“The river is within us, the sea is all about us” TS Eliot

I was used to go to the river, it was right there, by my house. But then I discovered that I can also reach the sea on foot. At first an hour long walk to the beach felt a bit too far. I even packed some food and tea as if on a two days hike. But soon I was going there every second day. The sea became my magnet.

Horizon, beach, theatrical sunsets and foamy waves. Seaside is filled with clichés, but the emotions I experience on the coastline are far from banal. Raw and pure, I feel ancient and childlike at the same time. To get under the skin of the postcard sea, to find the words which grub the surface, I turned to writers. My room is flooded with books about seas and oceans, islands and beaches, ships and storms, pirates and mermaids, waves and tides, surfers and sailors, lighthouses and ports, sea gods and drowned ones, selkies and whales. I read and I go to the sea.

In 2018 I have opened a sea library in Jūrmala, where I live, a sea resort city in Latvia, thriving under pine umbrellas on a stretch of land between river Lielupe and the Baltic Sea. Jūrmala translates as ‘the seaside’ and jūra is ‘the sea’. Perfect place for a sea library to wash ashore.

Guiding Lights

I was born in Riga, Latvia, in a family of artists, actors and architects. Spent my childhood summers by a beautiful lake in a triangular house with a roof of reeds, designed by my grandfather, famous Latvian painter Edgars Iltners. He called it “a wigwam”. I’ve been into writing as far as I can remember.

After school I went to study philosophy and started to work in journalism. For four years I worked in an editorial team for a design magazine, for another four served as an editor-in-chief of an online art and culture website, covering contemporary art in Scandinavia, Russia and Baltic countries. There have been many more adventures in between: modeling for friends, writing scripts for a home remodeling TV show and selling linen garments in a design shop. I also wrote a book about my dad, contemporary artist Kristaps Ģelzis.

It was all sweat and fun, but I never felt truly at home in any of those jobs. I loved to write, but there was something missing.

When I was 30, my second son was born before Christmas of 2014; I left everything behind and said bye to all my professional contacts. I wanted to get out of the circle of opportunities and find a completely different ground. With no clue, what’s next, I left Riga and started to live in Jūrmala, a sea resort city that stretches like a snake between river Lielupe and Gulf of Riga, the blue pocket of the Baltic Sea. River and sea can even get as close as 300 meters in one part of Jūrmala. My house is in two minute walk from Lielupe and 15 minute bicycle ride from the beach. I fell in love with water, especially with the ever-changing, brutal and beautiful sea.

I fell in love with books too. During the decade of hectic studying, running around and writing for assignments, I forgot to read for fun, to take my time and find my authors, the kindred spirits. It was Oscar Wilde and his obsessive reading habits that plugged me back to the world of literature. I cherish the “Oscar’s Books: A Journey Around the Library of Oscar Wilde” by Thomas Wright as one of my golden books.

Book by book, I was discovering a world of my own, a world where I felt at home. A world of sea and it’s many layers. Strong inspiration and guide into the depths of the sea in literature and the sea out there was and still is “RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR”, a book written by the ageless Philip Hoare, amphibious being, part whale, part writer.

One sunny summer day when I was reading “The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses” by Kevin Birmingham, the story of Sylvia Beach inspired me to dream of a bookshop and library of my own. All the pieces of puzzle fell in place and I had an idea about a bookshop by the sea with books about the sea. In fact, Beach Books is partly because of Sylvia’s surname, my tribute to her and also to my favourite place on Earth, its edge.

The bookshop is still a dream (I even start to think, that I don’t really need one, the library is so much more wonderful), but I’m already in a beautiful world, living side by side with the seaside and discovering more writers and even more books. Each book gives me a better eyesight.

I started my voyage around 2016 and have collected many sea books since then. This is still a profoundly small collection, but I have decided to share it. In 2018 I have opened a sea library in Jūrmala for locals and others to read. You can borrow a book from the growing collection or I can send it to you by post. Right now the library is in my studio at home, but the books are reviewed and shared also here, for Beach Books to become a flooding resource of sea literature.


Anna Iltnere