The English Book
Monday at 2:26 pm
The book appeared in my mailbox last week. Didn’t take Sherlock to know that it was a book. The package had the name of an Ebay reseller, Discover Books, on the two-piece brown mailers sealing the contents tightly within.
“Your book came,” I said to my husband.
“I didn’t order a book,” he responded.
Can’t blame the dog, she’s been dead for 10 years. Since sheltering in place during Covid-19 and with the limitations our library system has struggled with to keep the public safe, we’d both been buying secondhand books from resellers on Ebay.
Puzzled, I took the kitchen scissors from their Marie Kondo-organized drawer. Sniping one side of the mailer to release the book within. I didn’t recognize the title of this one.
Or did I?
I remember that on my adult daughter’s excited suggestion, so I ordered a secondhand copy of the Pulitzer Prize winning book, Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, copyright 1999.
I always listen to my offsprings’ suggestions.
What a story the cover of the well-used paperback told. A yellow yellowing sticker identified it as having been from the Santa Barbara Public Library, another SKU with an identifying number and a red dot on the spine. Originally priced at $13.00, I’d paid $3.49 plus tax. Slow, but free USPS shipping was included.
Another book for my pile of TBRs, or ‘to be read’ books that I always keep on hand. It’s an old habit that I developed while living abroad where English libraries weren’t available and the only English books were super-expensive IF they were available.
In 1972 Peru with no access to English books, I read whatever was at hand. The thin aerogram-like paper of international versions of Newsweek or Time magazines. The Spanish toothpaste tube in the bathroom. In the missionary’s home, where we house sat their dog, I was thrilled to find an old English encyclopedia to read. I made it up to B or C as I remember.
1979 Paraguay I joined my first English book club where the one and only purpose of the group was to pool and share books. The friend’s husband who lent volume 1 and 2 of The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by William S. Baring-Gould, rekindled my passion for the series as I read by kerosine lamp during the frequent power outages.
In 1983 Curacao the one-and only- English subscription book club was fully subscribed by women who would live on the island forever-so no room for me. At their monthly meetings members took turns choosing the books they’d take home for the month. Making friends with one member, she offered to share her monthly stash of reading material. Sworn to secrecy, I never told anyone about my secret access.
And it did beat the local boekhandel (bookstore) with their random selection of imported books. Popping into when I’d time, I’d scour the shelves for any sale book that would only cost double what it was priced at in Europe or North America.
In days before Kindle and portable e-books, English books were pricey treasured tomes.
In 1986 Ecuador, we moved into a company house with my two books. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer and a microwave recipe book that came with my first microwave. I read both, cover-to-cover, practicing the lessons of how to cook with a microwave just because. By the time our container of household goods came, I couldn’t wait to find my limited stash of books.
By the time we moved to Mexico City in 1995 I’d learned my lesson so brought some–but not enough–books in our household goods. Over the first year of our six years there, I made friends with a woman who went to a couple of subscription book clubs. Once again my friend passed books to me, after she’d read them, but before they were due back at her book club.
A new source of English reads appeared at some international meeting, when a woman appeared with boxes of used paperback books for sale. At 10 pesos a book, or just under one US dollar, she used the money to help lower income Mexicans who couldn’t afford to neuter their pet dogs and/or cats. When she was to move back to America, she asked if I wanted to continue the de facto charity.
I did. Just thinking about all of those books made my skin tingle.
So I continued the charity collecting donations of hardback and paperback books, VHS videos in those late 1990s, pre-DVD days, keeping the books at home for expats perusal. When we moved back to America, I turned out the lights on the charity, donating the remainders to another charitable reseller of secondhand English books.
So with this new-to-me book before me, despite the foxing of the pages I began to gobble up the pages like samples at Costco.
Thanks Jen. It’s yet another fascinating book.