by Nancy Bestor
When I was young, my summer days were rarely spent outside. Instead, my mom would drop me off at our local library while she went grocery shopping. I would come out a half hour later with a huge stack of books that I would read while sitting in a chair in the living room. I loved books, and still do.
Fast forward a few years to when I was sixteen and my sister and I were backpacking through Europe. At that time nearly every other student traveler carried the Let’s Go Europe guidebook. I was horrified to learn that my fellow travelers would rip out entire sections of their book just to make their backpacks lighter, only taking the parts they would need for the countries they would be visiting. It’s one thing to mark in a book, or dog-ear a page, (and if I’m being honest, I will admit that even this makes me a little uncomfortable) but to rip a book apart…..sacrilege!
It’s not just the folding, spindling and mutilating of books that makes me sad—having to part with a book makes me sad too. So while I love the idea of lending libraries in the hostels, hotels, and B&B’s around the world, I’m hesitant to actually leave any books, even though the sign always says “take a book, leave a book.” Frankly, I’d rather just take a book. But, being the rule abiding person that I am, I do leave a book when I take one—at least most of the time. On our recent trip to Bali, most hotels we stayed in had free book exchanges. It always feels a little like finding treasure to me, because even if I don’t have a book to leave, I can and will read a book (or even skim it, as I am, after all, on vacation) while I’m staying at the hotel, then just put it back on the shelf for the next person.
Of course, the available books to exchange are not always in English, although the covers often look the same as their English counterpart, so I’m often initially excited to see a particular book, then sad when I discover it is in German or French. There always seems to be at least one of the Harry Potter books in most hotel book exchange libraries, and I’m always happy to read a little J.K. Rowling. There’s also almost always some kind of trashy beach read, and if you can’t justify a trashy beach read when you’re on vacation, I don’t know when you can justify it. And of course, there’s usually a Dan Brown or John Grisham mystery/thriller thrown in for good measure. A hotel book exchange library can be a good place to look for local guidebooks too, as guests often leave their books behind when leaving a country.
But the best thing EVER is when I can pick up a great find and leave a terrible paperback behind. And don’t you know, my great find was more than likely left by another hotel guest as a terrible paperback.