Day 292

I walked (and lugged my luggage) all over the capitals of the Hapsburg Empire in Eastern Europe – you already know that. But what you probably don’t know is that everywhere I went, I bought books.

What an ass! In Vienna alone I bought four books; not to mention all those reporter’s pads with my carefully-penned scribbled notes. Each place, another book. I even bought lovely decorative notebooks for myself, Ro, and Melissa, in a little store at the base of the Charles Bridge in Prague.

It got so bad that I had to ask Rosemarie to slap me if I tried to buy another book.

“Slap you?” she asked.

“Yes – if I try to buy another book.”

“Oh! Don’t worry, I will slap you.”

My resistance was made all the more difficult by my editor at Shelf Awareness (aka MyBigWalker Just-So John), who agreed it was a great idea for me to visit English-language bookstores in each city, and write up some pieces for his magazine.

Which I did.

Here’s the one I wrote from Vienna.


If you stumble into the inviting International Bookstore on the Naschmarkt in Vienna on a rainy July morning, you’re likely to find manager John Mayer overseeing two floors of extensive English language books and magazines. This indie bookseller stocks much more than the requisite travel books and genre paperbacks. In addition to the plump train/plane read, the stacks here include Bolaño’s 2666, Stockett’s The Help, and Verghese’s Cutting for Stone in paperback, surprisingly deep classics and philosophy sections, and a shelf of Obama baseball caps (just in case?).

Business is changing every day. Yesterday it was bad, today it is excellent,” Mayer said. Could be the rain, he said – then again, maybe it’s not. “I did a lot of statistics and I can’t determine any reason one way or the other.”

His customers are changing, too, Mayer noted. This summer has brought more Australians and Brits into the store, while his year-long customer base has grown to include many Americans who’ve moved here to work — often for the United Nations, which established an international office in Vienna in 1980.

One of six International Bookstore locations in the city, Mayer’s store is situated along Vienna’s most popular outdoor market, where a good book can be followed up with a perfect glass of chilled Grüner Veltliner wine and any number of specialty meals. The great Viennese café tradition of reading, eating, and drinking lives on.   (This piece ran in Shelf Awareness July 16, 2010)