September 21, 2007

Book Buying in the Caribbean: An "Extravagance"?

Geoffrey Philp's Blog SpotI've decided to run a survey based on this quote by VS Naipaul in "Caribbean Odyssey":

"But to go out and buy a new book like the Walcott because people were talking about it would have seemed an extravagance; and that was where we were in the end ruled by the idea of our poverty. And though, as a writer, I was to depend on people buying my new book, that idea of book-buying as an extravagance stayed with me for many years."

You see, it's been gnawing at me that it may actually be true. But what I think and where the evidence leads are two different things. So, I'd like to ask you, Dear Reader, to help me to solve this riddle and also to ponder these questions:

If the statement is true, what factors led to the situation?

If the statement is no longer true, what has changed?

If the statement was never true, why would Naipaul make such a statement?

If the statement is true, what can be done to change this attitude? Should there be a change? Why?

Have you ever thought of books as "extravagances"?

I'm going to run the survey for a week (9/28/07). And while this is not a scientific poll, based on previous surveys of my readers, I'd say most of my readers are "opinion makers" and that goes a long way.

Caribbean people consider books to be "extravagances"
This statement was once true.
This statement is no longer true
This statement was never true.
This statement is still true.
Free polls from


Here are the results (9/29/07):


FSJL said...

I think that many people still think of owning books as an extravagance. I do know that I haunted the used-book shop in Liguanea Plaza (I was pleased to see that it was still there four years ago) when I had spare money.

Geoffrey Philp said...

FSJL, I'm going to be watching this post very, very carefully.

Thank you for the comment.


Anonymous said...

There is a difference between a luxury and an extravagance. For people who went to school having had some bush tea and a piece of roast potato for breakfast, even school books were a luxury, but not an extravagance. Having church shoes plus school shoes, now that would have been an extravagance.The "lux" of luxury is the idea of that which is rich and therefore to be desired, even if unattainable. The "extra" of extravagance is just that, extra. You can only have extra if you have enough to begin with.

Anonymous said...

I was lucky.

My parents read plenty and there were always books in the house. At an early age they took me to the library on Tom Redcam on Saturday mornings. At C-bar I had an excellent English Lit teacher who encouraged.

I know it was not like that for many of my friends.

FSJL said...

There's also a pervasive anti-intellectualism that makes owning books seem alien:

As for the Creoles, check their house, and look
you bust your brain before you find a book.

the prisoner's wife said...

once upon a time (when i was college student poor), i did think of books as an extravagance.

i grew up going to the library, so i always knew the value of reading & books, but they never seemed like things i wanted to really own until i got older. even then, i'd spend my money on music rather than a book because once i read a book, i wouldn't want to read it again (lack of patience...i knew the ending after all).

now that i'm older and have a son, books are so necessary. i buy TONS of them (just used, unless i REALLY want it...NOW) because i know the importance of reading, and i enjoy it a great deal. plus...i've always wanted a wall-to-wall bookshelf like you see in some NY apartments! lol

Geoffrey Philp said...

Nemo, Welcome!

Yes, parents and teachers have a lot to do with instilling a love for reading and libraries like Tom Redcam were great at doing this.

I remember many a Saturday at Tom Redcam.


Geoffrey Philp said...

FJSL, there is a definite anti-intellectualism in the Caribbean and some of our theorists at UWI don't help the situation.

LADY ROOTS said...

Blessed Love, Idren Geoffrey,

I can not imagine life without my books. I grew up in a home without TV and books were our source of entertainment. My library card was a prized possession. Used book stores were my hang-out.

Most homes I visit here in Jamaica are more likely to have TV's, VCR's or DVD players, rather than books. Visitors to our home are astounded at the overflowing bookshelves in our livingroom, in the loft upstairs and in my office.

The most frequent question is, "You didn't actually read all those books, did you?" Yes, I read every one of them at least once and some have been read, re-read and read again and again.

It bothers me when I hear someone say, "If you want to hide something from a Jamaican, put it in a book." I want our attitudes to change so that statement no longer has any validity. I long for us to become an island of book lovers, book readers and book buyers.

Bless Up,
Lady Roots
p.s. Thanks for your prayers as Hurricane Dean approached.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Lady Roots,

Give thanks for the comments.
I had been weighing in my mind whether I should have run this survey or not, but I am gratified that you took the time to oomment.

I, too, have gone through the same attitudes, but I think if we all begin to show that we are proud to be readers, then things might change.

I hear all the while that the world has become digital and yes, it has.
But basic literacy will always trump everything else because the ability to read a text and to write a text gives one a broader sope of any issue that say, film, as powerful a medium as it is, can never give.
It all begins with the Word.


Geoffrey Philp said...

Prisoner' wife, I have bought so many used books it isn't funny. Still do.

I only buy a few books in hardcover.

I tend to read poetry over and over again--less so with fiction because when I re-read I'm looking for lyrical passages.

And, yes, libraries are wonderful places. Whenever I've given readings, especially in unknown places of the panhandle in Florida or southern Georgia and I'm alone, I usually find a library and wait there until the reading begins.

Give thanks, again, for the comments.


Rent Party said...

"there is a definite anti-intellectualism in the Caribbean and some of our theorists at UWI don't help the situation."

I would *love* to hear more about that. T'ole ecrire un post pou nous-autres?

FSJL said...

Geoffrey: When bad behaviour becomes redefined as 'transgressive', things have come to a pretty pass. I'm generally in favour of literary theorists keeping their mouths shut on social, economic, and political issues about which they seem to know very little.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Fragano, I couldn't agree more.

Jdid said...

i think price wise (at least from my experience) books in the caribbean can be a bit of an extravagance.

its unfortunate i guess. still when you compare the cost of books to the cost of cds or video games or dvds you are getting incredible value for your money.

Geoffrey Philp said...

JDID, a few years ago I was involved in a plea to left the CESS on books in Jamaica--something that never should have happened.

This whole question of "extravagance" is very intriguing. Thank you for your comment.


Karel Mc Intosh said...

I think it's really a matter of interest in reading, as opposed to it being an extravagance. For the person who is not interested in reading novels/ books etc, then the two factors may come together.

However, yes the books can be expensive but sometimes if you compare it with the cost on Amazon, it really isn't much different, in some cases. My problem is that not enough bookstores in Trinidad and Tobago carry West Indian books. I was deeply disappointed, and continue to eb disappointed, whenever I enter Nigel Khan's bookstore, since I'd hoped to get great literaturein there. The stand for Caribbean literature is full of VS Naipaul titles, and I keep telling them that he is not the only Caribbean writer. Where are the Elizabeth Nunez books, the Michael Anthony's, the Earl Lovelace's, the Geoffrey Philp's ( :-) ) Why cna't I just saunter into a store and easily pick up a Green Days by the River, which I yearn to read having not read it since I was 10. Those are my issues with finding good books. I grew up reading Caribbean literature, DH Lawrence and Chinua Achebe in my preteen years. Of course Nancy Drew etc were included for trivial reading :) Wuthering Heights I read as my mother sat reading for her degree.

For me, a reading person, the problem is supply. So for now, is my saviour. Geoffrey, your Anacy book will go into some nice Christmas wrapping this year :)

Geoffrey Philp said...

Give thanks for the comments, Karel.

Yes, it was always difficult to buy books in Jamaica,but good book stores are always difficult to find. I'm thinking of good book stores like Books and Books in Miami that not only have a knowledgeable staff, but also promote writers and book events. I also think the Internet is going to change many things--including book buying.