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… on board the Carnival Elation cruise ship. Fixing each other with an authorial gaze, they both begin to speak at once.

“Have you seen the piss poor excuse for a ship’s library they have on this … ?”

“Can you believe what passes for a library on board this … ?”

You just know that both authors are book nerds, so this scenario rings true. Why? Because it happened just that way between me and a newly met fellow writer on board the Carnival Elation in April– both of us non-blockbusting authors, I hasten to add. Mr. Koontz and Ms. Harris, for whom I have the utmost respect, most likely wouldn’t be caught dead on a Carnival ship when they can afford a luxury line like Crystal Cruises or Regent Seven Seas or heck, even Disney whose fares are still too rich for my blood and budget. For me it’s Carnival, where you get the biggest bang for your buck.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Carnival cruise line. It’s my sea-faring venue of choice. Where else can you get room and board, singing and dancing and drinking, islands in the sun and more, all for less than you’d pay for a stay at modestly priced hotel? Cheapest vacation there is! When was the last time you and a companion found a $110 a day hotel room in a well-appointed resort with all-inclusive meals, live entertainment, dance clubs, lounges, bars, pools, fitness center, steam room, hot tub, yada yada? It’s a good life, if you don’t weaken[1].

All except for the onboard library. Carnival ship libraries all seem to be something of an afterthought, but the Elation’s was the pits! Not the decor, just the contents. Beautiful wooden book cabinets, upholstered furniture, polished wood table and chairs … And no books. Well some books. A few. Maybe one.

I hyperbolize. But longtime cruisers know that foreign ports are only part of the joy of cruising. Ship life itself is the lure for many serial cruisers– many folks, myself included, don’t even get off the ship at familiar ports!

Cruise ships offer abundant delights for those who relish life at sea. Foodies have it all: endless buffets on Lido deck with their varied cuisine, burger spots, salad and deli bars, burritos stations, pizza joints, 24/7 soft serve ice cream; elegant sit-down dining rooms with friendly, attentive wait staff; and the for-pay steak houses and epicurean experiences that are popping up all over the place.

Gamblers have casinos and bingo. Drinkers have bars and clubs throughout the ship. Shoppers have drool-worthy stuff from fine jewelry to cruise wear to duty-free liquor. Sun worshipers have swimming, water slides, and poolside lounging. Active guests have miniature golf, ping ping, ball courts and increasingly such thrills as zip lines, climbing walls, rope courses and the like.

But bibliophiles? Pah! Book nerds at sea had best load up our Kindles and weigh down our luggage if we want to have a decent selection of beach reading. And we’re not asking for literary classics, (although I personally wouldn’t kick them off the boat.) Good solid genre paperbacks are just fine for poolside reading.

After one unsatisfactory library experience on shipboard, I got it in my head to donate some of the paperbacks spilling off my shelves and stored in my garage at home. So I called up the Carnival 1-800 number to find out how I could ship them some books. I spent a frustrating hour on the phone being passed from staff member to staff member. Amazingly, nobody could find me an authoritative answer. Yes, they would be happy to accept donations. Wait, they’ll have to ask around to find out how to do it. No, sorry, they can’t find someone to help me out. But would I like to buy my next cruise?

I sympathize. I really do. Cruise lines make no money from their libraries, and reading is the last thing many people think about when they embark on a cruise. Cruise ship personnel have a thousand priorities before stocking their libraries as they work hard to get those floating cities up and running for their paradise-seeking guests. But book lovers are a passionate population too. We are found on board every ship, just like the equally well-behaved piety nerds (yeah that’s my hand up again, sheepishly) who love rosaries on board and Mass in port. Maybe we just need to be a little more pro-active to accommodate our own cruising hobbies.

My effort to donate books ended in a question mark. Since nobody could give me a working procedure, I decided to make an experiment. My next cruise was out of New Orleans on the Elation. During my frustrating phone call I did learn that libraries come under the purview of Entertainment. I shipped a box of books cold to the Elation in dock at the New Orleans cruise port, care of the Entertainment Director.

Three months later, I boarded the Elation for my 21-day cruise. I rushed to the library right away, eager to feel that frisson of self-congratulation that comes when you do the kind of good deed where (contrary to recommendation) your right hand does know what your left is doing.

Which is how I wound up exchanging moans and gripes with a newly met fellow writer who had also made his way to the ship’s library as the cruise commenced. Nada. Nothing. My books were not there. The shelves were nearly bare. Oh, oh, oh, look! A 1995 guide to Caribbean ports. A coffee table history of DaimlerChrysler. Three well-thumbed westerns. (Yeah I took one of those.)

I sought out Guest Services but they had no luck tracking down what happened to the box I shipped. Their best guess was that since I shipped it to the ship itself rather than to corporate headquarters in Florida –where, I learned for the first time, one mails letters and packages to ship’s staff — it simply got lost in transit.

I’m sure nobody cares about this but me but dang it I’m not giving up! In two weeks we’re taking a five days cruise to the Bahamas out of Jacksonville on board … you guessed it … the Carnival Elation. Since it’s a short trip I can pack a bare minimum of clothing and load up a whole duffel bag with paperback beach books. And I will! This time I will put them on the shelves myself, as is the custom when one finishes a book brought from home and wants to pas it on. I am including some of my favorites:

  • Dean Koontz’ complete Frankenstein series, with his final Odd Thomas title (Saint Odd) thrown in for giggles
  • the complete Harper Connelly series by Charlaine Harris with a few Aurora Teagarden mysteries to boot. Fans of Sookie Stackhouse need to meet her other protagonists, especially Harper and Tolliver
  • Agatha Christie, Rex Stout and Helen Macinnes representing the classic mystery and suspense
  • Hunter S Thompson in his later years, just because. I did find his son’s memoirs about life with HST in another ship’s library, so there’s that in their favor. Growing up as Hunter S Thompson’s son was not an easy gig.
  • A nicely annotated copy of Hamlet because … The Bard! And ghosts! Murder and vengeance. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
  • Two of the Madeleine L’Engle Austin family series.
  • Peter Kreeft’s Jesus Shock for some light but pithy Catholic wisdom
  • Etcetera

This time, Dean Koontz and Charlaine Harris will walk into a library! Along with some other of my favorite summertime friends.
[1] “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken”, a phrase that has fallen into common parlance, was the title of a semi-autobiographical graphic novel by Canadian cartoonist Seth, c.f. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_a_Good_Life,_If_You_Don%27t_Weaken

All images property of Alabama Dame