Sunday, December 09, 2007

How Can We Survive Abroad without Books?

I heard a story on NPR about the U.S. Post Office’s discontinuation of slow mail abroad (mail shipped by train and/or boat). M-bags are how I got all my books to Turkey last year. Three huge bags of art books, elementary school books, cookbooks—almost all left to colleagues in my Anatolian City, where libraries, if they exist in institutions, are poorly stocked.
Now future academics teaching abroad will be stuck. That just sucks. Because you can only take only 50 lbs per suitcase, and airlines weigh carry-ons, it will be very difficult to move abroad for six months or a year to teach or do research. You’ll have to pay exorbitant prices to ship heavy texts. Doesn’t the government understand you can’t buy books you need to teach in most other countries?
Here’s an eye-opening story:
There was a bookseller who set up in my Turkish Faculty. The texts were from European publishers. I saw a hardbound illustrated volume on Italian Mannerist Pontormo, one of my favorite artists. In my broken Turkish I asked the price. He replied something like $20. I was surprised; normally a book like this would sell for about $60. But then I understood—as a faculty member I could buy the book on time, paying $20 a month for a year! What professor, Turkish or American, could afford that?
book/bird sculpture by Joanne Hayakawa

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