I’ve lived in China for almost six years. Aside from friends and family, there are few things that I truly miss about life in the United States. Interestingly, those few things can be alliteratively summed up in three words: baseball, beer, and books. Chinese people don’t like baseball, local beer all tastes like skunked Keystone Light, and English books are expensive and hard to come by. Once a year, I make a trip home to visit with family, see friends, and gorge myself on the three B’s.
Buying books in China is possible but it’s as if you had to do all your book shopping at a Wal-Mart: lots of mass-market thrillers and romances, best-selling popular fiction, self-help nonsense, and Harry Potter. There are also plenty of classics available. If you’re looking for a decent collection of contemporary fiction, there are very few options on the mainland (with some exceptions in the bigger cities). Cost is also a prohibitive factor. Books tend to be at least 50% more expensive than their cover prices. Amazon will deliver to China, but shipping alone usually costs more than the actual book.
So, my trips home every summer usually end up with me using a half of my airline baggage allowance on a suitcase full of books. I have a friend who has avoided this problem by buying a Sony e-book reader. Without getting into that debate, I’ll just say that I’m hopelessly old-fashioned in this regard and enjoy the tactile sensation of holding a paper book.
I’m also a bit of a compulsive buyer when it comes to books and, as I see it, there are far worse compulsions to be afflicted with. I love the feeling of snooping around a musty used book store and walking out with enough books to strain my shoulder carrying them. Before I came to China, this wasn’t a problem – the books would all go on my massive bookshelf and I’d get to them eventually. Having to lug a suitcase full of them half way around the world makes it a bit more problematic, so I try to curb my purchasing habits as much as I can. Still, I always end up with more books than I could possibly pack and have to abandon some to a box in my parents’ basement. Always sad, but the silver lining is that I have a box of forgotten titles that I can sift through upon my next return.
Next week, I leave for my annual trip home. Over the past month or so, I’ve had a list by my computer where I jot down titles or authors that I want to look for while I’m back in the US. It’s by no means comprehensive – I won’t buy all of these books and I’m sure that I’ll pick up many others that aren’t on the list. But, it’s a good place to start as I hop from flea market to used book store to garage sale to Barnes and Nobles.
I’ll post my list here – it’s handwritten, but I think it should be legible. Barely. Any comments or suggestions would be most welcome. Cheers!