Recently, with the floods in India, earthquakes in Mexico, and hurricanes devastating Dominica, Puerto Rico, and other islands in the Caribbean, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much of our lives revolve around physical possessions, and how lucky we are to be able to own books.
Most of us will live in countries where natural disasters are rare and capitalism is the stronghold of contemporary society. Essentially, this means the majority of companies are privately owned, and we work and earn money so we can spend it on investments and possessions, which aren’t going to be suddenly destroyed or taken away from us.
And for most of us in the book community, what we choose to spend our money on is books in all their various forms. Audiobooks, e-books, webcomics, paperbacks, and hardbacks. For many of us, it’s the latter two that we mainly buy because there’s something so good about owning physical books.
And there’s nothing wrong with this of course. If you work hard to earn money, then by rights you should be allowed to spend it on what you want when you’re able. And it’s wonderful to be able to see photos of someone’s bookshelves, all deliciously full of books and merchandise. To see four or five bookcases lined up and full of colourful spines makes me sigh a little in contentment; it’s clear that the person collecting the books passionate about reading and have spent time, love, and effort collecting them.
But sometimes I think we forget, in our excitement for new releases, and desire to take Insta-worthy photos, how privileged we are to be able to own books.
To have enough disposable income to be able to spend any left over on books each month is a distinct privilege. Many people don’t earn a fair or living wage and don’t have enough money for luxuries such as this. In some families, household income has to be spent on paying bills and buying food; there’s none left over for treats such as books.
Plus, in many countries, books are fairly expensive. In Australia for example, an average paperback costs between $17 and $20 and a hardback will set you back $25-$30. Although they can often be found cheaper online, not all book outlets ship to all countries, so some people can’t purchase books in this way.
And in some countries, many popular books are banned because their political or LGBTQIA+ content has been deemed too ‘controversial’, limiting access to diverse literature for some readers who would love to try these novels. (I previously wrote about this in a post on banned books.) Additionally, not everyone has access to libraries. In the UK, there have been a notable number libraries closing down over the last couple of years, meaning that those who borrow books rather than buying them have even fewer options.
I’m not advocating that we stop buying books – far from it – I’m just saying we should all try to remind ourselves, every now and then, that we’re privileged to be able to do so. Especially those of use who are white, western, able-bodied, earn a decent financial income, and therefore have the most opportunities to buy books. I fall into that category, so this is me, checking my own privilege, and trying to do something about it.
If, like me, you want to do more to get books to those who don’t have access to them, there are plenty of ways to get involved.
- Donate to your local library. Many people who can’t afford books will use libraries instead and by donating your old books, your broadening the range of books they have the opportunity to read.
- Donate to second-hand book shops. People who can’t always afford full-price books will often buy from there instead.
- Donate to charities like Book Aid International. They aim to send books out to people across the world, especially in counties where books are scare. They do a lot of work setting up libraries in Africa and have a project running in the occupied territories of Palestine.
Other great charities include The Pajama Program, a New York-based non-profit, who donate new books to children living in shelters, temporary housing, and group homes. Room To Read work with communities in developing countries to build schools and libraries filled with books. Their focus is on gender and literacy equality. Project Night Night is another excellent scheme, that donates packages to homeless children with books in.
- Donating to charities that do relief work in the countries affected by natural disasters, will go a long way towards helping them begin to get their lives on track and rebuild what they’ve lost.
- If you’re on Twitter, or other social media channels, and have some money to spare, doing a giveaway for low-income or disadvantaged readers could help get a book into the hands of someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to buy it.
If there are any other organisations or charities doing similar work that I’ve missed off this list, definitely let me know and I’ll add them to the list.