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The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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How We Are Hungry

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There are quite a few things that can be said against amazon. My main concern is that they probably contribute to the decease of proper downtown shops by drawing customers away. Particularly in the area of German books that’s a shame. We’ve got a law here which requires books to be marked with a fixed selling price by the publisher and which requires bookstores to charge that exact price from the customers. I think the idea of that is to keep the profits in selling books healthy and thus make small and diverse bookstores viable. Together with a sophisticated distribution system which seems to ensure that you can get any current German book anywhere within a day or so, this may even work a little.

Of course low-cost stores like amazon will generate an overly healthy profit from this kind of arrangement without any benefit to the local shopping infrastructure. Thus German books are better bought at a local store. Apart from that, I must say that amazon is quite good, though. Particularly as I frequently had one-day delivery times with them. One thing I enjoy particularly is that they also stock a wide range of English books. At reasonable prices. So what required complicated procedures and a lot of money at the local bookstore before, just requires a few clicks now.

Of course this isn’t perfect. Particularly, I don’t really understand which English books you can get and at which prices. Sometimes those look like they’re coming from the U.S. with the price converted roughly along the exchange rate. At other times, they may come from the U.K.. And at the worst times, books may not be available at all or with a great delay. To make things even more ‘interesting’, I should note that the significant discounts which you frequently get at amazon.com usually aren’t transferred to the amazon.de store.

All these points together and the fact that the dollar has been rather weak recently, gave yet another – almost absurd – twist to the buying of English books – namely that, if you’re not in a hurry, ordering the books with discounts from amazon.com with prices in dollars, will be so much cheaper than buying them in Germany that it more than compensates for the high cost of international shipping. Which is how I ended up buying two books at amazon.com, recently.

The first was The Lonely Planet Guide for South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. I got it just before my holiday. Not that I really needed it, but I thought it might be nice to have some current information. Having been published in late 2004, it was rather current – but I found it strange in some places, particularly their travel (airline, bus, car) recommendations. It also strengthened my conviction that I have seen almost every single interesting spot in the country which may be a fact that contributed to finding the guide a bit boring. [Bookmark: 27-03-2004: AA 46 San Francisco to Chicaco, seat 19A.]

The other book was Dave Eggers’ new collection of short stories How We Are Hungry. I am a fan of short stories and really liked Eggers’ previous books Different Views of the How We Are Hungry book as described at the end of the text A Heartbreaking work of staggering Genius and You shall know our Velocity, so I was really looking forward to getting this book. And it didn’t disappoint. I like Eggers’ light style of writing with its odd names (even ‘Hand’ from You shall know our Velocity turns up again) and random jumps. Somehow it resonates strongly with my way of thinking.

The book’s stories are a wildly mixed bag – widely circling around things we might hunger for. Ranging from one word to four line titles, from the U.S. to Tanzania, from two to sixty pages, from the pyramids to Elimidate. And with a reoccurring theme of death. I enjoyed most of them. The unfair She Waits, Seething, Blooming or the supposed non-story Notes for a Story of a Man Who Will Not Die Alone which makes me itch to actually turn those notes into the story although they’re already so elaborate and long that it’s unnecessary.

One of my favourites is – surprisingly – the rather light and positive You Mother and I. In there, while handling cheeses for nachos in kitchen with his child, a man talks about the various things he and the child’s mother did. Those are all little stories to him but they’re big challenges to the world today – ranging from making renewable energies work on a grand scale, to a better U.N. (with that point even touching Rwanda) to better politics:

That was right after our work with the lobbyists – I never told you that either? I must be losing my mind. I never mentioned the lobbyists, about when we had them all deported? That part of it, the deportation, was your mother’s idea. All I’d sad was, Hey, why not ban all lobbying? Or at least ban all donations from lobbyists, and make them wear cowbells so everyone would know they were coming? And then your dear mom, who was, I think, a little tipsy at the time – we were at a bar where they had a Zima special, and you know how you mom loves her Zima – she said, How about, to make sure those bastards don’t come back to Washington, have them all sent to Greenland? And wow, the idea just took off. People loved it, ad Greenland welcomed them warmly; they’d apparently been looking for ways to boost their tourism. They set up some cages and a viewing area and it was a big hit.

Unrealistic, light and powerful, that’s great. Somehow the story reminds me a bit of Christo and Jeanne-Claude… if they did important things rather than just beautiful ones. Another great story, despite its length, is Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly about a woman who hikes up mount Kilimanjaro with a guided tour and we follow their trip and get to know a lot about the group and their motivations.

And as if this weren’t enough, I have to add that the book also leaves a brilliant first impression: Rather than having a paper dustcover, the title and cover art are punched into the cover itself, which looks pretty cool. It also comes with a built-in bookmark (so no travel associated with this book…) and an elastic band, just like a Moleskine notebook, to keep it shut. On the book’s back there is a sticker that ruins the plain black design for the sake of bar-coded commercialism. Just like Sigur Rós’ ( ) album, it asks you to remove it immediately, though.

These lovely details continue to the inside of the book which has a fancily rippled dark brown paper for the front and back pages, quite nice slightly structured paper throughout, and Garamond for the text – but a different typeface for the title and yet another one for the cover. What irritates me is that the running headings on each page are set in a tiny size (as they were in A Heartbreaking Work).

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

April 10, 2005, 17:29

Tagged as book, dave eggers, how we are hungry, lonely planet.

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