Is there no point in reading novels 1

Novels in which books play the main role

Chapter 1

His own master

It is said that books find their readers - but sometimes they need someone to show them the way. So it was on this late summer day in the bookstore called Am Stadttor, although the city gate, or rather its remains, which most citizens considered a daring work of art, was a good three intersections away.

The bookstore was very old and had been built and expanded over several epochs. Masonry with flourishes and plaster of paris were found next to unadorned right angles. A juxtaposition of old and new, of playful and sober, determined the exterior of the building, but was also found inside. Red plastic stands with DVDs and CDs stood next to frosted metal shelves with mangas, these in turn next to polished glass showcases with globes or elegant wooden shelves with books. Board games, stationery, tea and, more recently, even chocolate were offered. The winding room was dominated by a heavy, dark counter, which the employees only called the altar. It looked like it came from the baroque period. With carvings on the front depicting a rural scene in which a hunting party on magnificent steeds, accompanied by a pack of wiry dogs, rushed after a pack of wild boars.

In this bookstore the question was asked for which bookstores existed: “Can you recommend a good book to me?” The questioner, Ursel Schäfer, knew exactly what a good book was all about. First, she was so entertaining a good book that she read in bed until her eyes closed. Second, it made her cry in at least three, better four, places. Third, it was no less than three hundred pages, but never more than three hundred and eighty, and fourth, the cover was not green. Books with green covers were not to be trusted. A bitter experience that she had to go through several times.

“Very much,” replied Sabine Gruber, who has been running the bookstore at the city gate for three years. "What do you like to read?"

Ursel Schäfer didn't want to say that, she wanted Sabine Gruber to know because she was a bookseller and therefore naturally had to be endowed with a certain amount of clairvoyant skills.

"Give me three terms and I'll find the right one for you. Love? South of england? A real book? Yes?"

"Is Mr. Kollhoff perhaps there?" Asked Ursel Schäfer, her voice slightly restless. “He always knows what I like. He always knows what everyone likes. "

“No, unfortunately he's not here today. Mr. Kollhoff only works for us now and then. "

"What a pity."

“Well, I have something for you. A family novel set in Cornwall. See here, on the cover you can see the family's enchanting property and the large surrounding park. "

"It's green," said Ursel Schäfer and looked reproachfully at Sabine Gruber. "Lush green!"

“Because most of the book is set in the wonderful park of the Earl of Durnborough. The ratings are all very good! ”The customer review has been automatically translated from German.

The stiff entrance door opened and the little copper bell above it rang brightly. Carl Kollhoff folded his umbrella, shook it out routinely, and put it in the stand. His gaze slid through the bookstore he called home. He was on the lookout for freshly arrived books that were going to his customers. He felt like a shell collector on the beach. And at first glance he saw a number of finds that were just waiting to be picked up and freed from the granular sand. But when he saw Ursel Schäfer, they were suddenly completely unimportant. She gave him a warm smile, as if he were an amalgam of all the lovely men she'd fallen in love with reading the books Carl had recommended her over the years. Carl was not like any of them. Carl used to have a small stomach, but it had faded over the years, as had the hair on his head, as if they had agreed to leave him together. Today, at seventy-two, he was skinny but still wore his old clothes, which were much too big. His former boss said he now looks like he is only feeding on the words in his books and that they are low in carbohydrates. But a lot of substance, Carl always replied.

Carl always wore bulky, heavy shoes on his feet. With such thick black leather and soles so firm that they would last a lifetime. And good socks, they were important. Over it an olive green dungarees and a jacket with a collar in the same color.

He always wore a slouch hat, a fisherman's hat with a narrow brim, so that his eyes were protected from rain and bright rays of sunshine. He didn't take it off indoors either, only to sleep. Without it, he didn't feel fully clothed. Nor was he seen without his glasses, the frames of which he had bought in an antique shop decades ago. Behind it lay Carl's shrewd eyes, which always looked as if he had read too long in poor light.

"Ms. Schäfer, how nice to see you," he said and went to Ursel Schäfer, who in turn came to him and thus away from Sabine Gruber. "May I recommend a book that would look wonderful on your bedside table?"

“I liked the last one very much, especially that they looked each other in the eye at the end. A kiss would have been even nicer to seal the deal. But in that case I'll be satisfied with just one look. "

“It was almost more intense than a kiss. It can be some looks. "

"Not when I kiss!" Said Ursel Schäfer and felt wonderfully wicked at that moment, which rarely happened to her.

“This book”, Carl picked one up from the pile next to the cash register, “has been waiting for you since it was unpacked. It takes place in Provence, and every word smells of lavender. "

“Bordeaux red books are the best! Does it end with a kiss? "

"Did I ever reveal that?"

"No!" She looked at him reproachfully, but took the book from his hand.

Of course, Carl would never have recommended a novel to her without a happy ending. But he definitely didn't want to rob Ursel Schäfer of the little thrill of whether it would be any different this time.

"I'm so glad there are books," she said. "Hopefully that will never change! It's changing so much and so quickly. Everyone now only pays with plastic money. If I look for the right coins at the cash register, I get a strange look! "

“The written word will always remain, Ms. Schäfer. Because there are things that cannot be better expressed in any way. And printing is the best way to preserve thoughts and stories. They can survive there for centuries. "

Carl Kollhoff said goodbye to her with a warm smile and went through a door covered with advertising posters into the room that was the bookstore's warehouse and office in one. The desk was full of stacked books, the edge of the old computer screen was full of yellow pieces of paper, and the large annual planner on the wall was full of entries in red.

As always, his books were in a black plastic box in the darkest corner. It used to be her desk space, but since Sabine had taken over the bookstore from her father, the box had moved a little more each day into the hardest-to-reach corner. At the same time, the box had lost more and more of its contents. There weren't many people left to whom he should bring books. More of them disappeared every year.

"Moin, Mr. Kollhoff! So what do you think of the game? That was never a 911! I'm still angry about this referee. "

Leon, the new student intern, had stepped out of the small staff toilet - and with him cigarette smoke. Anyone else would have known there was no point in asking Carl such a question. Because Carl didn't see the news, listen to the radio, or read the newspaper. The world, as he sometimes admitted to himself, had lost it a little. It had been a conscious decision when all the reports of incompetent state leaders, the melting of the polar ice caps and the suffering of the displaced had made him sadder than the most tragic family drama in book form. It had been self-protection, even if his world had shrunk a lot since then. It was only a good two by two kilometers, and he was pushing its limits every day.

"You know the wonderful football book by J. L. Carr?" Asked Carl, instead of taking the intern's side on the referee question.

"Is this about our club?"

"No, about the Steeple Sinderby Wanderers."

"I do not know. But I don't read books anyway. Only when I have to. So in school. And even then, I prefer to just watch the film. ”He grinned as if he was cleverly tricking the teachers instead of himself.

"Then why are you doing your internship here?"

"That was what my sister did three years ago, we live right around the corner, the way is short." He said nothing about the fact that everyone who couldn't find an internship had to help out in the caretaker's for two weeks. The caretaker used this time to take revenge on the interns - on behalf of the entire student body - with humiliating work for all the scribbled walls, old chewing gum under table tops and leftover sandwiches in the discounts.

"Does your sister read?"

"After she was here, yes - but that won't happen to me!"

Carl smiled because he knew why Leon's sister had started reading. His former boss, Gustav Gruber, who now lived in the Münsterblick senior citizens' residence, had known exactly how to deal with cases such as Leon and his sister who were unwilling to read. He had them wipe the greeting cards wrapped in the plastic, one at a time. The interns got so bored that out of sheer desperation they picked up a book that he had strategically placed near them. Gustav Gruber had converted them all. Gustav Gruber had got along well with children, too, but they seemed like strange beings to Carl. That had been the case when he was a child himself. And the greater the distance from childhood, the stranger and stranger they seemed to him.

Leon's sister had lured old Gruber with a novel in which a young girl fell in love with a vampire. Leon, who was apparently going through puberty, would have put down a book with a picture of a pretty teenage girl on the cover - and the pages not overprinted. Old Gruber always said: It is not important what you read, but that you read. Carl could not sign this for all printed matter, because some thoughts that were found between book covers were like poison - but much more often there was healing in the paper. Sometimes even for things that you didn't even know needed healing.

Carl carefully took the black plastic box from the corner. Today there were only three books, they were completely lost in them. Then he found brown wrapping paper and string to wrap each one individually as if it were a present. Sabine Gruber had told him several times to stop doing that and save the costs, but Carl insisted because that was what his customers would expect. Carl didn't notice, but he stroked each book before wrapping it in the thick paper.

Finally he got his olive-green Bundeswehr backpack, which had been marked by the years, but thanks to Carl's care and love, it was in very good shape. It was still empty, but its folds showed that this was not its natural shape. Carl let the books sink gently into the heavy fabric of the rucksack, which he had covered with a soft woolen blanket. As if they were little puppies that he would carry to their new owners. He arranged the three books in the backpack so that the largest would later be close to his back and the smallest one farthest away, because it would not be impaired there by the curvature of the backpack.

As he went out he thought for a moment and then turned to Leon. "Please wipe off the greeting cards, Mrs. Gruber will be very happy. The best thing to do is bring her in, then you have your peace and quiet with you. I always did it here at the desk. ”He quickly put Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch on the table, which he had just spotted on a shelf. The soccer field on it looked seductively green - which is why Ursel Schäfer would certainly not look at it.

Carl called it his round, and it looked like a polygon through the city center, without right angles, without symmetry. Where the remains of the city wall ran like the ruins of an old man's teeth, his world ended. He hadn't left her for thirty-four years, for everything he needed for life was in her.

Carl Kollhoff walked a lot and thought as much as he walked. Sometimes it seemed to him that he could only think properly when he was walking. As if the footsteps on the cobblestones were just getting his mind moving.

When you walked through the city you might not notice it, but every wood pigeon and sparrow knew that the city was round. All the old houses and alleys faced the cathedral, which rose imposingly in the middle. If the city were part of a model railway line, one would have assumed that the cathedral was built on the wrong scale. It came from the brief period when the city had been very rich. But before it could be completed, it had already ended, which is why a tower had never been completed.

The houses stood in awe around the cathedral. Some of the particularly old ones even bowed their heads slightly. They kept the greatest distance in front of the main portal, which resulted in the largest and most beautiful square in the city, the Münsterplatz.

Carl walked into it, and immediately there was that feeling again of being watched, like a deer in a clearing, helplessly exposed to the looks and gun barrels of a hunter - which Carl had to smile about because otherwise he never felt like a deer. The smell of the city was most intense at Münsterplatz. It was besieged in the 17th century, and legend has it that a baker invented the powdered wheel, a pastry in the shape of a wheel with spokes, filled with chocolate cream and sprinkled with powdered sugar. He brought it to the besiegers in order to inform them of the desire of the townspeople that they should leave. In reality, the high-calorie pastry was not invented until two hundred years later, which was also documented, but the old story was spread and the visitors to the city liked to believe it.

Carl's steps always led over the same cobblestones of Münsterplatz, slowly and evenly. If someone got in the way, Carl waited and then quickened his pace to make up for the lost time. The route across the square was designed by him in such a way that it could be covered without any obstacles even on market day. In addition, it led as far as possible past the four bakeries in the square with powdered wheels, because he could no longer bear the smell of the greasy, hot pastries.

Carl turned into Beethovenstrasse, which was more of an alley and did not do justice to the great composer. An employee of the planning office had realized himself by naming an entire street after famous composers. He had dedicated the largest street to his personal favorite, Schubert.

Carl Kollhoff didn't know, but at that moment he was right in the center of his world. It was bordered on two sides by tram lines, the 18 and 57 (although the city only had seven tram lines, but this made it feel like a metropolis in terms of transport), on one side by the expressway to the north and on the fourth by the river who contented himself with picturesque splashing for most of the year and only insisted on a little flood on a few days in spring. Like a young lion that roared now and then, even though its vocal cords couldn't do it.

His first detour took him to Christian von Hohenesch in Saliergasse today. The mansion, made of dark stones, was set back slightly so that the casual passer-by did not notice how stately it was. She crouched like a crouched black swan just waiting to spread its splendid wings. Behind her was a rectangular park, lined with huge oak trees. There were three benches in it, which made it possible for Christian von Hohenesch to let the rays of the sun fall onto the pages of a book at any time of the day.

Carl knew that Hohenesch was very wealthy, but not that he was the richest citizen of the city.Nobody knew, not even Hohenesch, because he did not compare himself to others. Generations ago, his family had made their fortune with the tanning trade on the river and managed not to lose it in the course of industrialization. Christian von Hohenesch therefore didn't have to work, he let work. His stocks and deposits did it for him. He only administered the administrators of his property. Once a day a housekeeper came to cook and clean the few occupied rooms, once a week a gardener so that the sunlight could still find its way to the book pages, and once a month a housekeeping service came. And from Monday to Friday Carl came up with a new book that Christian von Hohenesch had mostly read by the next day. As far as Carl knew, Hohenesch had not left the borders of his empire for ages.

Carl rang the bell by pulling on a copper rod and a deep bell rang inside the villa. As always, it took the homeowner a while to come down the long, dark hallway to open the heavy, creaky wooden door, but only a crack. Christian von Hohenesch never stepped outside. He was a handsome, dark-haired man, tall, noble cheekbones, a prominent chin - and a sadness that lay over everything like gray powder. As always, he wore a dark blue double-breasted suit with a fresh white orchid flower on his lapel, and his black leather shoes shone as if he were going to an opera ball. Hohenesch was much younger than his clothes suggested. Just thirty-seven years old. But he wore suits from an early age; they felt as natural to him as denim to others.

“Mr. Kollhoff, you are too late. We had agreed a quarter past seven, ”said Hohenesch as a greeting.

Carl inclined his head naturally. Then he carefully pulled the book he had ordered from his backpack. "Here, your new novel." He straightened the loop of the cord, as it was a little crazy in transit.

“You recommended it to me. I hope so. ”Hohenesch took the book but did not unpack it. It was a novel about Alexander the Great's training with Aristotle. Hohenesch only read philosophical things.

He handed Carl the tip, which was adjusted to the weight of the books. He had researched this beforehand. “On time again next time. Punctuality is the courtesy of kings. "

“I wish you a nice evening. Goodbye."

"Yes, of course I will, too."

Christian von Hohenesch closed the heavy door. And at the same moment the mansion looked dead.

The landlord would have liked to have exchanged many words about books and authors with Carl, whom he knew as an educated man with good manners, a kindred spirit. But over time he had lost the words for invitations. He must have lost it somewhere in the many rooms of his large mansion.

Carl left Christian von Hohenesch - but actually he was leaving someone else. Because Carl saw the reflections of novels in our real world. For him, the city was populated by people from books, although they lived in completely different times or in distant lands. For him, Christian von Hohenesch had sprung from the great novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen from the moment he opened the heavy door of the villa for the first time. Carl had just left the Pemberley mansion in Derbyshire in the 18th century and its resident was Fitzwilliam Darcy, a wealthy, intelligent gentleman who, despite impeccable manners, often appeared a little arrogant and harsh.

The reason for this quirk of Carl was that he was never very good at remembering names unless they belonged to characters in novels. It had already been the case at school, when many teachers were given nicknames, mostly unflattering ones: toilet brush, prince morphine, spittoon. But Carl had given them others: Odysseus, Tristan or Gulliver. After graduating from high school, unlike his classmates, he did not stop using nicknames. This is how the young punk in the worn-out uniform, whom he always met on the way to the bookstore during his training, became a good soldier Schwejk. The fruit seller, from whom he bought his apples, to the Queen of Snow White - fortunately she refrained from poisoning her fruit. At some point Carl noticed that his city was full of literary figures, and that every inhabitant could find a literary equivalent. Over the next few years he got to know Sherlock Holmes, who headed homicide at the city police, and even Lady Chatterley, who often opened the door in a thin kimono and fell in love with as a young man. However, she then left the city with Adson von Melk. Captain Ahab was possessed by a huge mole in his garden that he could not hunt down. Walter Faber, a seriously ill engineer, brought Carl books on South America until his death. And the Count of Monte Christo had lived in a house with barred windows that had previously been a prison and had kept its new owner in a strange way within its own walls.

He almost always came up with a suitable literary name before he could memorize the real one. As if his memory wanted to protect him from burdening himself with the profane. And from the moment he picked a name, he stopped reading the real ones. On the way from the retina to his brain, for example, the letters of a Christian von Hohenesch miraculously transformed into Mister Darcy without Carl noticing. It was only in special situations that his head took pity on bringing out a worldly name.

His brain no longer had to remember many of them anyway.

Carl's path through the winding streets now led him to a literary figure whose fate was far more gloomy than that of the ultimately happily married British gentleman.

His customer was waiting behind the door and looked through the spy out into the alley, at the few people who were passing by. Nobody strolled here, nobody admired the buildings, because the beautiful ones were several blocks away. In this part of the old town, people walked quickly because they could not bear the oppressive narrowness and it seemed to them as if the gables of the houses were closing above them so as not to let in any more daylight.

The petite young woman behind the spy knew in what time Carl Kollhoff would be with her. She also knew that it was silly to look through the spy for long minutes instead of waiting in the living room for the doorbell to ring, but she couldn't help it. Andrea Cremmen brushed a strand of blonde hair behind her ear and straightened her dress. From kindergarten on, she had always been the most beautiful, which had earned her affection, but also a lot of envy. And an early marriage to a successful man from the insurance industry named Matthias, who also worked late in the evenings and on weekends to keep them safe. Andrea herself was a trained nurse, but now worked part-time as an office assistant in a small family doctor's practice, where she was put at the reception because the sight of her pleased and calmed the patients. Nobody had ever had to tell Andrea to smile, Andrea just did it, it was part of being pretty. Anyone who is pretty and doesn't smile is considered arrogant. So she smiled all day.

She'd never dared not look perfect because what would happen then? What would other people see in her, what would there be anyway? Carl Kollhoff looked like a man you could show yourself to without a smile. Because he would choose the right words to describe what came out. It seemed to Andrea as if he chose his words as carefully as a perfumer chooses the ingredients for an expensive perfume. She stopped smiling and pulled the strand back, allowing herself that little mess of hair.

But when she spotted Carl Kollhoff in the alley, she quickly put it behind her ear again.

Carl rang the bell and waited. Andrea Cremmen always needed a little time to get to the door and was always a little breathless. Still, she always smiled at him happily.

Carl heard the frantic turning of a key in the lock, then the front door opened.

"Mr. Kollhoff, you are early today! I wasn't expecting you yet. I sure look impossible. ”She ran her hair through her beautifully shiny hairstyle, which went perfectly with her elegant dress with the red roses.

Carl found her charming, and yet the sight of Andreas always made him a little sad. Because under all the beauty there was something he couldn't believe - and it had to do with what he was now getting out of his backpack. One of the books that Andrea Cremmen loved so much. Everything was fine with the weight of the book (Carl liked it when books were the right weight: not as light as a bar of chocolate, not as heavy as a liter of milk), it was the weight of the contents that Carl got hold of.

"Is it good?" Andrea Cremmen asked him and straightened the ribbon on the wrapping paper.

"As far as I have heard, Die Schattenrose is in no way inferior to the author's other works."

"Really beautifully dramatic?"

Now it was Carl's turn to smile. There was a silent understanding between them. Whenever he brought her a book, it was always dramatic and ended tragically. In the past, he'd sometimes recommended books with happy endings to her, but she'd never liked them. She found it too far from reality. Andrea Cremmen loved novels in which the main female character suffered and in the end died or was left unhappy and alone. Open ends were only okay if they allowed either one or the other of them.

"I'll be silent as always," said Carl. "How did you like the last novel?"

Andrea Cremmen inhaled heavily and then shook her head. “It was so sad! She went into the water at the end… Why didn't you warn me? ”She pouted playfully.

"I'm not allowed to do that."

He used to wrap her books in brightly colored, cheerful wrapping paper. But it had struck him as a lie.

“Are you bringing me another one next week? I've heard of a novel that is all night in it because it is set in Greenland during the winter. And the main character just lost her child. Do you know that? I thought that sounded really good. "

Carl knew the book. He had hoped Andrea Cremmen would not notice.

"I'll bring it for you." Carl didn't say he'd like to bring it because he wouldn't.

"Can you recommend something else to me?"

“There is now a brand new detective novel set in our city. I haven't read it yet, but it should be quite funny. "

Andrea Cremmen waved it off. "Do you think I would like the book?"

Carl had made it his business not to lie. Once you started a lie, you never got it caught again. "No."

"I feel the same way."

“But it might make you laugh. And you have, I hope, I don't get too close to you, a really nice laugh. You probably know that Charlie Chaplin said: Every day without a laugh is a day wasted. And anyway we have too few days in this world to lose one. ”He had never said anything like that to her. Perhaps the sadness in her was greater than usual that day, and he had felt it? Carl didn't know. Sometimes his mouth said things that were not discussed with his head.

Andrea Cremmen no longer smiled, instead her lower lip trembled slightly. “You just saved my day. Thanks for that! ”And then she quickly closed the door.

Andrea Cremmen had not closed the door for Carl; it was for him the sad, far too young married Effi Briest, whose fate was just as tragic as that of the many women Andrea Cremmen read about. Carl would have loved to do more for her than bring books that proved that others suffered too, but didn't explain how to end the suffering.

Behind the door, Andrea Cremmen suppressed her tears. She would have liked to tell him what happened today. But for that she would have had to look at it again, and she didn't want to. With trembling hands she unpacked the package and began to read in the hallway.

On page one someone took their own life.

A few steps after Carl had walked on, he heard a low moan next to him. When he looked down, a skinny three-legged cat looked up. The fur is shaggy, the ears frayed from all sorts of fights. Carl didn't know if it was a tom or a cat, nor did he know where the animal was at home, if there was such a thing at all. But he knew they were good friends. Others had pets, he had animals for walks.

"Hello dog," he said and smiled. He had given the cat the name because it behaved like one. She walked on foot, sniffed everything and marked her territory. Dog didn't moan, dog growled. When Carl was with his customers, dog never sat down, dog lay down. He could lie anywhere, anytime, on the narrowest banister.

Dog pressed against Carl's pant leg, then ran ahead and looked back at him impatiently. The wise animal seemed to know that the third book he delivered today would have something to eat. Four crossroads away at Elisenbrunnen lived an old lady who was the exact opposite of Effi Briest, downright cheerful and always dressed in bright colors. She often wore two different socks or shoes, or one strap of her dungarees hung half over her shoulder. In her apartment everything was piled up in mountains, between which narrow valleys and ravines ran. The old woman reminded Carl of a character from a children's book, a crazy young girl who made the world the way she liked it. Only the old girl never entered this world, for the open sky frightened her.

It had been a little over seven years ago, a wonderful summer day she had spent with her husband in the garden, in the shade of the walnut tree. Then there was a thunderstorm, it came with rain and storm and above all with brute force. They were already in the house when they noticed that they had left the garbage cans on the street out of sheer idleness - something the neighbors liked to complain about. So her husband went out into the storm, even though she tried to stop him. It's quick, he said, I'll be right back. And: what should happen? The tile had peeled off its own roof and the wind had turned it into a projectile that its head could not oppose.

Since then, she didn't care what the neighbors thought. And since then she had never stepped in the open air.

When opening the door she never said “Hello, Mr. Kollhoff”, “Hello” or “Nice to see you”. She said "woolly", "he traded in smoked cars" or "cattle show". When he rang the doorbell today, she threw him “self-discovery” with a broad grin.

Now it was up to Carl to come up with a believable definition off the cuff.

»Self-exploration describes the path to the realization of what constitutes the innermost core of a self. The term refers to the fairy tale ›The Frog King or the Iron Henry‹, which is found in the first place in the children's and house tales of the Brothers Grimm. The concept of self-exploration is based on the hypothesis that everyone has a frog inside, which they have to transform into a radiant prince through love - in fairy tales, a kiss. The term appeared for the first time in literature in 1923 in Sigmund Freud's work Das Ich und das Es und der Frosch. "

Mrs. Longstocking handed him a cherry drop as a reward. If his explanation was not so fitting, he was given a lemon drop. In return, he gave her the book she had ordered. He always drew a large red flower on her wrapping paper. Ms. Longstocking read everything from classic adventure novels to science fiction and humor. Only light fare, however, nothing that could bring her down to earth.

"The day after tomorrow I have another word for you," she said before closing the door. "A particularly tough nut." Then she leaned over to Dog and gave him something from her trouser pocket, which he swallowed with one bite.

Although Carl's backpack was empty, there was still a customer to go to. Every visit was a pleasure because he had the warmest baritone Carl had ever heard. If you were to upholster a sofa with the sound of a voice, you could only use this man's for it. For Carl Kollhoff he was the reader, based on Bernhard Schlink's novel about the young person Michael Berg, who fell in love with a woman over twenty years older and read to her. Carl's customer, however, presented to the workers in a cigar factory. It had only been founded a few years ago and was the only one in the country.They afforded a reader who read from books the entire working hours, just as was customary in Cuba. The whole thing was mainly a marketing gimmick, which is why the reader didn't earn much, but he loved his work so much that he always wore a scarf around his neck to warm his vocal cords. Outside of the cigar factory, he hardly spoke to spare his voice. So it was a minor sensation that he had called Carl privately to ask him to bring him throat lozenges, which were only available in the pharmacy next to the bookstore. The reader himself did not want to go out into the street because a flu wave was sweeping through the city. Probably for this reason he only opened his door a crack today. After he had accepted the package with the pastilles and gave Carl a grateful smile and the coins including a generous tip (which Carl did not want to accept because he knew how little the reader had), he took a pastille straight out of the jar, before he closed the door of his rented apartment under the roof of the unadorned apartment building. When it was built, savings were made on anything that would have given a building a little beauty or love. It was a useful building, like the cages in which chickens were kept.

Carl was always sad when his backpack was empty, because then he had to go back home. Not that he didn't like his home, but Dog never followed him there, and nobody waited behind the door of his apartment to nudge him with their flank and look at him expectantly when he wanted to be petted. The last section always led him through the city's central cemetery. That calmed Carl. Knowing where his path would eventually end took the latter a little bit of the horror. Which was because of how beautiful the cemetery was. Over two hundred years old, and the large statue of the grim reaper with a bony skull in the center seemed to be smiling knowingly.

Carl's doorbell said E. T. A. Kollhoff. That was a lie, but only half a lie, because the last name was correct. Carl had always admired the writer E. T. A. Hoffmann - because of his initials. Because who owned three? J. R. R. Tolkien, in the music C. P. E. Bach. Three initials had something very special, a lot could hide between them. It was as if there was a secret hidden within them - and the answer to the question why the owner didn't write out any of their first names.

Sometimes letters returned because a new postman didn't know that Carl was hiding behind the letters. But he still didn't change the name tag, he was seventy-two years old and didn't get much mail anyway. And if she did, she was never a reason to be happy, she could do an extra round in the delivery center.

Carl's apartment had too many rooms. There were four of them, plus a small kitchen, a windowless bathroom, and a windowless toilet. Sometimes they seemed like flower beds in which nothing had ever grown. Because two of the rooms were meant for his children. One was supposed to be the girl's room, with a window facing the green courtyard, and another for his son, facing the street, where you could watch cars drive by. But he had never found a woman to have children with. He had kept the apartment anyway. The rent had never been increased in all those decades because it had probably been forgotten.

Here he lived with his family made of paper, which he protected from light and dust in glass cabinets with panes of frosted glass. The books always wanted to be read by him. The way pearls might be worn because they became more beautiful and, even more, like animals wanted to be petted in order to feel loved. Sometimes it seemed to Carl as if all the words in them were from his cells, but Carl knew that over the years he had simply read them into himself.

Carl understood people who collected books like other stamps. Who gladly let their eyes wander over the spine of the book, because people lived in the books to whom they feel connected, because fates took place there that they shared. Or would like to share. Who gathered their books around them as if they were a community of good friends.

Carl hung his green jacket on the hook behind the door, his backpack next to it, and straightened both of them. Then he went into the little kitchen to smear himself black bread with butter and salt at the formica table, with it he drank a glass of sauerkraut juice, and then there was a green apple, quartered.

The apartment was advertised "with a balcony" at the time. But this only consisted of a cast-iron balustrade in front of the floor-to-ceiling double-winged glass door, next to which his old wing chair stood. On it was a book with a receipt as a bookmark. From this place he could see the old town, which he did again now. To see if one of his customers was out or if dog jumped over the rooftops, which he never did. Carl always read to ten on the dot, then washed and went to sleep. When he pulled the covers over himself, he did so knowing that the next day he would again be able to bring some very special books to his very special customers.