Sunday, February 7, 2010

Starved for Books

I have a few select family members and friends with whom I talk books on a regular basis. We often ask, "So, what have you read lately?" When asked this myself, I find my initial and most common response is inevitably "nothing."

Of course, this response does not really mean "nothing." It usually means I have read a couple of novels this week and some articles, but that they weren't interesting, or well-written, or noteworthy enough for me to recommend, mention, or even finish.

My response is not dissimilar to the sentiment of former students who used to tell me, "I hate reading." I would go along with this until I caught them reading some juicy (and forbidden) note from a peer while they should have been anxiously engaged in the study of a Nathaniel Hawthorne text (unfathomable, I know). I liked to point out that everyone likes reading if they know how, they just have to have the right material in front of them.

So, I go to the library once a week and stand in front of endless shelves of varied prose, looking for "the right material," and sigh like those snobbish rich girls in teen movies who look at their well-stocked closets and say they have nothing to wear.

A couple of months ago, a member of my book club was talking about the two years she spent living in Egypt, and how she was "starved for books." She then proceeded to talk about how libraries were non-existent or depleted, and how the mail system made buying books online impossible. She said that there was a certain guide book she read and re-read just to be reading.

The thought of not actually having access to books is a jarring blow to my perspective. It calls to mind the fact that there were/are times where books were not available to regular people like me. It makes me think of my shelves and boxes full of books, and how the only books I ever re-read are the ones I love.

I would like to say that after hearing about this woman's experience I have developed a whole new approach to books. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I cannot honestly say that I still don't go to the library and turn my nose up at my choices. I have not picked up Great Expectations for the fourth time and actually finished it. Nor have I pulled one of my husband's economics books off the shelf on a slow evening and delved in.

However, I do feel a greater appreciation for the options on those many library shelves. I do understand a little better my own spoiled blessedness in my many choices. I also feel even more triumphant when in my picking and choosing books I actually happen upon something brilliant, funny, or inspired and realize there is likely, somewhere, more where that came from.