The Library Book

My reading-life perfectly summed up in two quotes by Susan Orlean, in The Library:

“Our visits to the library were never long enough for me. The place was so bountiful. I loved wandering around the bookshelves, scanning the spines until something happened to catch my eye. Those visits were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived” (7).

“As soon as I got my own apartment, I lined it with bookcases and loaded them with hardcovers… I turned into a ravenous buyer of books…” (9)  

I finally read her nonfiction account of the horrific fire at the Los Angeles County Library’s Central branch in the 1980s, still a sort of mystery but a tragedy nonetheless. Intermixed with her investigation is a bit of a love letter to libraries and also an exploration of their history. It’s beautifully written, expertly researched, and an absolute joy from start to finish, especially for someone like me who goes to this exact library a few times a year for author events.

More than anything, though it made me think about my own personal history with libraries. Like Orlean, I visited them every chance I could get when I was a kid and then turned into a book collector as an adult (she rekindled her romance with book-lending, as I have not). I grew up visiting the Modesto Library in the Central Valley of California, constantly begging my parents to take us. When we were quite small we’d go to story time, but I remember not really loving it. I wanted to get out into the stacks and start loading up! My parents let me read whatever I wanted; my mom would tear out inappropriate stories from our subscription of Sassy Magazine (why did she even get it for us? I was like ten! Ha!), yet I vividly remember reading a novel set in a men’s prison (glory hole included) when I was quite young. They were also very liberal about not capping the amount of books we checked out, as long as we could hold them (I bought two book bags, making sure to work that system). I also used the library at school, but there you could only check out two books at a time and the librarian was sort of an uptight b-word, enforcing grade-level restrictions on the chapter books.

I owned book too, saving my money for Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley High, Lurlene McDaniel books, and whatever else I was into. I had an intense love for the Scholastic Book Flyers and Fairs and I would frequently trade my books in at Yesterday’s Bookstore so that I could get credit and turn around buy more (I am still made at myself for doing this with my Narnia set, though).

When I went to college I had to buy novels for my English major classes and would hold on to them quarter after quarter- my collection started growing. Once I had my own apartment with my husband and we invested in some super fancy IKEA Billy bookcases (what we still use) things got real. This was also when Amazon started really taking off and I had a full-time job. CHA-CHING! The collection started in earnest.

To this day I don’t have a library card. I know this is a huge disservice to my son, which I need to fix, but personally I love having books. We have space, I’m financially responsible, and it makes me really happy. I am incredibly appreciative of libraries, though, as they helped fuel my early passion for reading and are such amazing resources for communities.  

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