Books on wheels

She is continuously listing books on her Web site, where more than 4,000 titles are available

stack books 88 (photo credit: )
stack books 88
(photo credit: )
In normal times, Ruth Ostrovski is never short of something to read when stuck in a traffic jam. However, there have been few traffic jams in the north of the country in recent weeks and she has been doing most of her reading at home in the Jezreel Valley town of Ramat Ishai, a frequent target for Hizbullah Katyushas and other deadly rockets from Lebanon. An avid reader, she has turned her hobby into a business and buys and sells second-hand books - mostly in English but also children's books in Hebrew - from her mini-van and runs her own website ( When out and about in quieter days, she usually had between 800 and 1,000 books stacked neatly in the back of her Pugeot Partner van. Hailing from Stockton-on-Tees in Northeast England, Ostrovski first came to the country to volunteer on a kibbutz, like many other young people from all over the world. That was quite some years and thousands of books ago. While volunteering on Kibbutz Ein Harod, she met and later married kibbutz-born Yuval Ostrovski. After a stint of traveling in Australia, the Ostrovskis settled down in Israel. Yuval studied alternative medicine while Ruth got hooked on books as a way of making a living when the couple decided to leave the kibbutz a few years later. The first chapter in her business started when an already established second-hand book business in the center of the country was put up for sale by an owner ready to retire. Until the present hostilities began, she was on the road three days a week with her bookmobile. The rest of the week she was busy at home updating the Web site and mailing cybersales to customers. "It took me a year to get the Web site up and running," says Ostrovski, who is continuously listing books on the Web site, where more than 4,000 titles are available. Her large stock of books covers diverse subjects such as art, poetry, self-help, classics, fiction, romance, thrillers and science fiction. "I have an enormous stock of science fiction books, as they really are so popular, particular with students. I am amazed at the extremely high standard of English some Israeli customers show, especially the science fiction buffs," she says. She is also impressed by the number of Israelis who prefer to read a book in English rather than the translated Hebrew version. "Readers of science fiction in particular realize that a great deal is lost in translation. For example, The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams contains invented words by the author that are nearly impossible to translate," she says. She adds that many Israelis are buying children's books in English to encourage their children, and also sometimes for themselves to brush up their own English language capabilities. As examples she cites the Harry Potter series, Enid Blyton's various series for young children and teens, and Anne M. Martin's Boxcar Children series for older kids. "If an adult tells me that he or she hasn't read a book in English since leaving school but wants to try, then in order not to scare them off I suggest books with larger print and not too thick. I hope they will read them, come back and move on to bigger and better ones," she says. Her personal sales area used to fall between Haifa and Zichron Ya'acov, although she did sometimes venture farther. For example, twice a year she books herself into the Jacobs Ladder festival, where many avid folk music lovers are also appreciative of a good book, especially at the reasonable prices she charges. Ostrovski would set up her stall in educational centers and local markets and, when invited, take a selection of titles to book club meetings - a popular phenomenon in Israel where English language titles are so expensive. "I have always loved books, much more than film or television, and read maybe three a week," she says. Her personal favorites at the moment are crime-thriller-mysteries by best-selling authors Greg Iles, Lee Child and Minette Walters. "If I see a book I don't know, then I read the synopsis and often end up reading it myself." Ostrovski studied hotel and catering management in Britain before turning her insatiable appetite for books in to a business. "It's very important to me to give good customer service in the true British fashion. I want people to be happy with their books, and I obviously want them to come back and buy more from me." Since Hizbullah unleashed thousands of rockets on the northern areas of Israel where she would normally be paging customers, she spends more time updating her Web site and answering many queries from fellow avid readers. Dozens of rockets have landed in the vicinity of Ramat Ishai, snuggled in the corner of the valley between Tivon and Migdal Ha'emek and surrounded by the agricultural fields of neighboring kibbutzim and moshavim. "There have been some pretty frightening moments since all this started," says Ostrovski. Israelis are spending more time at home than usual, with many also having spent long periods in air raid shelters. Was there a jump in book sales or a change in the taste of some readers, such as a sudden demand for War and Peace or a deluge of requests for escapism fairytale romances? "There has been a slight increase in Web site sales since this all began, but nothing drastic," says Ostrovski, adding that she hasn't seen a change in clients' reading choices during the present situation. With markets and summer fairs in the north of Israel frozen, Ostrovski and her book-packed van went to Jerusalem once a week. "I wouldn't normally venture that far; but with the situation as it was, I decided to try. I'm glad to say that business was pretty good there."