Read, white, and blue


A common and curmudgeonly lament is that nothing is made in the USA anymore. One of my friends challenged me to find a product that’s made in the USA and that is, furthermore, wholesome, affordable, worth recommending, and not too much trouble to obtain on Saipan.

I was mulling this during a post-travel wind-down. As I cleaned up some of my travel gear I noticed one common element in all of my pieces of luggage. They all had paperback books from the Dover Thrift Edition line. This line comes from Dover Publications in New York.

Hey, that’s my made-in-the-USA product.

Well, I think so, at least. I called Dover Publications to verify that the Thrift editions are all printed in the USA. The question has not been answered by press time, though, so maybe I declared victory too early in my made-in-USA challenge.

Or, maybe I didn’t. For now, I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt. Let’s proceed:

One thing that’s easy to nail down is the price of these books. They’re very inexpensive. Many of the books I’ve got are $3 or $4. There are, in fact, many good titles selling for under $2 at certain websites. Incredible but true.

Most, if not all, of these books are older works that have fallen out of copyright and are, hence, in the public domain. On that note, you can often get such fare, for free, from websites such as Project Gutenberg ( That project is a great undertaking, and so much the better than many people like to read stuff on their computer screens.

My eyeballs still prefer ink-on-paper. However, my efforts to convert electronic downloads into printed books are akin to refining gasoline from a stray pool of oil; possible in theory, I guess, but not very efficient in practice. I’ll let the publishers publish so I can be a reader that reads. This keeps things easy.

I’m going to pick 10 tomes off the fiction side of my shelf to give you a sampling of some authors in the Dover Thrift line:

• Joseph Conrad
• Fyodor Dostoevsky
• Franz Kafka
• Rudyard Kipling
• Sinclair Lewis
• Edgar Allan Poe
• Robert Louis Stevenson
• Jonathan Swift
• Voltaire
• Oscar Wilde

Now that I’ve listed those names, it occurs to me that only two of them are American. Many CNMI readers will note that Conrad (Polish), Kipling (born in India when it was British-ruled) and Stevenson (Scottish) are very much part of tropical lore. Stevenson, in fact, is buried in Samoa.

Books by these writers are often great traveling material, which is why I have the inexpensive editions stashed in the nooks and crannies of my travel gear.

Incidentally, the non-fiction end of the Dover Thrift Edition line is remarkably well-populated, and has titles ranging back to ancient wisdom from China, Greece, Rome, and India.

In normal, pedestrian life, I seldom see people with books. I wonder what the future holds for publishers. The allure of the electronic screen is an obvious factor, but I think that it’s linked to a secondary factor, which is the broader waning of self-directed attention. To read the average book from start to finish doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but it’s not a skill I’d take for broad-based granted in the future.

Although I like the notion of posh, leather-bound books that are neatly arrayed on fancy shelving, I’m mostly a window shopper on that note. If libraries wore clothes, mine would be in faded jeans instead of a coat and tie.

There are many people in the CNMI who aren’t sitting on flush bank accounts, and the cost of products on the islands can be high. Money, or the lack of it, is an obstacle to many things, but fortunately it doesn’t have to stand in the way of good reading.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

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