Logan and I love books. We love to read, we love to discuss what we read. No matter what is going on in our lives, we are usually reading at least a small handful books at a time between the two of us. Due to volume considerations, we left most of our books in New Mexico. Happily, many excellent books are free or cheap on the kindle. Kindle books are good, and they do the job, but there's nothing like falling asleep reading a "real" printed novel, or pausing during the day to flip to a dog-eared page and read a favorite poem.
I haven't gone totally crazy with book buying yet, but we have so far obtained: a Cameroon Hymnal, a book of short stories by Cameroonian author Ndeley Mokoso, a Lamnso' New Testament (Sa'ka Nyuy Wo Jung, "The News of God that's Good"), and some Lamnso' text booklets. All for a grand total of 4,500 francs, or nine dollars! I hope to get a Pidgin Bible (we might have to settle for a Pidgin lectionary, unless we buy it in Bamenda), as well as works by Anglophone Cameroonian authors.
We did bring some books of our own. Some are books we have read and want to read again, or at least have near us as a comfort. Some are books we wish to read while we are here. Some books I just made a photocopy of my favorite passages or poems, and took that with us. The trick is to give yourself enough selection to not feel restricted in your choice. Because we crave choice. It's the American way! That's another topic to be explored, maybe another day.
I certainly miss the Libraries we left behind! Our own library, which is now packed up in boxes in storage; the Mission House library, which had the best hodge-podge collection of theology, fiction, and church documents; the IHM Library; the John Paul the Great Center Library; the personal collection of the late Gabriel Austin, from whom I was usually able to borrow a book or two at a time, and whom I miss dearly; and Mesa Public library, which didn't always have the fiction I wanted, but was almost always willing to obtain it for me.
I am told, and it appears to me, that there is not a very large book culture here. Most books for sale around town are school textbooks. The literature that is available in town is, I think, almost certainly school reading (Hemingway, Twain, Melville). Grace, the woman who knits and sells produce in Squares, uses pattern books from twenty years ago, other material is not available here. In the bigger cities, maybe you can find what you’re looking for or something close to it, but goods don't generally trickle out this far. What does get here are what people need: food stuffs not grown in the region, household goods, that kind of thing. Also, what people want, like cell phones and beer. But not books.
Perhaps when you've risen at 4 am to do laundry, work all day, tend your farm in the afternoon, and cook all your meals over a fire, reading a book isn't first on your list of things to do. For me, books are an essential part of life. For most people here, they are a luxury, requiring not necessarily an abundance of money, but rather an abundance of time.
Consider, too, that most books will be in English or French, people's second or third language. Few people are literate in their native language, even if they are literate in English. Churches encourage dialect literacy, and I have heard of programs that teach people to read and write Lamnso'. They give them a Lamnso' New Testament at the end of the course, that they can then bring to Church with them and follow along with the readings. They get a pretty good response from that, and I am sure that reading the Bible in their "heart language" opens up new horizons of faith. So, God Bless the Bible Translators! The Lamnso' Old Testament is supposed to be printed sometime next year. Everything is typeset except for the Deuterocanonical books, which the translators are working on now. Their inclusion is an ecumenical effort to produce a translation for everyone, not just Protestants, and the translation staff includes Protestants of various denominations and Catholics.
The Mokoso short stories, by the way, are wonderful. They are an interesting glimpse into West African life, and the passions, coincidences, and caprice that govern life. I'm even picking up some pidgin from the dialogue! Well worth the 1,000 francs ($2). At least for me. That would be about a day's wage for many people here. Calculate out what your day's wage is. Would you spend that much on a used copy of a short story collection?