Traveling Books

Although you might think this post concerns books about traveling, it’s actually about books that travel. I’d never given much thought to how far books travel, and probably never would have if it weren’t for the confluence of two events. First, my friend who returned to Thailand to be with his ailing wife, took my book Bob, The Right Hand of God with him, which, according to him, makes me an international author. Sounds good, doesn’t it, being an international author? More accurately, it makes the book itself an international book because the author — me — is definitely not international since I’ve never been out of the USA. But my book is now out of the country, having gone by way of car, plane, bus, and perhaps even train, so that makes it a traveling book.

The second event concerns the book I am currently reading. It was written by a Spanish author and translated and published in the U.K. And somehow a copy of that book, printed so very far away, ended up in the local library in the ongoing book sale section. It looks like a well-read and much-loved book, so who knows what sort of roundabout journey that book made to get here. And now it’s in my hands.

This made me think of other traveling books I have known. For example, a friend sent me a trio of books about trees for a house anniversary gift, and those books also came from the U.K. Actually, they came from Amazon in Las Vegas, which is mystifying because she ordered the books from a business located in U.K. Still, since those books were published in London, they had to have traveled to Las Vegas somehow, before they ended up here.

I’ve also been an agent a couple of times for someone overseas who needed out-of-print books that were not available where he was living, and if I remember correctly, at least one of those books originated over there.

Most books don’t travel that far, at least I don’t think they do, but still, they rack up the miles going from the printer to the distributor to the seller to the buyer and then to the reader if the buyer and reader aren’t the same person. Eventually, books travel to a secondhand store and then continue their journey to another home. I ordered one such book from a used book outlet in Oklahoma, and the gift card inserted into that obviously unread book showed that it had been gifted to someone in New York. It was delivered to me in California, and then I myself brought it to Colorado.

But that was a simple journey. Some books travel in a more convoluted fashion. I heard of a woman who had donated her childhood books, then later in life found one of those very same books in a used book store far from where she grew up. She bought it, of course, because obviously it wanted to go back home to her. One can only imagine the secret life of that book — where it had traveled, who had read it, who loved it, and how it ended up back in the hands of its original owner.

A huge percentage of books don’t enjoy that kind of far-reaching journey. 77,000,000 unsold and unread books are pulped — destroyed — each year by the major publishers. (Print-on-demand, where only books that are already sold are printed, hasn’t changed things much because bookstores need the product on hand even though they return up to 40% of those books to the publisher, and up to 95% of those books are sent to landfills or recycled into paper pulp.)

But that’s too depressing to think about. I’d rather imagine the journeys books go on. It’s only fitting that they get their own journeys since so many of them take us on mental journeys and allow us flights of fancy such as this blog post.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

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