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Poverty and Books

Money is a very touchy subject. It is one of the few things that will end family relationships, marriages, and friendships. People don't realize just how emotional the subject of money is or the far reaching consequences of not having money.

Recently I read Seanan's post called Across the Digital Divide. It's a good article and worth reading. Trust me.

For those who feel it is TL;DR – to quote Seanan, This doesn't change the part where, every time a discussion of ebooks turns, seemingly inevitably, to "Print is dead, traditional publishing is dead, all smart authors should be bailing to the brave new electronic frontier," what I hear, however unintentionally, is "Poor people don't deserve to read."

The thing that struck me about Seanan's post was how right she was.

I grew up poor. Three kids, enlisted Army father, stay at home mother to begin with. Luxuries were not in the budget. Period. That included books. It affected me. I wrote about it in my finance book, The Little Finance Book That Could, which is the finance book I wish I had read when I entered college.

Library books were the only new books I read. Or, I was gifted the rare book here or there. Otherwise, I read what was in my mother's personal library, collected and cared for over years. Going to the library became a treat in my tween period while I lived in Belgium. That was when I discovered Susan Cooper and suddenly understood that books meant that I could travel to whole new worlds.

But with all that, I did not by a book for myself until I was twenty-three. Me, the owner of some 1500 books, didn't buy my first book until I was out of college and had moved out of my parent's home.

Why? Because I didn't have the money. My first personal library came from culling my parent's library. They let me take all the books I wanted out of a certain set of bookcases. At this point, I don't remember what the first new book I bought myself was. Nor can I remember if it came from a used bookstore (probably) or if it came from a chain bookstore.

When I realized this, I had to contact my mom and ask her if this was right. It boggles my mind that I was an adult before I was able to buy my own books. But thinking back, before Belgium, I didn't really read. In Belgium, I had the base library. From 12-14 (NJ, second time), I had the local library. From 14-16 (PA), I had the school library. I remember spending a LOT of time in the school library. From 16-18 (CA), it was the local library and borrowing books from my friends.

If I had been required to have an ebook reader, I don't know how much reading I would have done. An ebook reader would have been a luxury my family would not have been able to afford.

Also, there is something so comforting to me about used bookstores that allow me to buy books 2nd or 3rd hand. I'm not rolling in money. I have to think about my purchases. I also think about what it would be like if I were a poor kid in this day and age and I'm terrified at the idea of what kind of person I would have become without the benefit of books to escape into.

It's like Seanan says, we need paper books to continue. We need them for everyone poor (as in poverty level) military brat whose parents have to watch every single penny. We need them for the kid who saves every single nickel and dime they can to buy that $.99 beat-to-hell paperback because that is what they want and need. We need the next generation to be able to get their hands on books to read. We need to understand that while digital books are awesome, there's a group of people who would be left behind if print books went away and these are the people who need them the most.



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 18th, 2011 01:20 am (UTC)
This might be the most important thing Seanan ever wrote
I've gone from owning no books but having library access to many, to owning many and no longer going to libraries. We at ISFDB are still heavily biased (for historical reasons) toward print books - but there are apparently 85,522 books waiting for processing that are mostly E-books. (It's mostly an ISBN thing.)

I own a Kindle - but haven't used it much. I still love old books, but realise I don't need 5,000 of them. I often give them away to personal visitors. E-books are the future, but not the ONLY future.

Sep. 18th, 2011 02:17 am (UTC)
Yes. yes. I raised two kids on enlisted military pay alone. Books are critical. Libraries are critical. I too found Susan Cooper as a kid.

I have a Kindle now-- but it is an adjunct to paper books, not a replacement.

Library cards were literally the first thing we got, in a new town, before we were even moved in.
Sep. 18th, 2011 02:07 pm (UTC)
I don't ascribe to the belief that print is dead, but it is changing. I also believe that eReaders will come down more in price and be as ubiquitous as TVs in every home. Few poor family don't have a television. Even so, there is First Book for poor children that gives them the opportunity to own their own books.

I received my very own first book for my tenth birthday. It was Heidi by Johanna Spyri and I loved it. Mom and Dad did make sure we had books and I loved the treasury of fairy tales they bought where I read The Snow Queen for the first time. It's all about priorities and one of my favorites quotes is: "I budget my money very carefully. First, I buy books and, with whatever is left, I buy food."
Sep. 21st, 2011 04:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing your own story.
Sep. 24th, 2011 03:42 am (UTC)
Thank you for putting this out there.

I keep thinking I should buy an ebook reader, not because it's the wave of the future but because I know people whose books are in e-only editions. Because I'm in anthologies I haven't read because I don't have an e-reader.

But the idea of putting that much money into one more thing to keep track of, something that could take a chunk of my library with it if I drop it on the kitchen floor--that's scary.

I once saw someone on the bus with a touchscreen phone that had a crack running all the way down the front. Because for some people replacing it if it breaks just isn't an option.

My thoughts are scattered tonight, and I know I'm coming late to the discussion, but again, thanks for putting this out there.
Sep. 24th, 2011 06:48 am (UTC)
If you go with a kindle, you don't actually have to own a kindle device to have kindle books. They've got kindle apps for your smart phones and your computers. It's a good way to try out the app for free and buy kindle books. If you want the device later, you can always add those books from your archive to the new device.
Sep. 24th, 2011 10:35 pm (UTC)
Actually, I don't have a smartphone, and I don't know if I'd find it any easier to read a book on my computer using Kindle software than using a PDF.

I've been leaning toward a Nook when I finally do get around to buying one, just because every once in a while there's some scandal or other about Amazon treating workers badly or treating authors and publishers badly. But I still don't know.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )