-consuming, but it takes less time than reading a book only to be disappointed.  Besides, I enjoy it.  For me, a search for new reading material is like a treasure hunt.  As I said:  I love books.  Whenever a deed is done in love it is always a pleasure.

I might still get that electronic reading device someday, but I don’t know.  I like the paper books.  I like building a library.  I like watching those shelves fill up, knowing that my sons can come whenever they want and find treasures thereon.  That’s the thing:  it’s not just the paper.  It’s almost like filling the shelves with currency and gold and jewels.  Only better.

I’m a professional writer; I make my living by my words.  I’m happy to share these essays with you, but at the same time, financial support makes the words possible.  If you’d like to become a patron of the arts and support my work, buy a few of my available books or available stories.  Thanks!

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5 Responses to Treasure Hunt: Searching For Books in Thessaloniki

  1. Pingback: Book Review:  The Library Book by Susan Orlean | John Walters

  2. Suzanne cunningham says:

    I heard there is a second hand bookstore in thessaloniki with books in english any idea where it is

  3. cuthbertmac says:

    Thanks for your informative post. Can you suggest where to look for old maps and photographs of Thessalonki c. 1912 — preferably cheap reproductions? I’m doing some research on the Balkan wars and need to get the sense of what it was like in the weeks after the end of Ottoman rule.

    • John Walters says:

      I don’t really know for sure. I could suggest places if you were actually in Thessaloniki. I know it well, though I have moved to the States. Try contacting Mark Mazower, the author of the brilliant history of Thessaloniki, “Salonika, City of Ghosts”.

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