Books, Knowledge, and Privilege

Lately, I’ve been spoiling myself by getting the books I’ve loved, wanted but couldn’t afford, and I realize how expensive books can be! Well, I knew it’s expensive but back then I had no intention to buy so I didn’t bother checking the prices. I mean, why bother looking up the prices when I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford it, right? 🤪 But now I’ve got the money. I’ve been saving. I couldn’t travel either (we’ve still got Covid! and I’ve got a dissertation to write!), so I spent my money on books I’ve always wanted to own. I mostly bought second-hand books, though, but it’s still expensive to me. Well, I know I don’t want my Mom to know 🙊🙈🤣🤪

Not that my Mom would hate it or get angry, no. For all I know, Mom always thinks that when I read a book, it means I’m studying. Well, she’s not entirely wrong, except that I don’t always read books for my study/school 🙈🤣 I’m not telling my Mom, though, because she would start preaching that I need to save my money for the future. Haha Well, we were poor, so I understand that she’s worried about me spending money on something unimportant. Mom didn’t finish school, so she couldn’t really see how these books can be an asset. But she loves me. She’d understand. (As long as I don’t tell her how much it costs me to get these books that are actually not related to school/my study. Wkwkwk 🙈🤣✌). Well, life’s been hard. Let’s take this as a reward that I don’t deserve 🤪 “don’t deserve” because actually, I am not progressing as much as I wanted so basically I deserve a punishment, but I’ve been feeling already bad, so maybe I’m just trying to forgive myself and make me feel better by getting these books, I don’t know. But, anyway, I don’t feel so guilty for buying these books 🙈😅✌

First, I’ve always wanted to have a mini library of my own. Sometimes I think it would also be nice to have a library where kids can borrow the books for free. I mean, when I was a kid, it’s hard to get some books to read, so I think it would be nice if I could share my favorite books with others. Am I having a superiority or savior complex? o.O Well, I don’t know about that, but I love reading and I always feel happy when I get to read interesting books or books that I love. Second, I see my future as an English teacher. Some of the books I read, loved, and finally bought, I actually knew from one of my English lecturers back then. I just think, if I get to teach extensive reading, then I would want to let my students read my books. I want them to have the option. I’d love to lend it to them. Getting English books can be so expensive in Indonesia, so mostly they’re translated. But reading books in the target language is essential in language learning, I think. So having these books will be very valuable for me, both as an individual and as an English teacher in the future. Well, ok, this might sound like an excuse but I’m serious 🤪 And finally, when I get married and have kids of my own someday, I’m hoping they’d love these books that I also love 🥰🙈😍💗

But anyway, actually, I’m not so thrilled about theoretical/academic books. I love stories, so basically I’m talking more about fiction here. Or something “based on” a true story. These kinds of books are easier and more enchanting to read for me. Well, one reason I don’t like theoretical/academic books is that it dictates; they’re too serious. It tells us what to do. And I don’t like that. Also, knowledge develops. Theories change. So it’s not always relevant. And you see how everyone wants the latest publication as a reference nowadays? So I don’t really see the point of keeping theoretical books. Well, I understand that newer books often refer to older books so somehow they’re still relevant, but, well, maybe that’s just not my thing.

I got these books from my dear friend Ana, who went back to Colombia.

But fictions are everlasting. They are eternal. They’ll always be relevant. They don’t dictate you. They just show you some perspectives, actions and reactions, and consequences, setting, situations, etc. All in specific contexts that you can imagine-or relate to. And you can always learn something from it. You can think for yourself. There’s no absolute truth. And they don’t judge. They make you think and explore your imagination. And that’s how it becomes my vicarious escapes. Well, yeah, I understand that maybe the same effects happen to those who love reading non-fiction. But to me, it’s fiction. Maybe because it’s “not real” so it’s easier to deal with. I don’t know. I can’t quite explain it.

Anyway, back to my original title: books, knowledge, privilege. I know I talked about fictional books, but I guess books, in general, contain knowledge. In Indonesian, we have this proverb that says, “Buku adalah jendela dunia“, i.e. literally “books are the windows of/to the world.” The way I understand it, we can see more of the world by reading books. But it means we can’t see the world if we can’t read the books, right? And seeing how expensive books are, not everyone can have access to it.

And when I say expensive, I mean it. I said before that I bought second-hand books of fiction and it’s expensive. But actually, it’s much cheaper than the books required for my classes. I could get a second-hand complete set, 3-books, of a fictional series for $7, for instance. But for my class, a second-hand book could cost me at least $40. I won’t stress about the expensive books for my study, though because thankfully, I got a scholarship and they gave me book allowance, i.e. money to buy the books I need for my study, so I don’t think too much about it ’cause it’s been specifically allocated for that, and it’s “not” my money 🤪✌ But for fiction, it’s my money, one that I take from my saving, so yeah, I’m looking for the cheapest option :p

But that’s the reason I decided to post about books, knowledge, and privilege here. When we’ve read a lot of books, and then we meet someone that we think is unknowledgeable, it’s easy to judge them as uneducated, saying, “It’s basic, you should’ve known.” Or, “It’s famous, how could you not know?” Etc. But you see, what is basic to us might not be basic for others. When people are still struggling to make ends meet, books are not something basic to them. It’s luxury. Well, we might call them ignorant for not knowing something, but personally, I think we’re the one who’s ignorant for not understanding why they don’t know what we do know, for not knowing what they don’t have, which we do have: privilege.

Well, I can tell you why some knowledge is not basic for some people. Why some books are not basic to some people, cause it was not to me back then. I said before that a second-hand book for my study could cost at least $40, right? But did you know that I used to get paid around IDR 300k a month (about USD 21.50 with the current rate)? And there are still people with this inhumane monthly salary even now. Now, how would they think of buying a book that costs $40 when they’re already struggling to survive (buy food, pay rent, and all the basic needs) with only $22? No, they can’t. They can’t even if they want to.

“Oh, but don’t you have a public library?” Some of you might wonder. We do. But seriously, not everyone knows they have a public library. And even when they do, they might not know what it is for. Even my parents didn’t even know what a library was. Well, they didn’t finish even elementary schools, so… And, I remember up until high school, I thought libraries only existed at schools. I always tried to read as many interesting books as I could find in my school libraries. I remember when I was in senior high school, I got rewarded as the student who borrowed the most books at school. Well, I was rewarded for being poor and not being able to afford those books. LoL 🤪 Just kidding, I don’t want to be bitter about it 💗And, actually, I was quite happy with it. I remember I got some ballpoints and chocolate as the present, and I was really happy because the chocolate was kinda expensive (I knew it was expensive ’cause I’d never really bought chocolate from that brand since I had no money. LoL)

And when I learned that there was actually a public library in town, of which we could be a member and from which we could borrow books for free, I learned that the place was quite far from my home. Back then I only had my bike with me, so I went everywhere by bike, but far distances were quite discouraging, so I didn’t really visit the public library. [Now this is an excuse, I know.🤪✌]

But, I mean, again, it’s easy for people to judge others as stupid or ignorant just because they’ve read a lot of books and gained a lot of knowledge. But this is not always the case for others. I remember there is this one time we had this Indonesian celebrity doing something improper at Holocaust Memorials in Germany. People criticized her for being ignorant. I’m not defending that celebrity, of course, because she’s rich, she got a good education, so it’s appalling that she didn’t know. But I’d understand if some people don’t know about it, so I tried to make a poll on Instagram asking people if they had known about Holocaust before the case of that celebrity. And guess what, many, almost half of my respondents said they didn’t know, i.e. they learned about it from the celebrity’s case. And one of my friends was baffled, saying people should’ve known it because it was taught at school. Well, I understand his frustration. My Instagram followers, most of them are “educated”, i.e. going to schools. But, to be honest, personally, I wouldn’t blame them for not knowing about it. For one, I myself don’t remember learning about it at schools, not to mention that history is one of my least favorite subjects. I learned about the holocaust because I happened to read Diary of Anne Frank. Yes, “happened” ’cause it’s really coincidental. I don’t even remember how I came to read that book, but I did. And that’s how I know about the holocaust. So, I guess, when incidents like this happen, instead of ridiculing those who don’t know, I think it’s better to use it as an opportunity to educate them. It’s because, again, not everyone is ignorant. Some people seriously didn’t know for some reason and are willing to learn.

Well, I’m lucky enough to have read some cool books in my life. But when I told people I’ve read this book and that book, it doesn’t make me feel good when they say I’m cool for that. That’s because most of the time it’s just a coincidence for me. I read those books not because I knew they were popular or good or something. I read them because they were the ones that I could get my hands on. I remember in junior high school, I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Then in senior high school, I read the Old man and the Sea. The translated versions, though. But again, I didn’t know that these books were actually famous. I read them only because they were available in my school libraries and they seemed interesting. I learned about their big names only later when I was in college. So I really don’t know what to feel about it because it’s just a coincidence for me. A good one.

Now that I learned how expensive books are, I become even more thankful to everyone who’s been kind and nice enough to lend me some books back then. They’ve given me different worlds to live and imagine. I can’t thank them enough 💗

And I hope now you can see how having or reading books and thus gaining a certain knowledge is a privilege. I’m not saying that books should be made free, no. I know it ain’t easy to write and publish a book. There are people who work in a publishing company who need money to make ends meet too. I get it. So yeah, I understand that piracy is wrong. But again, sometimes not everyone can access the original version, which is expensive. I remember when I was taking my undergraduate degree, a lot of my books were actually “photo-copied” versions. We didn’t do it for profit, though. I guess it’s because it’s not easy to get the original books in my country. And even if it’s available, imported books could cost a fortune. But again, I’m not saying I did the right thing, no. Still, I did learn a lot from those photo-copied versions.

But, ugh, I ended up exposing my “crimes” of photo-copying some books for my study instead of buying the original 🙊🙈🤪 So maybe I should end it here. Do you think I should write about some of my favorite books too?

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