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Tou Theou Ta Pragmata

By on April 2, 2024
Dimitri C. Michalakis

by Dimitri C. Michalakis

This month’s issue features our story about Somerset Hall Press, a publishing company that has been a labor of love for Dean Papademetriou, a lawyer by day, a publisher by night, who has published over 40 books close to his heart since he started the press in 2001. One of them is a collection of the stories and poems of his late uncle, John, who was killed during the Korean War. Another is by his mother, Presvytera Athanasia, on the Virgin Mary, Still another is a graphic novel about the catastrophe of Smyrna. And he publishes them the old-fashioned way: he prints them. “We Greeks have a respect for books and something that’s on paper,” he says. “We like something tangible.”

My father was an educated man (an education hard-earned: he came from poverty and five years serving in the civil war in Greece to earn a PhD from Columbia) and our house was studded with books: the complete volumes in green leather binding with brown brittle pages and written in katherevousa of Paparrigopoulos, biographies of Churchill and Roosevelt and Eisenhower, textbooks with serrated edges on Greek pedagogy, complete Time-Life editions of ancient civilizations, and the Old West, and World War II, Reader’s Digest condensed books; and in the basement, neatly tied and labelled in stacks like a wall made of paper instead of brick, the complete issue of the magazines Time and Life and Look, stretching back to when Kennedy was assassinated and continuing till they ran out of business.

And the prized possession of my grandfather back in Greece, the man who sent my father to school instead of making him work in the fields the rest of his life, were books in his old green military chest with the metal clasp that contained workbooks in Greek (he taught himself how to read), with illustrations of Hercules and Poseidon, a biography of the strongest man of Greece, and a book about a celebrated shrine, all in those pages that you had to cut, so they were all serrated like a knife.

My son-in-laws read on Kindle (my daughters, true to faith, read actual books) and I have more books than I can read in my lifetime, everywhere in the house, my bedroom, my office, our basement, our garage. A life without books would not be complete and the sheer wisdom and pleasure they give you is incomparable: it’s like talking privately to the greatest conversationalist in the world and the greatest storyteller. It’s like going everywhere and anywhere in history and being there to witness it: it’s like seeing a movie in your head, in a theater of your own.

Dean Papademetriou is right that books, books on paper, and education itself, are our cultural legacy as Greeks and a hunger that we all share as a people. Remember the old school song about learning grammata, tou Theou ta pragmata? As Greeks, our faith is strong, but our faith in our books is almost as strong. Happy reading.

About Dimitri C. Michalakis

Dimitri C. Michalakis is Editor in Chief on NEO Magazine.