Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: culture shock, literature, peace corps, reading
I’ve been in America over a week now, I’ve been in one library and three bookstores, so it seems time to make the promised “what it’s like going into a bookstore for the first time in two years” post.
It’s really confusing.
Actually, as far as culture shock goes, the grocery store is a better indicator than the bookstore. In the months leading up to my flight home I had countless dreams about visiting an American grocery store, about half ending with me weeping in an aisle while waiting for my mother to find me. My first trip to a store, made the same night I landed, ended with my mother pulling me around while I pointed down aisle after aisle, shouting variations on, “An aisle of SOUP! Who needs a whole AISLE of soup?! Half an aisle of TISSUES?!” and laughing so hard I started to cry. The second trip, to a WholeFoods, saw me picking up item after item, saying its name, saying its price, and replacing it on the shelf. The third visit, my mother told me to pick out a salad dressing and I started to cry because there were too many and I didn’t know which type would be best.
Now that I’ve been here a week, though, I’ve recovered enough that I can walk down the aisles exclaiming over all the new types of M&Ms and Keebler cookies without giving in to tears. I’m trying to get you ready for the experience of going into a bookstore, though, which isn’t shocking in the same way a visit to a grocery store is – somehow, I don’t get weepy when I see how many books there are – but is in terms of pricing, for someone who gets a $200 living allowance a month. I went to The Strand in Manhattan, a bookstore that I didn’t like before (too big, poorly organized, shelves are so high you can’t see the top two or three rows of books, little quality control [my favorite bookstores only sell "good" books, which may be why they aren't around for long]) and don’t like now, then on to St. Mark’s bookstore, which I liked and still like. At St. Mark’s, though, I kept building and diminishing my pile, because I couldn’t imagine spending money on so many books. So, pick up McSweeney’s and The Believer, add Matterhorn, return McSweeney’s and The Believer, pick up Electric Literature, pick up Joe Sacco’s Notes from Gaza, return Matterhorn, pick up Bitch Magazine, stare at pile of books and magazines until friend reminds me that I can purchase the books instead of just looking at them. Or a few nights ago, when I got Goon Squad, Game of Thrones and The Blind Assassin, and got all weepy looking at the prices, even when my dad said he would pay for them. (And he, by the way, got Matterhorn. A copy for me to steal!…in a year.)
I never thought I would say this, but America has too many books, and every time I’ve been in a bookstore or a library so far, I’ve gone in with a clear idea of what I want. Goon Squad was the first book I thought of buying after booking my flight home, and because these books are “extra precious” to me in that they’ll be the only ones I buy for a year, and the ones that come back to Macedonia/Albania with me, I can’t even begin to entertain the thought of buying a book that is “unknown” to me. My hesitance to try a book by an author I don’t know much about is heightened by the cost of doing so; I can’t help but convert prices into Macedonian denars, and figuring that a paperback costs 750 denars (that’s probably more than I spend on my groceries in a week) is pretty good incentive to NOT buy.
Other books coming back to Macedonia with me, if you were wondering: DFW’s Pale King, John M. Thompson’s The Reservoir, The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, a new Albanian-English dictionary.
It may not sound like I am enjoying the wealth of books here, but I am. I’m also enjoying buying The New York Times every day.