In Praise of Library Books

The other day, I sojourned to my local library to pick up a book I had started on ebook from another library and which would soon be due. You know you’re a book nerd when this sort of thing happens.

This was only my second time at this particular library, and I was pleasantly reminded what a nice library it is. Quiet and modern, but not too modern. You can check your books out with a high-tech scanner and still get lost in shelves of paperbacks and hardcovers or find a cubby-hole desk to sit at. I love living in the 21st century.

I soon located Barry Lopez’s Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World and relished the moment of seeing an ebook “in real life.” (There’s a story on how I picked up this book of essays by an author I’ve never heard of before, but that story will have to be another day.)

In any case, you don’t leave the library with just one book, so I wandered around the nonfiction and fiction for a bit. I was perturbed there wasn’t much in the way of philosophy, but I brightened to pick up Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, which is the last of his 20th-century novels I have yet to read. I am hoping it will be the Kafkaesque masterpiece I expect it to be.

Leaving the library with two hardcovers reminded me how long it is has been since I went to the library on the regular. Growing up, new books were more of a biannual or triannual treat, closely linked to new school years or birthdays and Christmas—in the interim, libraries were my jam. Dad took me to the local library every week and a bigger one several times a month. Usually I had books to pick up from the front desk, but we also looked at the magazines and media (VHS, DVD, and CD). It was a real high to come home with a good “haul” in the canvas book bag.

Eventually I traded the local library for my college library . . . and my college library for my personal library. Because that’s what I’m building. I treat every book with care and plan on someone else owning it someday—I am just its caretaker for a brief time on earth. I am grateful to have the choice to buy a brand-new book if I like (a choice I exercise a bit too frequently).

Nonetheless, I think I will start going to the library weekly again. The public library was a blessing to me, one I’d like to make sure thrives in the community. There is also great wisdom in getting your shopping kick out of a trip to the library. You carry home something tangible, and you’re granted a finite time frame in which to read it. It cannot sit and collect dust on your shelves for (ahem) years on end, giving you every motivation to apply yourself to reading it. (I once kept Seven Pillars of Wisdom overtime and almost got fined $25. Don’t try this at home.)

I may also try to resume my practice of reading a book from the library before purchasing it. Not that I’m averse to buying books or taking a chance on an author, especially if it’s one I’ve read and enjoyed before. But as someone who has little discernment in book buying—or more charitably, a very open mind—I’d really like my personal library to be “the best of the best,” along with a few titles that I view as important even if they weren’t 5-star reads. In many cases, the library can serve a great purpose in vetting books and exploring editions.

How about you—how has the library played a role in your reading life?


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23 responses to “In Praise of Library Books”

  1. Deb Nance at Readerbuzz Avatar

    I check out 10-20 books at a time. All the library clerks know my name. I have more library cards (by far) than I do credit cards.

    Love the library!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marian Avatar

      Hey, thanks for your comment Deb! I just rescued it from the spam filter… WordPress is being so silly ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      Like

  2. smellincoffee Avatar

    I grew up going to the library nearly every week, and that’s a habit that resumed after high school. (In late middle school I acquired a computer, and that…disrupted my reading habit a bit!) The libraries were a great part of my college experience. Not only could I walk to the public library (and it was part of a network, so I could order books from every library in the Birmingham metro area despite living in a university village), but the academic library had SOOOOO MUCH NONFICTION, including hard to find and esoteric books that I would have never had access to otherwise. Reading Freely was originally known as This Week at the Library, in part because I was recording my weekly reading but also because in the beginning I’d muse about the actual trip itself — the people I saw and talked to. Since I work at a library now, it doesn’t have the same feel it used to, but I still get my book-people fix by hanging out at a local bookstore on Saturday mornings.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jade Avatar
    Jade

    This was very interesting to read!! I am also building a home library, and I often will borrow books from the library to be able to read so many and find my favorites to buy and some to place on gifts Wish List. I also sometimes find free books at the free library cabinets in person, and I also give many past ones away I might have been gift (I still love getting books, dont worry if you buy me one I end up giving away; I still love you :D) or I just didnโ€™t really want for my own โ€œbestโ€ library. And like you, I like to have certain ones there even if not a top favorite. I just recently added Jane Eyre as a hardcover painted edition, and another two to read. I hope itโ€™s been fun for you too! ๐Ÿ˜€ Esp. looking fwd to reading a few pages at the bookstore and finding I want to buy the book. That is the best way to know, learned that from a fiction writing college professor.

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    1. Marian Avatar

      Ooh, good reminder about the free library cabinets! There is one not too far from where I live, I should remember to check it and maybe leave a donation. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  4. Jason McFadden Avatar

    Well, I’m the kid in school who didn’t like to read, so libraries for me were just required reports for school. Due to the tech angle, it took the kindle and ebooks to crack me open to reading once I was an adult; better late than never. That said, I read the entire Harry Potter series in cheap paperback form.

    I appreciate libraries more now for their quiet space and for how greatly they’ve served my kids and wife – we homeschool. So the public library is invaluable. But when it comes to physical books for me, I love browsing and shopping at book stores like Books-a-million. Physical books’ tangibility and smell are features ebooks can never replace.

    I like your view how one can feel they got a good haul of books from the library without spending a fortune and without taking up shelf space. Still, I’m more likely to buy and shelf a physical movie than a book, truth be told.

    …now, if I pause my video game long enough, I can get some ereading done…

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    1. Marian Avatar

      That is really interesting you got into reading via digital books. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Was it the form factor, the interactive features, or just the right time in life?

      Like

      1. Jason McFadden Avatar

        It was the form factor and the tech aspect. I really like how ebooks solve the problem of holding a book open with two hands, for example. Plus the convenience of holding what would be a big heavy book in a thin handheld device is great. So ereading is more accessible to me. The eink and long battery life and focus on ebooks, along with a handy built-in dictionary, easy bookmarking, and easy highlighting, adding notes…all add up to great convenience too.

        My first ebook was Hunger Games on the kindle keyboard. Its easy page turn buttons also helped. The book itself did a lot of work too!

        But even ignoring kindle, I read the entire ebook “Angels and Demons” (Dan Brown) on my non-retina (low-res) iPod touch (3.5″ display) years ago!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Marian Avatar

          That makes sense! ereaders are underrated for their ergonomic and highlighting advantages. I used to do a lot of reading on my NOOK simple touch, which was the perfect 6″ lightweight device. Now I just use my iPad but it is a bit heavier.

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      2. Jason McFadden Avatar

        Oh, and yes, I do think age also helped. Or let’s say maturity I guess.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Beth @ Beth's Bookish Thoughts Avatar

    I haven’t checked out a physical book in a while, since I’ve been reading library ebooks + my physical books. Most of my unread books are used, and a few of them are from library sales. But I really want to focus on them more this month and next year, and figure out which ones to keep. My new computer doesn’t have a disc drive, so I don’t watch DVDs from the library anymore. But sometimes I check out a few of the CDs; it’s a good way to add some variety to my music listening.

    Like

    1. Marian Avatar

      I’ve noticed that as well… all the new laptops don’t have optical drives. :/ It is quite irritating and a trend I hope reverses in the future. For now I’m holding onto my very old Macbook as a fancy DVD player…

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  6. Cleo @ Classical Carousel Avatar

    I used to love libraries, especially if the design was made for patrons to feel cozy and comfortable and to make a intimate place for reading. Sadly, my local library doesn’t have a great feel to it. On the plus side, the patrons are good readers so the books that cycle through are reasonably good but the library system itself is geared more towards entertainment. Lots of DVDs but anything intellectual or classics (or anything American) is sadly lacking. It’s a frustration but what to do? Thankfully Victoria is a ferry ride way and is known for its used book stores where the owners have an older mindset of the value of books. Great post; I enjoyed reading it!

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    1. Marian Avatar

      That is really frustrating, Cleo. It reminds me of the old Borders bookstores we had here… shortly before they went out of business, they put a big emphasis on media, or so it seemed to me. Barnes & Noble has gone a different route – still having plenty of books but also emphasizing heavily the ereaders, gifts, coffee shop, and stationery. So far they seem to be afloat. Libraries don’t have an excuse though!

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  7. John H Avatar
    John H

    This definitely made me want to give my local library another visit! I haven’t been since 2020. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Boston Public Library and the Library of Trinity College Dublin. There’s just something magical about them and our collective sharing of history and stories that is refreshing in the days of buying more than we are ready to read and endless TBRs.

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    1. Marian Avatar

      It really is magical…now that I think about it, the library is one of the few institutions (if we can call it that) which is still loved and thriving. I’m happy you were able to experience those historic libraries, from the photos they look spectacular!

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  8. Carol Avatar

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised at times with our Local libraries. They’re pretty good with non-fiction but I’m a lot slower with those so I usually run out of time. I don’t think I’ll ever stop buying books. They are furnishings for me as well as things to read. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marian Avatar

      oh, I agree! I love seeing books in a room ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  9. grllopez Avatar

    Lots of good ideas to think about here.

    BTW, my dad took me to our local libraries, too, almost weekly, and I especially loved the drive to the NY Public Library (w/ the lions), which was, in my young estimation, as large as a city block and had elevators!

    Reading this, I was like: YEP! I’m building a personal library, too, and deconstructing it, with mostly my 4-5 star reads. But I haven’t thought about what happens afterward…that is, passing them on to someone else, or someone else becoming a new owner. Unfortunately, I tend to buy used books, and I admit they aren’t so beautiful. Regretfully, I write in my books, too. So you can imagine, only some may appreciate reading my notes in the margin.

    It is so sweet to visit the library and experience the book first before you purchase it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marian Avatar

      What wonderful memories, Ruth! โค To your point about markings in books, I am sure your children and grandchildren will love them. I have a copy of Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer that my grandpa read, and I realized recently he actually marked certain parts in it. I decided to keep the book and (when I'm emotionally ready) read it and try to reconstruct his thoughts.

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  10. Amateur Reader (Tom) Avatar

    I would be sunk without libraries, real and electronic. I use them constantly, continually.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. smellincoffee Avatar

    I’ve been trying to reply to this for weeks, but I keep having an issue between Firefox and the WP plugin. Trying via Edge..

    I grew up going to the library nearly every week, and that’s a habit that resumed after high school. (In late middle school I acquired a computer, and that…disrupted my reading habit abit!) The libraries were a great part of my college experience. Not only could I walk to the public library (and it was part of a network, so I could order books from every library in the Birmingham metro area despite living in a university village), but the academic library had SOOOOO MUCH NONFICTION, including hard to find and esoteric books that I would have never had access to otherwise. Reading Freely was originally known as This Week at the Library, in part because I was recording my weekly reading but also because in the beginning I’d muse about the actual trip itself — the people I saw and talked to. Since I work at a library now, it doesn’t have the same feel it used to, but I still get my book-people fix by hanging out at a local bookstore on Saturday mornings.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The Girl Who Doesn't Exist Avatar

    This is such a sweet testimony! When I was younger, I’d only visit libraries if they had book sales lol. It was really hard for me to make sure my parents were able to have time to take me back, so I’d only buy books. Now I love to go to a library to write though! And I use their audiobooks system a lot!

    thesocialporcupine.com

    Liked by 1 person

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