Everyday life in an extraordinary place.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bookworm Blues

This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 3 July 2005.

In the words of the immortal Sesame Street song, "I'm a bookworm, baby/Reading books is what I do..." But try to imagine moving to a place where books are not nearly as readily available, or as inexpensive, as you are used to. Since moving to Israel, I have gone from purchasing an average of ten books a month to about three. Luckily, I brought along 39 boxes filled with books (and that after giving away who knows how many books I thought I'd never read again). I would estimate that since moving here, I have re-read about 85% of the books I brought with me.

That's not to say I haven't bought any books since I made aliyah. Ten years ago, there were two main options for buying books in English in Israel. I could scout out small, independent bookstores (including second-hand bookstores, like my local shop, The Reader's Corner) and hope they had something I wanted, or go to a branch of the outrageously expensive one major bookseller then in existence. Since then, a second chain has begun operating here, and their prices are marginally better. On a recent trip to the latter (Tzomet Sefarim, or the Book Junction) I picked up a number of titles, including the book I just finished reading, The Secret Life of Bees (by Sue Monk Kidd). It cost me 88 NIS, or slightly more than $5 over the retail price listed on the book. I have tried ordering books from Amazon, but the shipping charges are prohibitive. If I'm going to overpay for my books, I'd like to at least be able to start reading them as soon as I've plunked down my credit card, and not have to wait 4 - 6 weeks. Right now, I'm looking forward to starting the last book I bought, The Israelis (by Donna Rosenthal).

My home library has also expanded greatly thanks to Scholastic, Inc. I now have a wonderfully varied children's library of over 500 titles, which I am delighted to share with the many students I know. I have enjoyed many of those books, myself. I have revisited childhood favorites, and read some of the newer kids' books (though I draw the line at the Mary Kate and Ashley series!). Not only does my children's library offer me fresh reading material, I am better able to recommend books to the students who are looking for something to read.

I can't remember when I first got hooked on reading. It seems to be something I've always done. From the Nancy Drew series (which initiated my addiction to mysteries) to the Little House books, I have always loved getting lost in a story. From my high school years, the books that stand out in my memory are The Hobbit (by J.R.R. Tolkien) and Night (by Elie Wiesel). Of the books I've read since moving to Israel, the most memorable are Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal (by Rachel Naomi Remen), a book my mother gave me; A Psalm in Jenin (by Brett Goldberg); and Down the Great Unknown (by Edward Dolnick), a book I bought while on vacation in the Grand Canyon last summer, and which renewed my interest in reading historical non-ficiton.

Speaking of vacations, I always take the opportunity, while on trips to America, to stock up on books. I usually purchase enough to fill an entire suitcase, then end up reading half of them before I even get home. There is a special thrill these days in walking into one of the many fabulous American bookstores, breathing in that special bookstore smell, and knowing that all the books I see are written in a language I can read with ease.

Of course, I do alot of reading on-line these days. The Interent has been a wonderful boon to people like me, who are starved for new things to read. I have become a fan of quite a few blogs. In fact, it is thanks to AbbaGav's blog that I chose to write about this topic. Funny how some things become an accepted part of your life without any consciousness awareness. If AbbaGav hadn't tagged me for the book meme, it could have been months or years before I thought to write about the insufficiency of reading material for English speakers in Israel. Maybe that means that I am not overly inconvenienced when it comes to finding new things to read, after all.

On the other hand, I wonder how long it will take for my pre-ordered copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to arrive...

(c)Amy Samin

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