Growing up, I was a total bookworm. I would go to the public library every week and check out around 5 books or so each time. Sure enough, I’d finish them all in a matter of days and then sit on the computer reserving more to go pick up.
There was nothing strange about that. Ok, so maybe I was a little nerdy. Still, going to the library once a week was something a lot of my friends did. It was something that we did at school. There was a book mobile that came to our apartment complex once a week. Checking out books from the library was something that most kids around me did. Some by force and others by choice, but they did it.
For some, it gave them much needed reading practice. For others, it provided an escape from their mundane life. For me, it was pure bliss. I loved it! I loved the anticipation that every turn of the page brought with it. I loved trying to guess the ending. I loved imagining what happened to the characters after the book. I loved choosing the next set of books I’d read.
I never thought of any of that as a luxury though. It was something everybody could do. It was for rich kids, poor kids, black kids, white kids, Christians, Muslims, everybody. What I didn’t know was that this luxury (yes, luxury) isn’t available for people in other parts of the world. As a kid, I rarely thought beyond the kids in my school, let alone country. It didn’t occur to me that finding books to read was a luxury for others.
As I got older, I started my own book collection at home. I would order boxes of books off of ebay. I enjoyed filling bookshelves. I loved going to garage sales and used book stores to add to my collection. Then I moved across the Atlantic to the Middle East to live in Palestine.
Adjusting was an awful and drawn-out process that took around a year. One of the things that made it even harder was not having my collection of books to comfort me. I had only brought one book along with me- The Collected Works of Jane Austen. I read and reread them, but I longed for new or at least different books to read.
After a lot of asking around, I found a bookstore with English-language books. It was tiny, like closet-size. Still, it had books in English. They were expensive though. Gone were the ‘buy 2, get 1 free’ days when I’d sneak 6 books home. I could only really pick one. That day I chose The Color Purple. Now I could switch between it and Jane Austen’s novels. It was better, but still not enough.
I started bringing it up in conversations regularly- where do people get their books from? I only ever got answers about books required at University. Apparently, nobody (or nearly nobody) reads for fun here. I started looking at people in cafes, on buses, in waiting rooms. I never saw people reading.
I asked around some more and my conclusion was right. Most people only associate reading with school. Now I know that not everybody in America reads in their free time, but there is a culture of reading. Barnes&Noble and Borders do have customers who aren’t school-aged or in University. People go there to browse through the aisles and choose books to take to the lake or to the beach with them. People read when they’re on the subway. People read while waiting on the doctor. People read at home in the evenings or on the weekends. Some people more than others, but it’s still there. It’s still a part of the culture. Nowadays, more people are choosing to read on their Kindles and iPads, but reading hasn’t disappeared.
I call reading a luxury for 2 reasons. The most obvious one is that books aren’t easily available in other parts of the world and when they are, they often carry high price tags. That’s not the main reason though. A love of reading is the real luxury. That love of reading gives us knowledge of people and places we’ll never see. It gives us an escape when we need one. It introduces us to amazing characters who we look up to and admire. It lets us experience things some can never even imagine. It gives us hope. It makes our world a little bit brighter or at least a little less lonely.