Old books is my crack.
And there isn’t a better place to find nostalgia than an old bookstore. Surrounded by hundreds of years of history, sciences, arts and culture, an old bookstore is a window to a different time. The smell, the faded yellowish color, the touch of an old page, the half-damaged book that now finds comfort at a bookseller’s shelf, show the journey the book has been through throughout the years, carrying its own history inside it, eventually reaching you. How cool is that? Even if the book was published somewhere in 1930 or 1940, ultimately you find it or it finds you.
Mr. George Zoukas has built an empire of such treasure in the heart of Athens. In his little office, a paradise for bookworms awaits. I had one of the greatest afternoons in my life exploring his fantastic library and I’m gonna give you not only a glimpse of his collection, but also a small piece of Greek, American and international literature.
There are more than 8,000 books in Mr. George’s collection.
Mr. George has found inventive ways to catalog his books. His categories include: Psychology/Sociology of love, Philosophy of love, Terrorism and Literature, Music and Literature, Political Philosophy, Books made into Films, Russian/Soviet Prose, Studies in Greek, American and International Literature even Erotic Literature 😉 The Greek economic crisis has pushed him to include some books of his own personal library as well, considering that local and independent bookstores face a lot of challenges in the market.
Let the scavenger hunt begin!!!
Art Review, issue 106-107, published in 1963 in the period October-November. Art Review was a monthly literary magazine issued in Athens from 1954 – 1967. It was discontinued after the enforcement of Greek junta/dictatorship in 1967.
Another Greek literary magazine, Nea Estia, published in October 1964. At the cover Domenikos Theotokopoulos – El Greco, one of the most famous, charismatic and respected Greek artists.
Here Nea Estia celebrates the 150th anniversary of Lord Byron’s death. The poem She Walks in Beauty caught my eye, one I had read during my last years in high school, but I’ve never had the chance to dig dipper into it and find the background of this masterpiece poem – in my opinion. Lord Byron wrote this poem in 1814 about Robert Wilmot’s wife, Mrs. Anne Beatrix Wilmot. Note here that Robert Wilmot was also his cousin. Stunned by her beauty, the poet wrote this poem the next day to praise her exquisiteness. He perfectly captured this divinity just by reading the first lines:
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies
By the way, speaking of poems that express beauty, it just came to my mind another poem that reflects this theme – beauty but mainly from nature’s perspective – written much earlier in 1805. William Wordsworth’s (what a great last name for a poet, right??) The Solitary Reaper, which is considered one of his greatest works.
One of the books deriving from Mr. George’s personal records, entitled Worldwide Anthology, published in 1940. It includes rare names and references to the most well-known foreign authors at that time. Below, a chapter dedicated to Olindo Guerrini, also known by one of his pseudonyms Lorenzo Stecchetti. The title of this chapter, below, is so artistic! It’s the little things that make a book special. Even the design/images on a book, set the appropriate atmosphere for the reader for a full time travelling experience.
I would give my life to get my hands on this gem. This book is so old, the publication date is written in roman numerals! Published in 1897 – 76 years after John Keat’s death – this book is a bouquet of the poet’s greatest works. It includes his Odes (Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to Autumn, Ode to Melancholy, etc), sonnets like O Solitude! if I Must with Thee Dwell and Glory and Loveliness have passed away and miscellaneous poems (In a Drear-Nighted December, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, etc), decorated with fantastic illustrations that really give you this full experience I talked about before. Feel free to see for yourself.
Nostalgia Level: over 9,000!!
Contemporary American and English Poets, published in 1946, including literary works translated by Dimitris Stavrou. This book introduced me to some authors I’ve never heard before, like Aldous Huxley and Edgar Lee Masters.
Lee Master’s The Unknown was a also a new discovery for me, not only in terms of his work but also himself as a poet.
Oh my, so many poetry books, my list is endless! English Anthology, edited by Glafkos Alithersis, published in 1926, also pays tribute to Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Keats and Wordsworth. But what makes it even more special, is that it has a date written by its previous owner:
August 30, 1948. I cannot imagine the journey of this book. The places it traveled to reach me! ♥
A newer edition I found of a poetry collection by Edgar Allan Poe, Poems Written in Youth. Spirits of the Dead, A Dream, Imitation and other works as well as biographical elements are embedded in this diligent edition. George Varthalitis provides translation and additional commentary. Although published in 2015, the look of this book emits a nostalgic feeling…
…like in this sketch I found in it, for example. I love how newest editions of old poems maintain this inveteracy that characterize these old poems.
Cathay, consists of Chinese poetry by Ezra Pound, a leading figure of modernist poetry. This edition was published in 1979 and translated by Zisimos Loretzatos, with a bold cover of the author’s self-portrait. I also came across…
Hugh Selwyn Mauberley one of Pound’s worth mentioning poem, which is considered to be a turning point in his career. This Greek edition (1980), translated by Loukas Anninos, consists of the English version along with the translated one on the side.
And so, so many others, I wish I could have stayed longer in this paradise:
Can I please live there forever??
I left with The Cantos by Ezra Pound in my hug, a great gift to keep me warm in this unusual cold that has struck Athens. I wish I had more time to discover more gems, but as Mr. George says “Even if you had a thousand lifetimes, you still wouldn’t have enough time to read them”, let alone just explore them.
Do you enjoy reading old books? Are there any unique old book editions you have come across that you value? Or that you search? Any old bookstores around your area that make you go wow? Leave me a comment 🙂
Discover Mr. George Zouka’s library here (site in Greek): https://vivlioanihneftis.wordpress.com
Mobile: +30 693-9613081
If you are in Athens, pass by to say hi! You’ll be astonished!