One of the Many Gems: My Discovery of La Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende

After being in San Miguel de Allende for a couple of months, I found myself needing something.  At that moment, I did not know what this hole in my soul was nor did I know how to fill it. We were of course busy settling in and taking care of those utterly detested errands that as I mentioned in one of my earlier posts usually took several attempts to complete.  My husband had to get his truck he had bought in the states properly registered here, he had to get a driver’s license, and we were looking for places to get my baby his needed immunizations.  After all of these detestable things were taken care of, I felt like there was definitely something missing.

I have always been a reader.  When I was younger, I read many books in The Babysitter’s Club series, I tore through The Boxcar Children series, and when I would receive money for Christmas or my birthday, I found myself using some of it to make a trip to the bookstore to pick up the latest Full House: Stephanie book or the biographies of Prince William and Leonardo DiCaprio.  I bought countless copies of those “tween” gossip magazines of the ’90’s  to see what my favorite boys were up to which of course included the person I thought would eventually become my husband:  Jonathan Taylor Thomas.  Reading was always important to me.  I would see teachers begging and pleading with my fellow students to read while I was always worried I would finish my book before my class’ next scheduled library session.  I remember one teacher I had in either second or third grade telling my mother that I had brought my dad’s Readers’ Digest to read during free time. I loved movies and TV, but books provided something entirely different.  My mother told me when I was really young, she would try to read to me, and I would snatch the book away from her and “read to her” instead.  When I actually did learn to read, it allowed me to escape, and books became somewhat of a therapist to me.  I don’t remember actually learning to read.  I just did it.

As I ventured into the teen years, sometimes my reading would take a backseat to the usual teen activities, but I would always find my way back and definitely make up for that time spent away from those soothing words that had once been a huge part of my life.  I worked at a Books-A-Million during the summer after my Senior year of high school and found it preposterous the money people would spend on books.  Hadn’t they ever heard of a library?  You know, where you can get books for FREE!  Oh well.  Although the pay for this particular job was horrible, and I had to actually work and not spend my entire day browsing the shelves for new stories, it was a rewarding job, and I got to experience many people’s reading preferences.  The soccer mom would pile books with very explicit sex scenes on the counter, students and their parents would present their summer reading lists two days before school started back in a state of panic, and I even had a man ask me one time if I knew of any books that would “make him smart.”  I don’t remember how I answered that question exactly, but I probably led him to the section of British Classics. Little did I know that reading would soon become an even bigger part of my life.

As I entered college, I had no idea what I was going to major in.  I had some ideas:  Education, Political Science, or basically anything I could sail through college with that would not require me to take Trigonometry or Organic Chemistry.  After I transferred to Louisiana State University in Shreveport after being at a community college for a year, I found myself still enrolled in basic courses, but this time I realized I thoroughly enjoyed my English classes, and these classes were the ones I did well in.  I then decided to pursue a degree in English.  When people outside of my beloved English Department would ask what I was majoring in, their response would often be a puzzled look accompanied with “What are you gong to do with that?”  Ugh…I don’t know fool!  Write, read, teach.  Teaching was always an option and one that some of my fellow English Majors pursued, but this would also entail my gaining a teaching certificate since I would eventually only gain an English Degree and not an English Education Degree.  There are many teachers in my family.  My mother was a teacher for thirty years, and most of her family were also in some type of career in education.  Somehow I thought that this just was not for me.  So, I just focused on getting out of school and actually receiving a decent paycheck.  I graduated Cum Laude in 2007, but as I was strolling across the stage with my degree in hand, the idea of “what the hell am I going to now” presented itself in my mind.  Luckily, a couple of months later, some very gracious people decided to take a chance on a newly graduated, 22-year-old gal with no experience whatsoever in their field.  I stayed employed with this company until fate forced me to pack up my office and move South of the Border.

Like I mentioned before, after the chaos of moving to another country simmered down, there was something I longed for, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.  The first time I entered La Biblioteca, that feeling came to light.  Ah yes.  This is what it was.  I needed the “written word” back in my life.  I needed that feeling of knowing I had a good book waiting for me when I felt miserable about my family’s situation.  I needed something to engage myself in other than watching the very limited English-speaking shows on TV.  You may be thinking that a library in Central Mexico could not possibly cater to someone who had grown up in America.  Au contraireLa Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende is like something out of a romantic movie.  It is huge and unlike any other library I had ever seen.  It not only houses tons of books in English, the atmosphere is absolutely breath-taking.  After you walk from the sidewalk into the front door and up a few stairs, the library opens into a beautiful courtyard.  In the center of the courtyard is a beautiful wishing fountain where, if you look inside of it, you will find both pesos and pennies.  You will find students dressed in their pristine school uniforms studying, young children enjoying a class in the children’s section, and many expatriates utilizing the many resources the library offers in English.  As you walk further into the library,  there are several small sections housing different genres of books in English along with a huge room with many more.  There is another equally large section for books in Spanish. The library has a full theater and café in one part, and the upstairs area is used for children and adult art classes.  My mother and I actually looked in on a painting class for children around the age of eight or nine while she was visiting.  The first time I saw the library, I knew I had to see about getting a library card to place in my collection of library cards in my wallet.  I was a little nervous about asking how much it would cost. Because of our situation, I knew that spending money on “extras” was not a great idea.  I was very relieved to find out that the cost equaled about seven American dollars per calendar year.  YESSS!!! Finally.

As I have mentioned, the library in San Miguel has many different English-written genres to choose from. I have read a couple of memoirs, a lot of books with extremely dramatic plots, and have even checked out a couple of classics I missed out on during my college experience.  When I was in college, I was required to take Advanced American and British Literature, Victorian Novels (ugh…sorry peeps, not my fave) along with a class dedicated entirely to Shakespeare.  I also took a Contemporary Novels class which introduced me to Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit which eventually became the subject of my Senior Presentation. I must say that it is much easier to read a classic when you are alone without a baby or toddler to take care of.  I attempted to read Anna Karenina when I got here which was a big flop.  Yes, I understand that this work is very respected and should always be taken seriously, but I simply could not do it.  Oh yes, I did finish the book; however, that meant, one day, after becoming frustrated with the slowly moving plot, taking a considerably large handful of pages and flipping them to the left.  Surprisingly after skipping that “handful,” I still understood what was going on.  It was like I had missed nothing.  I then realized that I could not delve into those same works that I had in my earlier years in the quiet atmosphere of my university’s library. I had to find books that I could read with background noise of a screaming toddler, the often annoying and loud noises of Nick Jr. en Español playing, and books that would allow me to lay them down after reading only a paragraph to tend to a dirty diaper or feed my always-hungry child another snack and come back to it without confusion.  This led me to scout out those “guilty pleasure” books that I often felt ashamed of reading as an person holding an English Degree.  But oh how fun it was! I have read pretty much every Jodi Picoult book known to man along with all of the “chick-lit” writer Jennifer Weiner’s works.  I tore through Gone Girl in a day, and I have become acquainted with several authors I had never heard of.  Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is another “chick-lit” writer who writes novels mostly about Latina women living in the U.S., and her writing often throws in a few words in Spanish along with English.  I am very proud to tell you that since I am an expatriate living in Mexico, I actually understood these simple Spanish phrases…..Oh, and there were a few I had to ask my husband about.

Throughout my life of being an avid reader, I have developed certain preferences when it comes to choosing something that will keep my full attention.  If I am not interested in a plot within the first couple of chapters, I will put the book down never to return to it.  I do not have the patience to appreciate extremely long, descriptive passages describing every thread present in the current setting.  I do not care what color the curtains are nor do I care to know the length of the male character’s nose hairs.  I guess this is why some of the novels I was required to read in college were also accompanied with visits to Spark Notes. I am somewhat ashamed to admit this, but like I said, I have to be entertained, and some of the books I was required to read were simply unentertaining.  I like scandals, I like action, and I do not appreciate cheesy love story plots.  When choosing books to check out at the library in San Miguel, I have learned to closely examine the plot, the setting, and the comments often included within the first few pages from Literary Critics.  If I have the time, I will also read a few pages just to see if the author’s words capture me.  I have always had something against an author writing in the present tense.  I don’t know why, but it bugs the hell out of me.  Yes, I have read some great books written in the present tense, but I prefer works written in the past tense.  I like the element of reflection to be present in a plot.  Reflection really is impossible if one is writing in present tense.  I absolutely love when an author writes about seemingly different characters and somehow cleverly connects them.  I refuse to watch a movie based on a book before I read the book unless it’s not something I’m interested in reading.  For instance, I did not read any of the Twilight  books, but of course, I watched the movies.  This falls into that “something I am not interested in reading” categories.  I do not enjoy reading about vampires, the supernatural or anything like that.  I like real-life stuff—-you know the stuff that could happen in real-life, but you hope to God it does not happen in your life.  I hate when authors churn out what seems to be 100 books a year that all have basically the same plot—Sorry Danielle Steel lovers.  While reading these books, I always have a sense the author is rushing to wrap it up so he or she can start on the next bestseller.  The ending of a novel is the most important part to me, and I hate feeling that the author is rushed to get it over with.  I like intense words with clever dialogue, and I absolutely despise milksop female characters.  I always research my library trips beforehand to make the trips more successful.  I have an app on my iPad that suggests different authors based on the books I have enjoyed in the past, and I make a list of those authors. Often, the authors I have on my list are not housed in the San Miguel library. I still do my research just in case.  I am the weirdo gringa with a chicken-scratched list of various authors on the back of a grocery store receipt or pizza napkin wandering around the different English sections of La Biblioteca. 

As you can see, reading has always been a big part of my life from the time I first began reading up to present day.  Yes, I have developed my idiosyncratic preferences throughout the years, but the goal of reading for pleasure is actually having pleasure in what one is reading.  Writing is a unique art form that requires the artist to draw someone into his or her work through words only.  In most books written for adults, there are no pictures, and there is no audio so the artist has the responsibility of using words as a medium just as painters and sculptors use their mediums.  I have come to realize this can be extremely difficult especially when presenting art to a picky reader like me.  Words have the ability to be boring and annoying while they can also be moving, entertaining or simply magical.   Throughout my life, books have taken on the role of entertainer, therapist and companion.  I will always be thankful that I possess the love of reading.  I am always reminded to be thankful for this love of mine by remembering that I am currently in a beautiful city that is totally foreign to me that holds one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever seen.  ¡Gracias a Dios por La Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende!  After all, what more does one need than breath-taking views, a toddler digging around in stuff he is not supposed to be in, a sweating glass of cheap rum and Coca-Cola Light and a good book to make a night enjoyable!

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