Life's vagaries explained through football, food, travel and canines.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

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.


Blogger Newley said...

Great post. Yay books! Yay libraries! :-)

1:09 AM


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