Friday, 6 January 2012

Booked Up: the joys of book swapping around South American hostels.

It begins as a mild gnawing panic that grows as your fingers flick quickly - counting the pages remaining of your current book. It's your last one. You're in a bus terminal in Uruguay with a 22 hour journey ahead of you.

I've become a junky - I need to know, as we travel, where my next bookshelf hit will come from. I need at least one book stashed in my backpack incase I can't get to the next supply in time. 

Before going travelling I thought of myself as a 'slow reader'. It took me, for example,three months to finish Mitchell's 'Cloud Atlas' loving every slowly digested sentence. But outside the rhythm of my usual life I'm gobbling down a book every few days.

Delightfully, most hostels have a bookswap shelf. Occasionally dusty, yellowing titles in a frustration of German, Swedish and Spanish. But often flourishing with a gorgeously eclectic selection to choose from. And always at least one book I've always wanted to read and not got round to or something I would normally not touch with a barge pole. Reading, at home, is a precious investment of my 'slow readers' time not to be wasted on rivolous things (I'm only going to live so long and there's too many amazing books to squander on badly written ones) But travelling, with my newfound speed-read skills I've got freedom to read anything on offer. Even the trashy stuff...

I've swapped my way through hostels in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecaudor, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil. I sucked up my crime fiction snobbery and thoroughly enjoyed a Kathy Reichs and developed a girl crush on Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta. I finally got round to reading David Nicholls´ ´One Day´ and Marquez ´One Hundred Years of Solitude´. Both brilliant. the list goes on....

There is a good earthliness about book swapping. And, better to give than recieve,  there´s something wholesome about leaving a cracker behind you. I don´t know what writerly stance to take on this circulation of a book for free. As someone who shuns illegal downloading (morally... and also because I´m afraid of the internet police) is this a tiny bit similar? But no... actually if it was some book I´d written, I think I would be pleased. My story, travelling around the world like a little stowaway, languishing in hostels until jumping the next appropriate backpack out of there. 

Right. Off to the beach with ´The Talented Mr Ripley´. A Caipirihna and some casual psychopathy; what a perfect way to conclude our travels. Home in just a few days... when my snail pace reading will surely resume.

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