Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A SHOUT FROM COPENHAGEN: The Bookshops of Copenhagen Minus One -- Chester's turns the key.

A couple of months back, I had the pleasure of sharing the joy that the city I chose as my home has, amongst its many delights (which include 1,525 serving houses), at least eight outstanding independent bookstores: Arnold Busck, Politiken’s Boghal, Atheneum, Chester’s Book Café, Paludan’s Book Café, Tranquebar, the Jazz Cellar (mostly records but also books), and the absolutely unique, Booktrader.

Well as of this evening – Tuesday, February 19th, 2008 – their number has decreased by one when Chester’s Book Café turned the key on its Christianshavn Shop for good. For bad, rather. It is always sorrowful to say goodbye to a great place, an inspired space.

Chester’s – with its leaders Anders and Lars – has been a wonderfully supportive place, not only for readers, but also for writers. The café had a variety of excellent coffee and cakes, beers and wine, and hosted regular public readings. I personally launched each of the four novels of my Copenhagen Quartet there. Walter Cummins and I launched our co-edited book, The Literary Traveler, there three years ago and were joined at the reading by the wonderful Baronness Varvara, whom the essay I read was about. Chester’s also hosted the launch of an issue of The Literary Review in which I had included a feature focusing on the Danish Writers School and including samples of work from several of the students who had recently completed their education there. A couple of years back, I assisted in the launch of a book by the 93-year-old (alas now deceased) Bob Deane, who had written about his late wife, Ebba Lund – the girl with the red beret who had helped ferry many many Jews to safety in Sweden when the Germans occupied Denmark during World War II. And my partner, Alice Maud Guldbrandsen, launched her book there in 2005, Silence Was My Song: The Bombing of the French School – an emotional evening of remembering not only the dead, but also the survivors of that tragic catastrophe. And last year, Chester’s generously hosted the launches of both my new books – a novel and a story collection.

That’s at least ten readings that I myself and Alice had the privilege of holding there – but there were scores and scores more, by outstanding Danish and international writers.

Chester’s was a place that cared about writers and made us feel at home. The shop stocked our books and made them visible and available to the many readers who came in to enjoy a coffee while browsing and listening to the jazz playing from Chester’s outstanding collection of CDs. It was a place where we spent many pleasant afternoons and evenings –even on past closing time until we finally moved the company around the corner to the Eiffel Bar to continue into the wee hours.

About three weeks ago, Alice and I went in and heard the sad news from Anders. Alice was in again a couple of days ago to say goodbye – I couldn’t make it then or for the closing reception today, so I have to choose this method of saying goodbye and paying tribute to a great place for books that ended much too soon.

Chester’s will continue to exist as an on-line bookshop, and that is good. They will even continue to sell their excellent blends of coffee on-line, and that is good, too.

Still, I have reached the age where I don’t like changes – especially changes of this sort. Chester’s was there for not quite five years. All of us who had the good fortune to be frequent visitors there can count ourselves among the lucky ones.

We’ll remember Chester’s. Thank you, Anders. Thank you, Lars. Thanks to all of those who made it run.

Don’t forget to google Chester’s Bogcafé or contact chester@chester.dk for future book orders.

And don’t forget to support your local independent bookstores. Because if you don’t, they will disappear. And we need them.

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy

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