The Privilege of Being a Bookworm

Before I begin this post, I want to make it clear that I’m not attacking anybody in particular. However, if you feel that I am attacking you with this post, maybe you need to take a step back and wonder why.

It started when I was just browsing through book Twitter (when really I should have been going through my TBR, so let’s be real Kate, this is partially your fault) and came across an author (I refuse to say who, but I bet if you looked hard enough you’d find them) bemoaning the lack of people who liked to read in this day and age (which in and of itself is a huge crock I think – reading is just as popular an activity as ever, if not more so). This author then proceeded to say that not having money to buy books shouldn’t be an issue because you could just go to the library.

*insert long-suffering sigh here*

Look, guys. Especially my American brethren. I know it’s hard for some of you to grasp this, but the developed world is not the only existing civilization. The ins and outs, vagaries, and realities of society in developing nations (a term which I have a huge problem with – considering ‘we strip-mined these countries for all the resources they could choke out and then threw donations at them to make ourselves feel better’ doesn’t sound quite as benevolent) are, shockingly enough, not the same as yours.

Being a bookworm means you are privileged. There are no two ways about it. Being a bookworm implies tons of things about yourself which has given you a leg-up in society: you have the disposable income to afford books, you can read and speak English, you’re educated above the grade school level, you probably have access to the Internet.

Take me, for example. I live in a country where a good percentage of the population lives under the poverty line. And yet I am typing this on a laptop, while sitting at my desk in my air-conditioned bedroom, surrounded by shelves filled with dozens of print books. I may not be a member of the wealthy upper class elite, but there is no denying that I am privileged.

Let’s address the remark of that author that I previously quoted. Just go to a library. That’s something that’s often said in response to people who either: a) pirate books; or b) can’t get into reading because they don’t have the money (and therefore maybe resort to pirating books). Now, I’m not going to defend book piracy. I know it’s wrong, and I know an author worked long and hard on that book and deserves to be paid for their creativity and effort. All I’m saying is, telling someone to “just go to a library” is not helpful advice. Again, consider privilege. When you can easily tell someone to go to a library, you probably live somewhere with a great public library system like Europe or the United States. Newsflash: public libraries with online components and a wide, varied collection are very often not a thing outside of the Western/developed world.

Here, in the Philippines, well-stocked libraries often only exist inside schools and universities. Public libraries are usually only for educational purposes, and libraries that stock contemporary titles and recently published fiction are few and far between – and those that exist charge upwards of 2,000php a month in membership fees. $40 may not be a big deal to some Americans, but here, that’s a whopping amount of cash that could be spent elsewhere for the average person.

Bookstores aren’t any help either. Take for example, my home country. There are two kinds of bookstores in the Philippines: the cheap secondhand stores and sidewalk vendors that sell outdated titles, or stores like National Bookstore, Fully Booked, and PowerBooks whose prices are like woah. If you want a specific recent title, you won’t be finding those at the cheap stores anytime soon. So wanting to keep up to date on what publishers and authors are putting out means handing over the big bucks, which, obviously, is not a viable option for some people. It’s even worse if you want a title that those three bookstores I mentioned don’t stock. You’ll either have to get it through special order, or on Amazon or The Book Depository, which aren’t exactly cheap either, let me tell you.

Don’t even get me started on NetGalley and Goodreads messing things up for international book bloggers. You can Google the issue if you need to know more. Suffice it to say, getting ARCs – especially physical copies – is ridiculously difficult as an international book blogger, even without NetGalley and Goodreads totally dropping the ball like that.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, your reality as a bookworm is not the reality of other bookworms and aspiring bookworms around the world. Being a bookworm is hard when you don’t have access to books, although God knows international bookworms and book bloggers try their best. But sometimes, the system is just gamed against you. Life is hard enough without people looking down their noses at you, calling you lazy or boring or unintelligent because you don’t read or can’t read books. Maybe everyone in the world would love reading if everyone in the world had access to books.

Keep that in mind the next time you condescendingly tell someone to go check out their local library.

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24 thoughts on “The Privilege of Being a Bookworm

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  3. Thank you so much for taking the bull by its horns, Kate!
    I am a book blogger from a small city in India. There is no library in my locality or even in a 5-km radius. Well-stocked public library is accessible via paid membership, and is wayyyyy too far from my home. Buying books from large bookstores (I won’t name them) costs whopping amount of money. Although my city is home to the world’s largest second-hand book market, you won’t get new releases there (obviously, in Professor Snape’s voice).
    So, ARCs are the only way out for us (and sometimes, discounted copies on Kindle app).
    Thanks once again for this post, Kate! 🙂


  4. Thank you for this post, Tita Kate. I’m actually one of the “fortunate” ones to experience both. I grew up in the Philippines, in a small city in the Visayas. As you already know, bookstores are hard to find. But in the 90s (I was in elementary-high school during this time), we did not have any bookstores selling fiction, just a few bookstores selling textbooks for school. We had department stores that sold a few books, but not much and obviously a little bit pricey. It wasn’t until around the late 90s that a used bookstore opened where books were very accessible and also affordable (around 30 Php for a massmarket paperback). I also want to say that while our school library was at one point, the biggest in Asia, we did not stock fiction books. I’m sure they do now.

    I also immigrated to the US over 10 years ago and I can tell the blatant difference. I’m also located in Los Angeles where the public library system is huge, so I am able to borrow a huge selection of physical and digital books. But I also want to point out that not all public library systems are the same. They also rely on budget based on their size. For LA County, that’s a lot of $$ because it is a huge county. In smaller counties and rural areas, they don’t even have access to a public library.

    My best friends are in Asia, some still in the Philippines, and as much as I recommend books to them, they mostly aren’t able to read because of access and price. I understand how you feel and it really infuriates me when I see things on Twitter on this. Or yeah, the advice of simply “going to the library.”


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  8. Great post! Since joining the book community I’ve learned that whilst I live in the UK I have access to several libraries which are fairly close by and that libraries sadly aren’t something all international bookworms have and that makes me sad, cause if books are easily accessible for us then we’re going to have to save up our money and wait for them to come out and pray that some site has a discount price or something.

    Sometimes I forget that not everyone can easily buy books because it’s so normal and easy for me to do so, I forget that it’s a privilege I have.

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. Very interesting post! I really liked reading it! I know how hard it can be for others to get books and it’s very sad. I also know that the book community can make it harder by making it seem like you should be reading these books because they’re what’s popular now. Just realizing that I should read whatever I want and not what is being hyped up at the time has definitely helped me save some money, because I haven’t rushed out to spend all my money on those beautifully popular hardbacks. Hope that makes sense and sounds just seem like a lot of rambling! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • That does make sense! It’s very important to only read what you actually feel like you’d like, and not just because a book is popular. Good on you for sticking to your guns 🙌🏽

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I agree with everything here! I don’t like pirating books but sometimes I’m desperate and there’s no other option. Like you said, all libraries in my country are trash and totally outdated so finding new titles is impossible. Even the bookstores sell older books and never the ones I want unless they’re super expensive. On sites like Amazon sometimes only expensive hardcover copies of a book are available and many a times not even that!
    I really wanted to buy Autoboyography and The Astonishing Color of Ever After bit it isn’t available in my country 😟

    Sometimes life is really unfair to international bookworms and we have to make do with all that we’ve got. I really loved this post as it struck a chord with me, thank you for writing it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Bookstores are either super expensive or not helpful at all. And Amazon and The Book Depository are SOOO expensive. And if it’s not expensive on Amazon, usually the shipping is crazy. E-books are cheaper but sometimes you want to read an actual physical book, am I right? I totally get you!

      I really want to read The Astonishing Color of Ever After too, but like in your country, it isn’t available here either. I’m still contemplating on whether or not I’ll get it from The Book Depository considering it’s sooo expensive.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!


  14. As a blogger in Canada, I am definitely privileged when it comes to my access to books. My family members in India may not be poor but they can’t easily find the newest books in libraries or in bookstores like I can. I think this is an important post, and it deserves recognition. Many bloggers and reviewers and even authors don’t realize how hard it can be to access literature. It’s something I know I will always keep in mind from now on.
    Thank you for writing this post! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad there are bookworms out there that do recognize the difficulties others have in accessing literature. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. AMEN to this. As a Filipino blogger (not exclusively a book blogger though I’ve tried once or twice), I’m always jealous of Western bookworms who can just walk to their nearest library and borrow a contemporary book. Most public libraries are primarily for academic purposes and their fiction section is scant and almost never updated. Hell, I didn’t even know that my city had a library until I was in college.

    Being a bookworm really is a privilege in this country. Random anecdote. I once quit a fairly popular book club (the first in our province) because the admins were really, really, really elitist. They were a group of rich bookworms who were vehemently against book piracy but refused to even consider that not everyone could spend as much on books as they could. One of them was known to have spent around 10-15k pesos on Fully Booked at some point. The worst part about them I think is that whenever an author would visit the city for a book signing tour, there was this unspoken rule that you /HAD/ buy that author’s books (even if you’ve never heard about them before) and have them signed on the event. As someone who is fortunate enough to be able to afford my own books from time to time (and within reason… though my book-hoarding is far from reasonable), I just couldn’t stay in the book club that seemed to strongly advocate more on buying books instead of reading and discussing them. In the months I was a member, not once did the club talk about books in detail. Well, there was this one time an admin started a conversation about what everyone’s favorite books were but it got really awkward when another admin blew up on a non-admin when the latter dared to say that they didn’t enjoy Perks of being a Wallflower. It was wild. I am spilling so much tea, I’m sorry.

    Also I think book piracy can sometimes be… a necessary evil? I mean, I’m all for supporting hardworking authors but sometimes it just can’t be done. Reading has always been my only escape from anxiety and I’m sure that it’s the same (or at least similar) for countless people out there too. Before I could go out and buy books of my own, I could only ever rely on bootleg ebooks. I would have preferred to read the physical book but how could I when our school’s library had barely a shelf of fiction books and the nearest bookstore was two hours away? Should people really be barred from reading a book they like just because they don’t have the luxury to buy or borrow it? That’s just unfair. The author who said that people should just borrow from the library if they can’t afford a book is probably blind of their own privilege.

    Liked by 1 person

    • First, WOW, thank you for taking the time to leave such a lengthy comment! I’m glad you liked this post.

      About your book club, that sucks. It sounds more like they were into books as a payabangan thing rather than actual appreciation of the books. 10-15k pesos? WOAH. Does this admin have any concept of the word ‘bills’? Big yikes. Also, not cool on expecting every member of the club to show up at book signing, regardless of whether they’re fans or not. That’s definitely just a show of force or numbers kinda thing. I mean, being a bookworm doesn’t mean you like all books, diba? Sobrang nonsense yun. And wow, starting a fight just because someone didn’t like a book you love? How immature can you get?

      Also I think book piracy can sometimes be… a necessary evil? – I FEEL YOU. I myself wouldn’t pirate a book, but that’s only because I have a well-paying job and I’m not supporting children or siblings so I have the disposable income to buy books from Fully Booked or order them from Amazon or The Book Depository. I would never judge someone who really wanted to read but who didn’t have the money to buy the titles they want. I get where an author is coming from, not wanting their book to be pirated, pero I wish some of them would show some sympathy and compassion for people who love their work but who don’t have access. You’re right. Sometimes authors – especially authors who live in the US, ha – are so blind to their privilege.

      Liked by 3 people

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