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Books and Reading in Costa Rica

November 17th, 2007

I get a fair number of questions from people who ask about bringing their books to Costa Rica when they move.

I have been fond of reading all of my life, and when I first came to Costa Rica, moving all my books (maybe 2,000 or so) was a big decision. Most were hard bound, but I had a fair number of paperbacks as well.

On the one hand, I really wanted my books but was not thrilled with the idea of packing those babies. Then, there was the cost of shipping them. Books are not exactly light, and when you are paying by the pound for an international move, you start to re-think every item in terms of its weight (cost to ship) and duties (taxes) that will have to be paid upon entering the country.

Sadly, when I was planning the “big move” there were NO Blogs to help me and very few resources other than the ARCR to advise me on the realities of Costa Rica.

If I had just know then what I know now, the decision making would not have been such a big deal, and my long term solution to reading (see below) would never have been part of my decision making. I would have brought far fewer books. That is because many of the books I brought with me are now gone.

One good thing to know, and one less item to worry about, is that books are not taxed here. There are no duties to pay so you can bring in as many as you wish without worrying about that. Shipping them however, is not free, so that may enter into your decision. Also, if you use a good Costa Rica mover, most have little “tricks” they use to lessen your tax burden overall by using books as a little “helper”.

In my case, I decided to triage the books, bringing only those I thought I would likely want to read once again. As throwing out a book (to me) is sort of like throwing out your firstborn child, I had to do a lot of hard triaging. I ended up leaving a ton at my daughter’s house, and all were later destroyed when her home flooded.

Sadly, of the many books I did bring, many are also now gone. What I did not know is that hard bound books and Costa Rica often do not mix. The humidity here will make short work of your books, especially if you live anywhere near any of the beaches. I do not. I live in the central valley near San Jose where the humidity is a fraction of what it is at the beach, but still, the first two or three winters (green season or rainy season) took a heavy toll. I had my books in a bookcase (duh) and the mold and mildew grew between them and often on the pages themselves. This took 2-3 years where I live, but friends tell me that process takes but a few months if you live on the coasts.

So I switched to buying paperbacks only at the numerous librerías (book stores) that are all over the central valley. My favorite was in Multiplaza.

That worked for a while, but even paperbacks are horribly expensive here, often the cost of a hard-bound in the US, and they of course could not be stored together because if the moisture issue.

It was last fall (2006) when I was at the airport in Miami that I met someone using his iPod to listen to a book! I listened a bit and my how times have changed. They now use actors and professionals to read the books and thus the characters actually have different voices. It was not like years before. As just about everyone these days either owns an Apple iPod (see photo) or some other music player (MP3), including me, I got to thinking that there may no longer be a need to actually buy the book at all. As I could not keep them here anyway, why not give this a shot.

Apple IpodI found a US based company who, at the time, was offering a free iPod for joining for six months. As I wanted an iPod or similar player anyway, this seemed like a fine idea if the cost of the books was not outrageous. Even if I was not happy, I had the iPod!

As it turned out, I joined for a year, and I ended up paying an average of about $8-9 per book, about two thirds of the cost of a paperback in Costa Rica. They also allowed me to upgrade iPods to get the fancier version that played movies, and I just paid the difference.

I now have about 50 books on there and when I am not working, I am often out on the patio with a cigar, a drink and reading listening to a book. Right now it is A Thousand Splendid Suns, a superb book!

Ok… this part is going to sound like an advertisement, but there is just no other way to explain how this all works.

The company that offers this is called Audible. Again this year, they are offering a similar deal so you can get a complimentary iPod Shuffle when you join Audible.com. If you already have some type of MP3 player, it will probably work fine and there is also a discount banner ad for Audible on the left side of this page.

When I did this, they sent a gift certificate for the iPod and I was allowed to upgrade to the one I have now that allows me to watch movies of my granddaughter and family. I even have Shrek Three on there for my wife’s nephews and nieces.

I would suggest you try this first. You can listen to samples of all books on the web site. They offer almost all of the best sellers while they ARE best sellers and a ton of others as well. You simply download them to your computer and they get installed automatically on your iPod or other player. You do not need to be a tech weeny to do this.

Then you listen when you want! Somehow, they work it so if you get interrupted, it always takes you back to where you stopped reading. Sort of an electronic bookmark I guess. I drive around a lot in Costa Rica, and I am always listening to a book. At night, the TV disturbs my wife so I just listen in bed without bugging her.

Tips!

Always listen to a sample before buying. Always read what other say about the book!

While the readers these days are generally very good, all are not! A bad reader can make a good book kinda boring. The good readers bring the book to life… kinda like listening to A GOOD old time radio drama. Some books are read by the author. Listening to George Carlin, for example, is VERY good and very funny as he reads it as he wrote it.

The only way to tell is to listen first to the sample and to read what other have written. I have written several reviews and for sure, not all were nice! To their credit, they published every word, so I know that they do not filter the comments to make a lousy book sound good.

Finally, if you like this form of “reading”, get the annual plan. Books only cost about $8.00 average on the annual plan.

And… of course… no more mildew!


10 Responses to “Books and Reading in Costa Rica”

  1. Nicole J. on November 18, 2007 3:42 pm

    On the subject of mildew and mold, how to you protect your fabric furniture against it? My husband and I just moved here in early July. We live in a 3-year old condo at a high altitude in the Central Valley, and I leave the windows open all the time for fresh air.
    Last week, I discovered sheer, white circles on the sides and backs of our fabric sofas, which we’d bought brand new a few weeks after we arrived!! This must happen to lots of folks besides us. I raced out and bought a vacuum cleaner and have now removed the spots. But should I also spray something on the fabric to prevent further mold action? Do I need to keep the windows closed?
    I’m also discovering mold spots on other items, such as unused things stored in the closet, leaves and stalks of plants… Plus our allergies are acting up. Will the onset of summer dry everything out, or is this the beginning of an ongoing battle against the mold?
    Hope you have some sage advice. Muchas gracias for your blog. It was helpful before we moved, and I continue to read and learn from it.
    !Pura vida!
    Nicole

  2. Tim on November 18, 2007 7:21 pm

    You mention “high altitude” but do not say where. As the Central Valley is surrounded by mountains, that leaves just too much area.

    Sadly, I think this is an ongoing battle, especially if the high altitude you mention is near Escazu or Santa Ana. I know folks there who battle mold and mildew full time. Those beautiful clouds coming over the mountains from the ocean do the deed.

    When you chose to live high up, you get great views, chilly nights, and pleasant temps during the day. You also get more moisture in the form or rain and humidity.

    Your allergies may well be affected by mold.\

    Nighttime is usually more humid, but I am not sure at all that closing the windows is going to do much.

    I have heard leaving a 50w light burning in the closet can help. They also sell a powder like substance in the supers to remove some of the humidity, but the closet must remain shut for that.

    Hopefully you have read my numerous posts suggesting that you rent for a year before buying anything so if this becomes an issue, you can just waive goodbye and move to a micro-climate that better agrees with you.

    Thanks for reading the Blog!

  3. Justin on December 4, 2007 11:21 am

    A great spot to pick up used books in English, Spanish, and a few other languages is Mora Books. It’s in downtown San Jose, but I can’t recall exactly where right now. I’ll post if I can remember.

  4. Tim on December 4, 2007 3:39 pm

    Yes, I have been to Mora’s. Sadly though, I am less and less comfortable walking around downtown San Jose.

    That is just one of the reasons I started the new book store as par of the REAL Costa Rica web site. Take a look. Just click to visit.

    http://www.therealcostarica.com/bookstore/books_costa_rica.html

  5. vox on May 5, 2008 7:50 pm

    Audio books are good, even free ones at librivox.org and other sites. E-text with TTS ( text to speech) the voices can be a little robotic , but trying several different TTS apps can usually accommodate most ppl.

    E-text is the most obvious solution to the mold problem . The average lappy HD can hold more e-text than most ppl will ever be able to read. Project Gutenberg being a source for most classics and out of copy-right material ( they also have audio books )

  6. Connie on February 9, 2009 11:14 am

    First I must say I love to read your blogs…very informative and very funny. Love the audible book idea. I’m definitely going to check into it. Maybe it will make all of the waiting in line time pass more quickly.
    My husband and I are moving down later this year. We will be looking for areas that are cooler but the humidity is definitely a concern. Can you recommend an area that is the best of both worlds (i.e. milder temps as well as lower humidity)?

  7. Marilyn on February 9, 2009 6:38 pm

    Can somebody tell me how you find the residential internet connectivity now? Know that changes are “coming” but I mean now. Is it reliable, speedy, barely usable? or??? Thanks.

  8. Tim on February 10, 2009 10:57 am

    Read the relevant pages in The Real Costa Rica http://www.therealcostarica.com. Has all the info you need. Check the Blog too.

  9. Vernon Coles on March 4, 2009 1:23 pm

    Wow, 2,000 books! That’s a lot to read. Unfortunately, it appears you haven’t paid much attention to grammar when reading those books. This is possibly the worst-written Web log I’ve come across in a long time.

  10. Margie Sims on November 22, 2009 5:47 am

    I love audio book, especially when I’m working on projects around the house. I’m more inclined to work until I’m done if I have an interesting book going.
    Now, however, there is the advent of ebooks, and Amazon’s Kindle is fabulous. They have their own wireless, so books can be downloaded immediately without an internet connection (They have an international edition. I’m not sure how well that works in CR, though). You can also subscribe to many, many newspapers and magazines. I’ll be testing that when I come to CR in the sprint.

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