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Jonas Jonasson on the Joy of Waterstones
As many of our shops reopen their doors on Monday 12 April, we share a piece from Jonas Jonasson, bestselling author of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared and the brand new novel Sweet Sweet Revenge Ltd., all about the magic of bookshops (and Waterstones in particular, of course) and how they can connect you to a place and its people.
The perhaps most pleasant meeting I’ve ever had with my readers took place at Waterstones in London, the summer before Covid turned everything upside down. London, of all places, I nearly wrote. Because it took some time before we became friends, the city and me.
All these years I tried my best, but it was as though the city kept asking me to go back home. Just take the fact that it has rained on almost all my visits, even when the weather reports promised something else. In the city's defense, however, I should say that I haven’t always chosen the right travel companions. Like the time I brought my dad. He was past 80 at the time and had barely been outside the small town in southern Sweden where he grew up. We had not come further than to the escalators at Heathrow, when a problem occurred. In Dad's world, stairs should stand still, while the person climbing should be the one moving. Not the other way around. Once in the city center, we went to a restaurant. A fancy Indian one. Dad looked suspiciously at the menu. He did not understand English, let alone the meaning of all the different dishes. He ended up ordering a chicken tikka masala, without either tikka or masala.
“That will just make it fried chicken, sir.”
“What is he saying?” Dad said. “Ask him if I can have Swedish boiled potato with it.”
After dinner, we had a 300 meter walk back to the hotel. In the pouring rain. Throughout the entire walk, Dad was looking for someone selling hot dogs.
A couple of years later, my 13-year-old son and I were in London. Just for the weekend. I had thought that we would walk around Piccadilly, visit each and every bookstore we passed, go to the theater, and dine in the restaurants.
But the combination of a teenager and pouring rain resulted in us spending most of the time in our hotel room, ordering so many croque monsieur from room service that, when it was time for check-out, the staff wondered if there had been some kind of mistake with the bill.
Just when I thought I’d broken up with London for good, my best friend got in touch. He had moved there, claimed it was a great city and that I should come and visit.
I sighed, packed every one of my umbrellas, and took off. Of course, the sun shone on us for five days straight. My friend had accidentally promised half his block a signed copy of my book. The only problem was that we didn’t have any books to sign. It was especially embarrassing considering that he had also arranged a garden party for me and all the people who hadn’t yet received a book.
"We have to solve this," my friend said, making it sound as though it were my fault.
The solution was that we went to Waterstones together to buy some copies of my books. I was standing at the till with six copies of The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man, getting ready to pay.
“Good book,” the cashier said.
“So I’ve heard,” I said.
“Cash or credit?”
“Credit,” I said and handed over my card.
The cashier took it. Read the name. Her eyes widened. She turned away from me, toward the entire bookstore, filled with customers and staff — and shouted:
“It's the Author!”
After that, twenty wonderful Waterstones minutes of mingling with customers and staff followed. One of the customers was from Germany, another from Canada. Everyone had their own relationship to my writing. Selfies were taken and autographs written. Besides, I earned a few pennies in royalties on the books I bought. And in a sunny London! What a wonderful city!
In my most recent work Sweet, Sweet Revenge Ltd. I send a true Maasai warrior to northern Europe. There, he meets an extraordinary entrepreneur, an unscrupulous art dealer — and a young couple who have every reason in the world to exact revenge. I spice this up with two expressionist works of art. But who painted them? Who owns them, and — above all — what does the Pope have to do with everything?
I wish you a pleasant read. But most of all, I wish to one day meet you at Waterstones. Shall we say the one at Piccadilly, the one my son and I missed out on in favor of fourteen croque monsieur? And if I see you leafing through one of my books, I promise to exclaim as loudly as I can:
“It's the Reader!”
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