No author is an island

July 22, 2010, No comments

The thing about writing a book is that it gets published and sent out into the world, and then as the author you often have no idea what people think of it. Of course there are official reviews, which are great to read when they say things like “Diccon Bewes has the Bryson touch” or “a mix of loving irony and a well trained eye for eccentricity”. But what has surprised me most in the last few weeks is how many emails I have received from complete strangers. People who have taken the time to google me, find an email address on this blog or my website, and write me a sincere note about how much they have enjoyed the book. In all my years as a reader and bookseller, I don’t think I have ever done that, no matter how much I have loved the book. Or even hated it!

So thank you everyone who’s written to me. Your emails mean that I’m no longer working in a vacuum, no longer an island. And I thought if Amazon can do it, so can I. Maybe some of you reading this would like to know what other people thought of the book. And not just journalists or professional book reviewers, but regular readers from Switzerland, Britain, America and beyond. I’ve put together a permanent page of reviews, but here are a few teasers, all from Swiss readers:

  • That is by far the best book I have ever read about my country.
  • My sudden outbreaks of laugh earned strange looks from people around me. (They must have been Swiss as well).
  • I am in the middle of your book and JUST LOVE it. This is the travel book to Switzerland I always waited for.

Among all the emails from far-flung places, and Zurich, was one that made such an impression that I want to share a little of it with you. It began: “I’m sure you are bombarded with emails telling you how fantastic Swiss Watching is, but my email is of a slightly different nature.  The book is fantastic, to be sure. However, while travel and humour appeals to me, it’s what your book has done for my romantic life that is most astonishing.  And so begins a love story…”

This lovely Canadian lady then told me of her twelve-year search for happiness with a Swiss man. It was a long-distance relationship involving years of sweet correspondence and love but also plenty of discussion and  frustration. And years of not truly understanding what made him tick. Then last month he gave her a copy of Swiss Watching. She wrote:

“It changed everything.  What you present as lighthearted and loving observations and stereotypes helped me see him for who he is.  He admits now that if he knew how observant you were, he wouldn’t have rushed to read this book.  And he certainly would not have bought me a copy.  You made me love him and his country more.  The things that bothered me about his Swissness are now so incredibly endearing that I can’t believe I came so close to dismissing this relationship and a future in his fascinating country. You were right about so much.  You covered so many little quirks that he and I have discussed over the years.  I too opened a window on a tram and was treated with disgust…I noticed a lot of red shoes.  Our text messages often have references to ‘db’…when we see or read something that reminds us of you.” She ended with:  “Thank you so much for this book.  It has had a profound impact on two lives, and brought us so much closer together.  This book and your talent is truly a gift.  I’ll be forever grateful that you shared it with us.”

Wow. Naturally, I replied – who couldn’t answer such an email? It was almost impossible for me to believe that my book could have such an effect.  Two and a bit years ago I set out on a journey around Switzerland, trying to uncover the soul of this quirky country; that journey had a happy ending for me. And, it seems, I was not the only one. My book had become the catalyst for a cross between Brief Encounter and You’ve Got Mail. How wonderful! How unexpected but truly heart-warming. So I’ll leave the last words of this post to one very special reader:

“What we both marvelled at the most was how much love for the country you can get in between the lines of this book.  It’s a love letter to Switzerland, in a language it doesn’t even speak.  I just hope it knows how lucky it is.”

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