During my year abroad in Germany, I was lucky enough to have a host mom who was also a librarian. My first week there, she signed me up for a library card and once I stopped getting lost on public transportation, I often visited a small library a half hour away (Bücherhalle Bergedorf). For an avid reader, Germany felt like paradise to me. Like in America, there was a bookstore in the mall, a small independent bookstore around the corner in a small square from my German tutor’s apartment, and books in train stations.
Unlike what I had experienced in America (living in several small towns without much public transportation), everyone seemed to be reading. My host sister and host brother (ages 16 and 12, respectively) brought two or three books with them to the beach. (I was charmed by the German “vacation books”—slender, inexpensive volumes of fiction that would be typed as “beach reads” or “light reading” here—but for €5 or even sometimes less.) It seemed like everyone carried at least one book around with them to read on the bus, the train, while waiting in line. Bookstores abounded.
I think part of the German insistence and delight in reading comes from their idea of a “Kulturnation”—a country bound together by tradition, literature, language, and religion. The act of reading and writing has always furthered (and often challenged) these aspects of any country. Back in the U.S., as I read headlines about the demise of independent bookstores, Borders closing, and many questions about the future of print books, I wondered how the Germans did it. Now granted, Germany is considerably smaller than the United States, and one might argue that we do have a substantial book culture here. But is it more due to geographical size and population than an actual ingrained cultural tradition? How could we here in America make turning to a book as natural as turning to our phones or another electronic device?
What do you think of the U.S.’s book culture? How can we make it better? Or do you think we’re doing just fine, after all?
**If you’re further interested in this topic, I found this article, originally published by The Nation in 2012 to be very interesting and helpful.