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?Leave a comment