Bad News Book Exchanges

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.

7 Replies to “Bad News Book Exchanges”

  1. I guess this is one situation in which the Kindle might come in handy… is there any place where you know you’ll be in a month or so? I’d be happy to send you a couple books!

  2. The first time we set off in Southeast Asia, we carried a hardback version of Don Quixote – think a very heavy brick in your backpack. We had just moved and had sold almost everything, but something made us keep this book, as impractical as it was. We had read great things about the new translation so we lugged it around until we both had finished it. It’s not something I’d do again, but it somehow seemed appropriate for the start of our journey that some people thought was crazy.

    As for the book exchange, I understand your pain. One gets so excited to find a used book store or book exchange at a guest house and there is absolutely NOTHING worth reading. Or, you do find an English language book store but the cost to buy the new book you want costs the same as a week worth of eating. Central Asia and Burma were bad for this. On the bright side, Bangkok is pretty great for exchanging and buying books because of the sheer number of people coming and going.

    We were thinking of buying our South America guidebook (used) while in Central America. Are relatively recent guidebooks easy to find in book exchanges/used book shops? We’re just trying to reduce the number of books we carry at one time.

  3. Hey if you guys are looking for cool stuff to do in Ecuador after the Galapagos, I can recommend an AMAZING rainforest lodge in Puerto Quito (halfway between Atacames and Quito) – website is and it’s a great place to spend a few days in a comfy tree house for a couple of days with delicious meals and great excursions. It’s $/45pp/day (including all meals and excursions) so might not be shoestring enough but check it out! I was there in 07 and LOOOOVVEEDDD it.

  4. So there’s no magical answer? I thought for sure that Theresa would have figured out a way to have a steady stream of readable books… I blame the other travellers for populating the book exchanges with the same four authors.
    I always struggle with this problem–for a two week vacation last year I think I packed 6 books. They were heavy. Not practical for a long trip where you haul your stuff around. I guess you’re not in any place long enough to join a library, although library cards from a bunch of different countries sounds fun, doesn’t it?

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