I have never thought of myself as a book snob. I was an English major and have thus read a large majority of that which is classified as “classic literature,” but I’ve by no means restricted myself to reading just high-brow literature. Along with the Secret Garden and Little Women, I loved, as a child, the Babysitter’s Club and all the R.L. Stine horror books. I cried reading The Notebook, and I’ve laughed at all kinds of low-brow “literature.” I read books that end up on the NY Times Bestseller List and books from the Washington Post Book Review’s year-end best lists. I like to read. Period.
Or at least that’s what I thought. Then I met the book exchanges of South America. Dear Lord, I’ve never seen such crap—and I’m not just talking about the one or two shelf exchanges; I’m also talking about the full book store exchanges.Every single Danielle Steele book ever written, plus every single knock-off of a Danielle Steele book, has made its way onto a book exchange bookshelf. The best of chick-lit, oh yeah, that’s there too. John Grisham, Dan Brown, Stephen King, and Tom Clancy are the Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez of the traveling world. Given, all of those guys are popular and they aren’t terrible per say (aside from Dan Brown’s dialogue), but they aren’t exactly quality. And who the heck is it that’s carrying around the hard back versions of these books? Seriously, in nobody’s world are they good enough to be worth adding a good 5 pounds to your backpack.
As for good books, well, on occasion we do find them. The problem? Well there’s two. The first is that I’ve probably already read it. That’s the downside to being a prolific reader. The second problem is that it’s probably in Dutch. Apparently people from the Netherlands have good taste in books. Unfortunately, that’s a language I haven’t yet mastered.
So here I am languishing away in bad book world, forcing myself to put down the few good books I read after just a chapter or two rather than devouring them as I normally would, because then I’d be left with nothing. It’s tragic. Really, if you asked, it might be the worst part of the trip so far. Fingers crossed, African and South East Asian travelers have better taste, but I’m not holding my breath.