Family Life / On Reading / The Social Network

Forgotten Pleasure: The Public Library

Thanks to and Barnes and Noble, books in some abundance occupy this house. Only the more recent acquisitions are due to those mega-volume retailers, of course. Beloved university bookstores, rummage sales along the way, ‘book-of-the-month’ clubs, borrowed-and-never-returned favorites, a good many gifts and inherited collections (The Hardy Boys Mysteries among them) line the shelves and fill the varied nooks around here. Right now, laptop open and snuggled pup on my feet, two of the many lay, dog-eared (ha!) beside me. A mini-stack (some read, some still to be discovered) fills the upturned, antique wooden crate that serves as an end table (and holds my coffee!) to my left. Three assorted small piles adorn the ‘coffee’ table proper, and some particular favorites (chosen partly for their appearance, obviously) take center stage on the mantel. Not a room in this house is void of books. Not a room. I think that explains why such a ‘surprised joy’ and life-long love for CS Lewis seeped into my bones when I read this in his autobiography:

“The New House is almost a major character in my story. I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books. My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents’ interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass. Where all these books had been before we came to the New House is a problem that never occurred to me until I began writing this paragraph. I have no idea of the answer” (“The First Years” — Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life) (emphases mine). BOOKS. So, so good.

Growing up a farm girl with a 7+years older sister who mostly found me a nuisance, mostly cats and sometimes a dog were my primary playmates. I found companionship aplenty, though, in Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames (student nurse) and the ‘eight cousins’ and ‘little women’ of Louisa May Alcott. Flicka and Black Beauty too. Bambi. Old Dan and Little Ann. Rascal. Mystery solving, animal loving, girls-after-my-own-heart kinds of stories filled my reading days. I ‘borrowed’ some from my sister’s shelves, and, like Lewis, I found a couple that were ’emphatically not’ written with me in mind, and read them anyway, or tossed them aside because I just didn’t ‘get it.’ Mostly, my books came from one of two places: the shelves of my elementary classroom’s ‘libraries’ (fine during the school year), or the public version, which my mom faithfully took me to visit every week of the summer time.

While I confess I do prefer owning books (hence the accounts with amazon and B&N), I still love a library. Just walking into the muffled silence of all those shelves housing all those pages and pages of infinite possibility tickles my learning fancy. The musty, crumbly, inky smell of books promises adventure, heart-break, laughter, love, rebellion and restoration — “words, words, words.” Who can resist? Well, I confess I have been resisting for quite some time, opting for the click, click, click of online ordering, or the occasional waltz down an actual aisle full of ‘fiction and literature.’ Until yesterday…

A few months back, I belatedly hopped on the Steig Larrson train, and purchased The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’ (I avoided the movie version cover.) Because I had other books under my arm at the time, my husband tried to talk some financially responsible sense into my head, dissuading me from buying the entire trilogy by furrowing his brow into a look that said, “are you kidding me right now?!” Dejected, I left parts 2 and 3 of Lisbeth Salander’s story on the Barnes and Noble shelves. (the story I am relating gets a bit fuzzy here, as I was absolutely certain until last evening that I had managed to buy at least two of the three. A mind is a terrible thing to lose…) The Girl… occupied space in the antique crate for quite awhile. I opened it up and dived in no less than three times (getting to around p 30 with each foray) before picking it up again for our Memorial Day weekend getaway to the extended family & friends lake house extravaganza, otherwise known as “Mark & Carol’s Lake House, where it’s always 5:00.” Some say “third time’s a charm.” Larrson’s thriller took four times (it’s a slow, ‘what the heck is this about?!’ start, my friends), but I’m happy to report, the charmed magic finally took hold. Yesterday morning, I was dangerously close to the book’s ending, and, not knowing exactly how The Girl Who Played with Fire picks up the storyline (and not wanting to delay the gratification of Lisbeth & Mikael’s unfolding relationship), I anxiously searched my piles and shelves. No part 2. I looked once, in a hurry and on my way out the door to make a hair appointment. I looked again when I got home. Thoroughly searched every shelf, every stack, every room. Nothing.

In the olden days (six months ago, when I had a job…) I would have click, click, clicked my way to Fire and Hornet’s Nest without a moment’s thought; instead, I hesitated. Contemplated an after-dinner trip to B&N. Anticipated the sounds and smells of book commerce (thanks Starbucks™). Waited until my husband got home from work so that he could clarify for me just what we did and did not purchase that day at the bookstore. And then, you know what we did? We went to the library. Yes, we did.

I came home with Fire and Hornet’s Nest. I grabbed one other title that caught my eye, and three audio books for my husband, who, though he doesn’t read a whole lot, listens to books on his drive to work. Sometimes he even takes a suggestion from me. Wonders really never do cease.

Last evening I discovered anew the wonders of the library. The muffled, crumbly, inky wonderfulness of books. In three weeks or less, I’ll be going back. I can hardly wait.




5 thoughts on “Forgotten Pleasure: The Public Library

  1. I was forced to start enjoying the library again, something I really hadn’t done since my youth. But I needed to print something from the library computer and they decided to make me get a library card when I was already told by a friend who works for one of the local branches that if I need single access to the computer that I’d be provided a temporary pass and just pay the print fees. So, because this year the libraries are celebrating 50 years (if I remember correctly) of service in the city they were giving them out for free. So I didn’t argue, and I figure if I’m forced to have the library card I might as well put it to use.
    I’ll probably wind up renewing it when the time comes but for now I’ll just enjoy some of the perks that comes with it.
    – Krys

  2. I have, over the years, given away most of the books I accumulated through the years. Recently, I went on a used book buying binge. Today, I picked up a first-edition copy of “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath in fairly good condition. I’m looking forward to digging into it.

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