November 12, 2010
I grew up in a country where, until a certain time known as Perestroika, you couldn’t just go into a store a buy any book you wanted. And since my family was not part of the elite communist bureaucratic apparatus, we had to find sneaky ways to make books materialize in our house.
For example, you could collect 50 kilograms of old newspapers, and bring them to a special place, where you could exchange them for a coupon for ONE book. They would also give you directions to a store where a potential book could appear. You had to call the store, and ask whether the book had arrived. And if it had, then your task was to get up early, before the store opened, and to stand in line with other lucky recipients of coupons.
There were other methods, too. A friend of mine was in a relationship with the manager of a bookstore, where he had a part-time job as a mover. He had a regular supply of new books, which he let me borrow. When his romantic feelings fizzled out and he found another girlfriend, he still dated the store manager for some time, because of the books. Meanwhile, we, the second-year students of the Faculty of History, whom he lent out the books, encouraged his amoral behaviour. Pretty soon he was found out, though, and the supply of books ceased.
The libraries in the Soviet Union were in a pretty sad state, too.
After the experiences of my youth, my relationship with books became something not quite healthy. Most people might borrow one book a week from the library, if any – meanwhile, I borrow at least five. One about art – a book about some painter. Another about art theory. A third one about art instruction. A fourth one about cooking. And a fifth one is usually a French textbook. There might be a sixth book, usually about sociology.
These days, after ten years of life in Canada, I have actually calmed down a little.
For me, the local library is like a second home. Plus, it is such a joy, and such an achievement of civilization to be able to use the library catalogue from the comfort of your home. For a book maniac like myself, this is one of the advantages of life in Canada.