Saturday, March 9, 2013

I Cannot Live without Books

Thomas Jefferson said this in 1815, and I couldn't agree more. I own lots of books. I used to own many more, but I convinced myself nine years ago that it would be crazy to move them all to Mexico. I agonized over my collection for months, trying to decide which to bring and which to sell or give away. What a mistake! I can't tell you the number of times that I have gone to my shelves looking for a specific book only to realize that I must have gotten rid of it before the move. That is still happening to me nine years later.

I don't own much fiction - only a few favorites. Most fiction, for me, is to read only once, so I've usually relied on libraries for my fiction fix. Or paperbacks.

The books I own are the ones that I go back to over and over again. I have a large collection of Lonely Planet travel books about places I have been and a few about places I want to visit. I keep the used ones because they remind me of my trips and help me remember just which village I was in when ______ happened or the name of that little hotel where I stayed.

I also own quite a bit of travel literature, books about women traveling alone and books about being in different areas of the world. I always tell myself that I should be writing these, but I never seem to get around to it.

I have lots of books about Japan: history, culture, art, textiles, architecture. I have pretty much the same collection for Mexico. These were bought to learn about the countries where I have lived; kept to remember what I knew and loved about that country. (That is present tense for Mexico; with all of its faults, I still love it here.)

I think it is interesting to look at the books people have in their homes; you can tell so much about them. I also have books about health and fitness, gardens and gardening, architecture - I love old Islamic buildings and Arts & Crafts bungalows - and lots of books about art and artists. All of these books are in my living room. I also have a bookshelf in my office with books about writing, lots of art magazines, and more than one shelf of cookbooks. My favorites are the ethnic cookbooks that also have beautiful photos and tell about the traditions of growing, cooking, and eating the local foods.

This love of books is in my genes. My mother and father were always in the middle of one book or another. I can remember going to more than one library for story hour when I was very young. And I passed this love of reading on to my children.

My favorite uncle was a book-binder. I never grew out of the sense of awe I felt when touring the bindery. And he had a wonderful collection of ancient books from all over the world. I always got goose-bumps when I thought about the history contained in that cabinet. I once attended a show of artistic books and bindings at the Portland, Oregon, library. When I mentioned to the docent that my uncle was a book binder, I found out that he was very well-known all over the world. In case you are interested, you can find out about Uncle Mel here.

So that should give you an idea why I am a bibliophile. When I still lived in the states, I used to go to the library quite often. I rarely made it beyond the New Books shelves. I could easily stack up all I was allowed before I had a chance to move on to the regular shelves. And that is why I ended up where I am in Mexico.

I was worried about how I was going to find my regular "book fix". (I can and do read Spanish - probably better than the average Mexican - but it is a chore compared to reading in English.) Then I found out about the Lake Chapala Society in Ajijic with its relatively large library of English-language books. That was pretty much all I needed to decide that this was the place to retire.

A few years ago, I decided that the membership fees had grown to the point where the library was not worth the cost. Then Terry surprised me by buying us both Nooks. At about that same time, my daughter moved away from San Francisco and gave me the access information to her library card there. What a treat to have access to that ebook collection! Unfortunately, it turned out that a Nook, at least my model, holds only about 35 library books. Once they've expired, I can't access them, but I also can't clear them from the Nook very easily.

Then I got my MP3 player. Once I download a book from the library, it stays on the player and is accessible until I delete it. Now I can "read" when I'm walking or mopping the floor or working in my garden. This is definitely the way to go for many books. I don't get to hold the book, turn the pages, smell the ink and the glue in the binding, but I'm also not tied to my desk or favorite reading chair at home.

The problem is - horrors! - the library card expires March 24. I am already suffering withdrawal symptoms. I have about 45 books still waiting to be "read" - fiction, non-fiction, French language books - but I am already dreading the arrival of that date when I will have to cut my umbilical cord to a large American library.

I have heard that the Queens, New York, library has the largest collection of ebooks and audiobooks in the US. And they sell library cards to non-residents for $50 a year. I am working on figuring out how to get one of those cards. I would happily pay that $50 to continue having access to a good library.

I will still buy books on every trip north of the border. But my Lonely Planets now come to me electronically on my iPod Touch. Even the best computer or electronic reader cannot do justice to some of the books I love the most. But I am learning to use the library for most books and save my money for the really good ones that I will enjoy over and over.


  1. I agree it's interesting to look at the books people have in their homes, and that the books tell you a lot about the people. What are we gonna do when all our books are on electronic devices?

  2. I work in a library, and you should be able to update your library card. Our cards need to be renewed every 3 years, we just do it on the patrons account. No problem, just call or have your daughter if its her card.