What's Black And White And Read All Over?

Upon hearing that I was going traveling in Southeast Asia this summer, my brother Tom---who had done a similar route several years ago when he was eighteen, thus proving that even though he is three years younger than me, he is still The More Exciting One---immediately told me about the travelers' code for sharing books.

Do you know about the travelers' code for sharing books? It's a pretty simple concept, hinging on the fact that even the most voracious reader doesn't want to carry a whole backpack of important literary tomes halfway across the continent, particularly when there are so many antique opium pipes and tie-dyed skirt-trouser combos to be bought and transported home. (An ethnic skort! Can you imagine? I bet it would seem like a really good idea at the time. Right up until the point when you stepped off the airplane and onto the moving walkway down to Immigration and realized that a tie-dyed skirt-trouser-combo, while hot stuff on the streets of Phuket, might not rock the house quite so much when worn to happy hour at the Outback Steakhouse in Peoria, Illinois.)

So if one decides to adhere to the travelers' code for sharing books---and really, if one is traveling on a limited budget and is also taking 14 tank tops, one in every color of the rainbow plus two in colors that haven't yet been discovered, one really should---the rule is that you only bring one book. And then when you have finished this book, you pass it along to someone else, or leave it in the common room of your hostel, or swap it for a new book proffered by someone you meet on the train. This way, you keep reading and reading and reading, without carrying and carrying and carrying. You're only ever as heavy as the book you're currently enjoying.

And this is brilliant in theory! But it's rather more tricky when it comes down to deciding which book to use to launch this whole great chain of literary trading. It has to be something that you'll enjoy, obviously, something that will make the boring hours in transit go faster, but also something with some sort of worth or merit, so that you'll be able to exchange it later for another book without your new traveling friends wrinkling their noses disparagingly and saying, "What? The Babysitters Club? Are you kidding me? But I've already read "Logan Likes Mary Anne!"

There are several books I'm rather keen to delve into at the moment; this one, for example, and also this one. But I'm hardly going to buy them just to give them away again! If I like them---and I rather suspect I will---I want them to stand tall and proud on my bookcase, ready to be taken down and thumbed through when the mood strikes, not tossed into the bottom of some 19-year-old stoner's backpack, the cover ringed with Fanta stains, the pages folded back. Plus: hardbacks! They're heavy!

And did I tell you that books are also hellishly expensive in Singapore? Oh yes, they are. (So are wine and ice cream---the equivalent of $7 a pint for Ben & Jerry's, can you believe it?---but I've found that to be rather beneficial actually, at least to the waistline and the arteries.) So now I'm having to buy an overpriced book that I'm deliberately not going to like enough to keep? The madness! The horror! It's enough to make one wonder if one could possibly deviate from the travelers' code of sharing books and instead write out the whole of Anna Karenina, exam-cheat-style, on one's upper thighs and inner arms, for covert reading at bus stops or in airport departure lounges.

Except you'd totally sweat all the ink off, wouldn't you, in such tropical climes? So instead, you have to find a Starter Book, a relatively cheap paperback that you've wanted to read for years---and "years" is the key here because, truthfully, if you'd wanted to read it that badly, you would have done it a long time ago---and that you don't mind passing along in the full knowledge that a) you'll certainly never see it again, and b) almost every page of it will eventually become spattered with some kind of Asian foodstuff and there'll be ABSOLUTELY NOTHING YOU'LL BE ABLE TO DO ABOUT IT, YOU OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE CONTROL FREAK.

But I think I have finally found such a book! I came across a $4 copy of Captain Corelli's Mandolin a few days ago at an impromptu book fair in the basement of a shopping center, a new copy I might add, which is actually rather worrying as it must have some sort of defect to have been sold at that price, like maybe whole chapters missing or the names of important characters blacked out with a Sharpie. But it fits the bill perfectly for my purposes because I never read it in 1995 when everyone else was reading it, I have very little emotional attachment to it, seeing as it was just a $4 paperback, and, apart from anything else, I've heard it's supposed to be rather good. If you've heard otherwise, of course, don't tell me. Or rather just don't tell the person I'm going to give it to when I'm done.

Filed Under:
Jul 24, 2006

You should go ahead and HOPE that some chapters of that book are missing. The last third is totally fabulous and gut-wrenching. The first two-thirds are like pulling teeth. Over and over.

Jul 24, 2006

But...but...I couldn't do it. I mean, I've given books away while traveling, yes, but I didn't know it was a CODE I was adhering too, and can I just add that I regretted it? My regret is multi-fold, and let's give a few examples of one instance:
1) The book I gave away was a Susan Isaacs thriller. Which means that somewhere, there is a person who only knows me as the procurer of cheap, sexy thrillers.
2) I um, liked the book, and I kind of missed it. And I ended up buying it again on vacation years later. Which is humiliating for so many reasons.
3) I got an old Lucky Magazine in return that had all of the useful codes ripped out of it. It proved that I am a truly horrible barterer, and have no business traveling at all.

Jul 24, 2006

Adhering to, not too. Gah.

Jul 24, 2006

I wish I had known about this rule 4 years ago! I'm always late to the party.

Jul 24, 2006

I think that will be a good choice but if you haven't read Bel Canto by Ann Patchett I've got a paper back I'll mail you.

Jul 24, 2006

An excellent idea.

Speaking of books, how are you liking The Glory of it All? I just bought it and am on chapter 2. It seems very interesting!

Nothing But Bonfires
Jul 24, 2006

Betsy, that's so kind of you! You may think again when you see the mailing rates to Singapore, but still! So kind! Actually, I read Bel Canto a year or two ago, and did enjoy it.

And Janet, it's shaping up to be pretty good so far. Apparently I have yet to reach The Reform School Years where it gets even better. Fingers crossed. I have to admit, I only picked it up because of the title and the cover.

Jul 24, 2006

"Les Liaisones Dangereuses" - Though the title has inexplicably remained in French, the story has been translated into English. Wonderful plot, flowery 18th century language, intrigue, sex, revenge - it's got EVERYTHING.

Jul 24, 2006

the book is WAY better than the movie was. especially since you don't have to actually LOOK at nicholas cage!

Hey I might actually trade you for Logan Likes Maryann (I loved the babysitters club books when I was younger). This whole entry actually reminds me of a story. Once long, long ago when I was still in high school I worked at an outdoor produce stand and I meet all sorts of characters. One in particular was a complete hippy who told me about the merits of "The Beach" and made me promise to read it before the movie came out and ruined it. He had a paperback copy that was completely trashed and basically held together with a rubberband. Maybe this was a backpacker community book, it certainly would have fit.

Jul 24, 2006

Other books I could recommend - but that you may have a hard time giving up are "Suite Francaise" by Irene Nemiovsky, "The Constant Gardener" by John Le Carre and 3 books by Emily Giffin - "Something Borrowed"; "Something Blue" and "Baby Proof". The last 3 you may be able to give up easier than the first 2.

Book sharing has always been very hard for me to do, unless it is something that I liked, not loved. I love to pick up a good book after I have read it and enjoy it all over again. I always admired people who can give books away never expecting them to come home as I think that they are really good at sharing. I can share many things - purses, shoes, clothes - but I never have been able to share books very well. I would be dumb girl travelling, all hunched over, carrying an obscene amount of books around with me - or better yet, spend scads of money sending home reading material once I am finished with it.

The Painted Lily
Jul 24, 2006

I am not good at sharing or loaning out books. It's like I can see the coffee rings forming when the borrower decides to carelessly use my beloved book as a coaster or to prop up their wobbley coffee table. Ugh. Only those with a proven reverence for the written word get to borrow. And I am hard pressed to name a book I own that I'd be willing to part with. I think I'd have to hit the used book store and do as you did: find something interesting that I'd be willing to part with. Ugh. Hi, I'm a Control Freak. Nice to meet you.

This website is a cool concept, though. You can use to to find books which people have left behind on purpose. It has listings all over the world.


Jul 24, 2006

The only person I EVER share books with is my best friend--because she gives them back. And because she shares them with me. And because we always turn each other on to new authors and genres. (Our latest favorite- in case you are interested- is Jodi Picoult. She writes heart breaking, gut wrenching books though...) However, as I was packing the third rather large box of books last night I looked at my husband and actually said that it might be time to get rid of some. But how to choose!?!? Good luck with the swap, keep us posted on what you receive. Hopefully something good enough to read but just OK enough to pass on....

Jul 24, 2006

"The Far Pavilions" got me through several hellish bus rides in Africa one year--I bought it from one of those street vendors in Nairobi. And speaking of which, Khao San Road in Bangkok (aka Backpacker Central) has every book known to man, all of them trade-ins from travelers. Ditto Phuket, ditto Chiang Mai. When I was SE Asia-hopping, going in and out of Bangkok, I used to pick up a Lonely Planet Guide for the next country I was going to and trade in the one from the country I'd just left. Very cheap.

Speaking of which, New Siam Guest House on Soi Chana (or is it Prana?) in Bangkok has really good tuna sandwiches and iced coffee. You know, for those days when you can't face noodles again. Oh, oh! And banana pancakes, on the street, made with condensed milk--the best thing ever! Eat some for me!

Wait, I am off the subject. How did I get here?

Jul 24, 2006

I can't even IMAGINE making this kind of decision. I have a hard enough time choosing books when I'm going on vacation stateside, where there is sure to be a book superstore just around the corner should I happen to read everything too fast. It's the length that really gets me the most: you want the book to be substantial so that it lasts a long time, but then it's heavy... but then what if it turns out to be really boring and you have to slog through page after page of BORING CRAP... ugh.

However, the two undiscovered tank top colors?!? Please disclose. I await your email.

Jul 24, 2006

Hola Holly. Are you planning to hit Nepal on your world sojourn? If so, check out the Barnes and Nobel (note spelling) in Thamel. It has everything and the books are pretty cheap. I left a couple of trashy thrillers behind the chai stand in the Delhi airport. I wonder where they are today... safe travel!

P.S. The heat wave in Charleston is MISERABLE.

Jul 24, 2006

What a coincidence... there's a not all together dissimilar code when visiting Jamaica.

Jul 25, 2006

Hmph. I am not good at leaving books behind ON PURPOSE, yet I love the concept of sharing books. And it is fine if I get noodles all over MY books, but surely I don't want someone else's noodly books. Thank you.

I hope you find the perfect book. I think that Possession by A.S. Byatt would be perfect to haul around as it is long and richly detailed but it is SO GOOD that you probably couldn't leave it. Unless you hid it a very secret place, so that you knew the person that found it would be WORTHY of this good book.

And can we hear it for The Babysitters Club? I am still mad at myself for giving away all my copies.

bad andy
Jul 25, 2006

for those of you who like giving books away for find them check out bookcrossing.com

Jul 25, 2006

Only $7 for Ben and Jerry's??!!! As a Canadian girl in the UK I have had to stop figuring out what I'd be paying in dollars for everything as it would only drive me mad and I would never eat ice cream again, which is not an option I am willing to entertain in a long-term way. B&J goes for nearly £4 a tub and I have to pretend I don't know how many dollars that actually is.

I love trading books while travelling. I once found Into Thin Air in a hostel in Kilkenny. I've found the UK equivalent is umbrella karma, in that I have bought only one umbrella, lost it only to soon find another, and since have lost and found about a dozen umbrellas.

Jul 25, 2006

I live by the book trading code, which is how I came to read "Rabbit, Run" on the beach in St. Barts. NOT A GOOD TRADE.

On an only-sort-of-related note, the Babysitters Club books are being rereleased as graphic novels. Seriously. Check it out.

Jul 25, 2006

Ha, like Betsy, I was thinking of Bel Canto thoughout this entire entry. I think I actually picked that up from the seat-back pocket on an airplane... It sounds like you found a good book for the use, though. I recently finally picked a copy of Snow Falling on Cedars at a used book store. It would also be good for this purpose, if you come across a copy.

I can't wait to hear what sorts of books you get in return!

Jul 25, 2006

Captain Corelli is WAY better than Bel Canto. The Glass Palace would be a good one. I assume you've already read The Time-Traveller's Wife which is awesome. One question - why can't you jsut buy another copy of your favourite book when you get home?!

Jul 25, 2006

You might end up like the paperclip guy (http://oneredpaperclip.blogspot.com/). You start with a paperback and you end up with a villa on Cat Ba island. Just make sure you don't trade in your Crocs! No matter how good the book...

(I never knew about this code when I was traveling. Not being very generous with my books, I used to send every finished book back home to m mother for 5-10 times the value of what I had ever paid for the damn books)

Jul 25, 2006

Brings back memories. Last summer, my starter book in Thailand was Da Vinci Code -- engrossing enough to keep me entertained through the long flight and first few days of the trip. This was after everyone in the world had read it, but before Da Vinci fatigue set in with the movie. My successors at the Thai boxing camp where I left it should have been very grateful.

Years ago in Europe, I traded The World According to Garp with my traveling companion for Contact and then White Noise. Good traveling books.

Jul 25, 2006

Holly, that is the absolutely perfect read-but-give-away book. I read it back when all the kids were doing it. I vaguely recall being entertained. Wishing someone had taken a hard editing pencil to it, but enjoying it nonetheless. But certainly, in no way, is it a book that you will long to hold on to. It is not one to be lovingly thumbed through years hence, or reread (even in sections) to say "hiya!" to old characters.

But it's still got some cache -- I mean, it's no Wakefield twins saga that is Sweet Valley High, but what is? -- so you can get some decent exchange. Well done!

P.s. I wish I had the books you linked to on my bedside table right now; instead I am stuck slogging through the HORRIBLE "Lipstick Jungle" because I am a slut for wine and that's what bookclub picked for this month. Seriously? Candace Bushnell? Blargh.

Nothing But Bonfires
Jul 26, 2006

Nancy, I just finished that horrible piece of trash (I chose it because it was the best of the six books left in the Singapore library WHICH ISN'T SAYING MUCH) and I have to tell you now: DON'T GO ON. IT ONLY GETS WORSE. SAVE YOURSELF, MAN. GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN!

Aug 01, 2006

Not sure why it is that I'm lurking on your ferociously funny site when I'm supposed to be lawyering, but I'm actually in Singapore, and am looking for new homes for some old (and not so old) books. Frinstance, think I have an old copy of Snow Falling on Cedars somewhere. Also duplicate copies of some Alexander McCall Smith. Email me if keen to acquire donated (but intact) reading material. (I'll promise not to turn stalker on you if you promise not to call me "auntie", heh.)