ALL the Books

Growing up, my nightstand was a pile of books, with the book du jour on top. There was never just one book du jour either, I tended to read 3 at a time. The house was surrounded by bookshelves, bowing under the dusty weight of many volumes. I was certain that one day I’d read them all- in fact that was the goal.

I had a modest collection of my own, a single bookshelf with 4 or 5 shelves. I’d describe it as Ikea, but that wasn’t a thing back then… This is where I diligently collected all of my texts, occasionally arranged by author, sometimes by color or series, but mostly driven by chaos. This was my domain.

I was a vivacious reader, in the summer averaging a book a day. During the school year pesky classroom attendance and homework required some of my attention, but weekends? This was party time! And by party time, I mean reading a book. Ain’t no party like a book party!

If you’re thinking this sounds like learned behaviors, you’d be right. I took after my dad. The aforementioned house surrounding shelves were all his. He commuted to work by tram, with his nose in a book. Lots of moments involved absent minded “uh-um’s” as he sneaked more pages in under the table. If books were my night stand, they were his place holders, side tables, paper weights, door stops and pillows. We often read contently, side by side, engrossed in our own volumes.

Amassing said volumes was quite the feat. You see, we didn’t have a lot of money. Going into the bookstore to buy the latest thing just wasn’t an option. Yes, occasionally we’d get books as gifts but these were few and far between because books were expensive and not useful (and yes, while the usefulness of books can be greatly debated, it’s hard to come up with arguments pro books when you’re putting them up against socks and deodorant). This left “antykwariat” (the Polish word for a second hand book store), which we visited quite frequently.

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What about the library, you may wonder. Well, an American library in 2019 is a magical place that will fulfill almost all of your needs. But the early 1990’s Polish library was not. Yes, there were books there and you could get them for free. But the budgets weren’t great and content wasn’t really curated for children and young adults. Once you read everything your library (or all 5 libraries within walking distance of your house) had to offer, that was kind of it. Interlibrary loan was not a thing. Leaving us to fend for ourselves…

Like I mentioned, life wasn’t all reading. There was studying too. One of the things that my parents invested their meager funds it was my continued education. We lived in New York for a year and a half when I was six, and while there I picked up English as a second language. When we returned to Poland, however, it was a challenge to find a place where I could hone my skills. It’s not that places didn’t exist, it’s that I was seven and fluent in the language, but completely unfamiliar with even the concept of grammar. So my entire childhood I bounced between various tutors. At the time I was working with a fairly new one in the seaside city of Sopot, and my dad and I were on the way back from my session. I’m pretty sure my dad spent that time reading in a coffee shop.

We took varied roots back to the train station, and as this was a nice evening we stumbled down some unknown streets. Lo and behold, what did we see? Antykwariat!

With the stellar grace of a pair of lions stalking their prey, we only needed a head nod to communicate and narrow down on our target. We opened the door, and with a ring of a bell, we were in.

We separated instantly into our preferred sections, and both experienced a bit of a jaw drop. This place had books in English. At antykwariat’s prices! This is where I’d love to tell you that I purchased “Moby Dick” or “On the Road”. But I was 12, and this place magically had several books from the Sweet Valley High series, as well as Fear Street. To say this was rare would be an understatement. This was unattainable, yet somehow I was holding it in my hands… and it all came down to cold hard cash.

My allowance would have allowed me to buy about five of these titles. I looked at my dad, wondering if there was even a point of negotiating. I had a birthday sort of coming up, but not really any time soon. We did some quick math. This was 3 shopping bags full of books… the total was… a lot. My dad put away two of the books he was going to buy for himself. Then he pulled out pretty much all the cash in his wallet. We left with our goods, slightly dazed.

When we got home, my mom was somewhat shocked, but my dad managed to talk her down. And I filled a whole shelf with my new books, and cuddled down to read. This one of my favorite memories with my dad.

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As a frugal minimalist, why on earth would I find this story of spending so special? Well, in spite of the wallet playing quite a role in this tale, there are a few other take-aways as well. Rarity makes things special. Do you know how many times my dad bought me something this lavishly? Exactly the one. And I remember it. The trip also revolved around our common values and interests- reading. This adventure strengthened that bond and reaffirmed me as the reader that I am today. Lastly, it taught me that an occasional splurge on something really uncommon can be worth it. It shouldn’t be a habit, but sometimes a deal can be really good.

I now collect very few books, and my nightstand is an ever revolving library loan. When I told my dad I would read all the books in the house, he replied “We’ll see”. When I followed up with “I’ll read all the books in the world!”, he told me that wasn’t possible. I remember that made me cry. I left Poland before I got to read all the books in my house. But there’s new books written every day, and I can’t wait to explore them. I can’t read them all, but thanks to him I’ll read a whole bunch.

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