Biblioteca in the Age of Barnes and Noble
Right up there with certain breakfasts, English language bookshops here are in short supply. And books here are frighteningly expensive--10 USD for a crummy paperback. Book buying is not subject to willpower and never has been for me. My thought process being something like this: "Books--educational--preeeetttyyyy--eeeeeenteresting--do I have enough money?---Ah, but it's a book. It is like kale for my brain and kale is so good for you." Cha-ching.
Since my embarkation on expatriate existence, I have found myself slowly re-buying books of Suya past--books that I am simply can't live without. The Great Gatsby, I am looking at you. The road to hell is paved with copies of the Essential Hemingway. I have been known to buy a certain fashion magazine once or twice as well and that all adds up.
A friend in the know happily recommended the library. The Neilson Hays Library to be exact-- an English language library founded in 1869 by the Ladies' Bazaar Association to serve the needs of the English-speaking community. That's the reign of Chulalongkorn or Rama V, for those of you playing the home game. It's in a beautiful tranquil period building complete with leather chairs and white walls.
I joined the library in true harried New Yorker fashion, stomping in a half hour before closing time and racing around frantically trying to remember what I wanted. All of their books are arranged in wood and glass cabinets which don't lend themselves to frantic farang whipping them open to get at the goods. And they have a great little collection of books, enough fiction to last me out my days here in Bangkok. And when the librarian told me the fine for returning a book late, we both broke out in laughter: 5 baht a day.
I am ashamed to say that I had forgotten about libraries. Why hadn't someone thought about this before?, I caught myself thinking. What a revolutionary idea! And I now wonder what it's like growing up with Amazon and Barnes and Noble and the act of buying and possessing a book so much a part of the charm. When we were children, we were allowed to buy a book pretty rarely. And I read so fast that I probably finished the thing shortly after dinner.
But at the library, I could take out as many books as I wanted. And I did, especially in summer. Stacks and hauls of books checked out with the heavy clunk of the machine that stamped the due dates. When I was 8 or 9, I must have drunk gallons of lemonade working my way through all of the Nancy Drew mysteries.
A more recent library memory was in Brooklyn, where I had likewise lugged home a trove of books. After a bad breakup and months of letting everything pile up around me to the point of becoming my own archaeological site, I dragged the books back to Grand Army Plaza, after hours, and dumped them in the book drop, like a wise guy or a criminal and never ever went back to face the fine. I have a feeling it was more than 5 baht a day.