Expat Tip: Buy an E-Reader

I am a self-confessed bookworm. Books are a significant part of my life, and no day is complete unless I have spent part of it reading. Moving to Germany in 2000, I spent years on the hunt for books I could read. At first, devoted as I was to achieving fluency in the language, I read German books. I started with children’s books that I had read during elementary school, and read the German versions of them. The prose was straightforward and the sentence structure was simple enough for me to follow the story, and I kept a dictionary handy for new vocabulary words. I progressed to young adult fiction, and eventually adopted the newspaper. I will admit that I only read one or two entire books in German each year. Despite fluency, I still find reading more relaxing in my native language.

Prices for English books are shockingly high in Germany, and I could rarely justify paying them, except in the hope that I was either fulfilling an immediate literary need or helping to support a local bookstore. Once Amazon.de started selling English books, I ordered often (and shipping on books is free!). However, the selection of English books on Amazon.de isn’t the same as on Amazon.com, and I wanted the selection from across the pond. For years, my English-speaking friends and I swapped and borrowed from each other’s libraries, although our tastes never perfectly aligned. I was delighted to come across Sarah’s suggestion for bookswapper.de, and managed to trade a few used books on that platform. Now that the world has digitized everything and is ever more global, however, the e-reader has opened up new avenues.

I am a late convert to the e-reader. I love the feel of books in my hand, I love seeing their spines lined up on the bookshelf, their stories and characters fleeting through my mind as I pass them in the course of the day. My favorite books have dog-eared pages and have been read multiple times – a post-university phase even left annotations and underlined passages. My first attempts with Amazon’s Kindle were frustrating and uninspiring – I found that I couldn’t purchase e-books for my US friends with my German credit card; global commerce is not yet borderless. Copyright laws don’t transfer to all billing addresses, and the Kindle left me shaking my head and resolving to always stick with bound paper.

Now, however, the market has changed. I don’t know whether this is the case for all e-readers and content providers, but with a German billing address you now get to choose: content from Amazon.de or content from Amazon.com. My nerdy soul is delighted, I download books in my native language and hoard them on my virtual bookshelf. The movers will be delighted too, as our return to Germany won’t involve the quite the same amount of heavy book boxes!

The e-reader is a great way to keep connected to your home culture – you can read the latest fiction and non-fiction, and the content is immediately available with free shipping. You can even keep up with that book club from home, if you want – just join their meetings via video chat!

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