Saturday, July 13, 2013

Come to me, my little pretties!

Here in Israel, where English is maybe the third, if not the fourth language of the country, bookstores don't leave much room for English titles on their shelves. Those they do stock are more often than not fan-fiction, and what I call best-seller pulp (Danielle Steele, Stephen King, etc.) that hold little to no appeal for me. Since these are imports, they also aren't always affordable. Used bookshops do exist here, but there too one finds slim pickings at the best of times. Plus, these shops are almost always located off beaten and inconvenient tracks. In short, since moving to Israel, obtaining reading material in my native tongue has always been a bit of a challenge here.

For quite a long time the British Council had a network of English libraries. These were the source of dozens of years' worth of reading materials for a nominal fee. Through them, I became aware of writers from across the United Kingdom that I would never have been exposed to while living in the USA (along with videos and later DVDs of British films and TV series). It was a sad day indeed when they went the way of the Dodo Bird. What's more, the American Cultural Center's fiction section has always been a huge disappointment.

For all of my life here, we have always taken every opportunity to purchase books on any trip abroad. If we were visiting the UK or the USA, our suitcases would certainly be far heavier on our return journey. If we were going somewhere non-English speaking, a trip to any airport newsstand could always garner us at least one or two new titles. 

Then came the advent of on-line shops like Amazon. These could have been the answers to our prayers.  But the cost for shipping books all the way to Israel made buying them very expensive.  Still, we did buy some books like that, as did many others. But when this became a national trend, the one-and-only Israeli importer of books convinced customs to begin cracking down on Amazon shipments, with high import duties on shipments over a certain size. That was when Book Depository, with its slightly higher prices but no shipping charges, became our best friend. 

Moving with the Times 


It was around this time that my sister made a trip to the US and decided it was time for me to have an eReader. She went with a Nook, because that was what she had. I soon found out that while Barnes & Nobel would let me buy eBooks, but I couldn't use my PayPal funds for them. Many other sites (including Amazon and iTunes) wouldn't let me buy eBooks because of my location (and when I tried to fake it by hiding my IP, I got error messages). Luckily, I found sites that didn't care where I was, and also took PayPal (unfortunately, the one I liked the most got shut down).

In the meanwhile, I muddled through, getting books wherever I could. At one point I noticed someone was reviewing books for their blog. What interested me in this was that they were getting publishers sending them advance readers copies (ARCs) of books. The idea of writing a review of a book that hadn't yet been published was terribly appealing to me. But her site was all about "chic-lit" and well, that's not really my genre. I'm more of a literary fiction girl. 

Not long after that when I came across Curious Book Fans. Here was a site that was also being contacted by publishers who were willing to give their writers books to review. Despite my living in Israel and not the UK, they were willing to accept some of my previously written reviews. Plus, some publishers were even willing to send me their books. At first, I only got them as PDF files, but then I got some "dead-tree" ones as well. I was thrilled! I was reading books that most people hadn't yet read. I could formulate my own opinion about them, and maybe influence others. So far, I've received eight books from this site, only three of which were eBooks. (Unfortunately, one of those eBooks was really, really bad, and I disliked it so much, I couldn't finish it.)

Then one day I requested a book that they couldn't send me. They suggested I get it through a site called NetGalley, so I looked them up. Lo and behold, here was a site just for people just like me - book reviewers (as well as book sellers, librarians and bloggers) who wanted to review new books! I signed up, filled in my profile and began requesting titles. 

To my surprise, two of the first requests I made were accepted (one of which is already being touted as a 'best seller'). That was in late April. I've now had 10 requests accepted, written reviews on five of those (one of which I'm still waiting to get published).  Suddenly, I've got a pile of books I have to read, and we won't even get into those books we've bought over the years that I never got around to reading, and still want to get to. 

All this means that because of the slow speed I read at, I have the delightful dilemma of having too many books and too little time to read them!

Pity me?

I bet you don't!

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