Resurrection by reading: An ode to used books | Opinions


It has by now change into platitudinous to comment that folks hardly learn books any extra – and bodily ones even much less – absorbed as we’re by the calls for of the digital age: scrolling, clicking, obsessively checking likes, and changing feelings into sequences of little yellow faces.

As a toddler, I learn books always – together with every little thing else: the journal that arrived with the Austin American-Statesman each Sunday to my mother and father’ home in Texas, equipment guarantee papers, the textual content on the cereal field at breakfast. A long time later as I travelled the world in my twenties and thirties, resurrecting the ravenous studying behavior was at all times on my to-do checklist – and but it was inevitably simpler to simply proceed scrolling and clicking.

Previous to spending the month of February 2022 in Cuba, I had not learn a ebook for leisure in practically a yr – and I had not even completed that one. Then, one afternoon in Havana, I used to be overcome with spontaneous willpower and dispatched myself in quest of a used bookstore.

Maybe it was as a result of I already related Havana with used books, having visited the town in 2006 and bought a large biography of Cuban revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos, which I then had carted round to numerous nations whereas my intention of studying it remained unfulfilled. Or maybe it was as a result of Havana – with its effusive nostalgia and much-fetishised old-world attraction – merely made me really feel like I needs to be engaged in some romantic, pre-technological exercise like studying a ebook.

Regardless of the motive for my sudden resolution to be the person who truly goes to the bookstore somewhat than simply fantasising about it, I set out from my flat by the port in Habana Vieja – Outdated Havana, the town’s colonial quarter – passing elegantly crumbling and not-so-crumbling structure and former haunts of the likes of García Lorca and Hemingway.

Once I reached Calle Obispo, website of the Resort Ambos Mundos the place Hemingway as soon as lived and the kind of avenue that regarded like it might host a used bookstore, I turned left – and, certain sufficient, there was Librería Victoria, the title rendered in artwork deco stained glass above the store entrance. The inside was intoxicatingly full of heaps of books and solely a faint trace of organisation past the compulsory distinguished show of choices from Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Clearly, I couldn’t proceed with my bookshop expertise with out first taking {a photograph} of the scene for placement on Fb.

Ideas of Fb started to fade, nevertheless, as I rummaged by means of stacks of Borges and Neruda, Lenin and García Márquez, piles of kids’s books and a shelf dedicated to the Afro-Cuban battle. Ultimately, I put aside two books by Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti, of whose existence I had been beforehand unaware, plus a ebook of poems by Neruda, and, lastly, a Cuban atlas from 1978, the frayed blue cowl of which had been invaded by a rust-coloured stain that had overtaken the “B” and “A” in “Cuba”.

The final addition prompted some hesitation, as I weighed such points as baggage weight and what precisely one does with a Cuban atlas from 1978. However whim received out over motive, and I offered my 4 objects to the shopkeeper. Assuming that the costs pencilled in on the primary web page of every ebook have been merely a jumping-off level for negotiations – significantly given the current monetary scenario in Cuba, the place, for instance, the 1,000 Cuban pesos pencilled in on the primary web page of the atlas corresponded to 40 {dollars} on the official alternate fee and 10 {dollars} on the black market – I supplied some sum off the highest of my head.

The person agreed and commenced packing up the books. I handed over the pesos, whereupon he redid the mathematics and located my supply retroactively to be inadequate. I tried a gringo capitalist customer-is-always-right strategy, in response to which he couldn’t renegue on his preliminary acceptance; he countered by bellowing that I used to be loopy and launching into an impassioned recounting of all of the occasions prospects had unintentionally overpaid and he had chased them down Calle Obispo to rectify issues. We shouted forwards and backwards for a number of minutes – an alternate that was in some way not anxious within the least however somewhat, I felt, an ode to life. Then we have been buddies, and he gave me the books with a revised low cost.

I lugged the treasures again to my flat, the place I set them out on the desk and reacquainted myself with the intimate thrill of inspecting used books and the feeling of holding historical past, because it have been, in a single’s arms. One of many Benedetti books had apparently been acquired by a B Valiño on April 2, 1970, whereas the opposite had belonged to a Rebeca with an indecipherable surname and included a web page torn from a 1986 datebook: Thursday, February 6, by means of Wednesday, February 12.

By coincidence, the date of my go to to Librería Victoria was February 9 – albeit 36 years after the February 9 of the datebook web page in query, which additionally bore the contact info of a sure María de los Ángeles on the Psychology Division of the Nationwide College of Costa Rica in Heredia. By additional coincidence, the ebook itself – titled, La Tregua (The Truce, printed in 1960) – started with a diary entry on February 11. Earlier than I had even began studying, then, I felt some kind of charming private connection to the texts – a connection that was tied up with B Valiño, Rebeca, and María de los Ángeles of the Psychology Division.

There have been no clues as to the provenance of the Neruda ebook, however inside I discovered dried rose petals within the fold previous a 1953 poem impressed by Neruda’s then-lover Matilde Urrutia and the Italian island of Capri, evoking nostalgia for his native Chile. The higher proper nook of web page 141 was additionally folded over, and the title of that web page’s poem, Con Ella (With Her), was underlined together with the poem’s first line: “Como es duro este tiempo; espérame” – “This time is troublesome. Look ahead to me”.

On to the atlas, due to which I might spend numerous hours poring over vibrant maps depicting the mechanisation of Cuban sugar cane agriculture by province in 1978 and the common temperatures of regional floor waters in summer time and winter. This was at the very least nearly as good as studying the cereal field, I figured, and was definitely time higher spent than on the wasteland of humanity generally known as social media. On pages 102 and 103, one other map featured key landmarks of the Cuban Revolution in addition to assorted imperial aggressions, together with “counterrevolutionary infiltrations” and the inauguration of the US financial blockade of Cuba, illustrated by purple dashes surrounding the island. Formally enacted in 1962, the embargo continues to devastate the nation as punishment for the felony of refusing to capitulate to capitalist domination.

Armed with my acquisitions from Librería Victoria in Havana, I used to be shortly reminded of how invigoratingly edifying studying might be – and felt I used to be fairly solidly exercising my “proper to relaxation and leisure” as enshrined in Article 24 of the Common Declaration of Human Rights. Capitalism, after all, has totally different concepts about human rights, and prefers “leisure” actions that may be monetised – like watching your cell phone display, the place promoting saturation and limitless client alternatives imply you may nonetheless be contributing to company tyranny even beneath the phantasm of downtime.

To make sure, studying books has been proven to enhance psychological well being, scale back anxiousness, and supply a crucial respite from actual and digital worlds which can be maybe equally miserable. However it stays a luxurious for lots of the world’s inhabitants, who are sometimes too busy making an attempt to outlive in a context of gross world inequality to consider the variety of tractors in Cuba’s Ciego de Ávila province in 1978.

As Neruda wrote, “This time is troublesome”. And as we plunge into ever tougher ones – with much less and fewer time to dream – right here’s to extra rose petals.

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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