|What Kind of Berry Reads Books?|
|March 24, 2009|
Today, I got a library card. (Well, actually, I got TWO library cards with the promise of a third for Stanford's library.) But the thrust of the matter is: Today, I got a library card!
I feel exactly like I did when I scrawled my name in large wretched script across the bottom of the Walker Public Library's light blue card in 198-something. (When you haven't yet perfected your signature after years of credit card receipt signing, using a thick marker to force a name like "Stephanie A. Vander Weide" into a short, narrow space produces a result that causes your mom to worry you might have serial killer leanings.)
I haven't had a library card since Boston, because every time I wanted a book, I just went out and bought it. (See above note about my perfecting signature -- after all those credit card receipts, it's Declaration of Independence-ready now.) However, given the economy and the proverbial belt-tightening, that sort of thing just isn't going to fly anymore. Especially since I rarely love a book so much these days that I want to keep it and reread it every year as well as to hold on to it for future generations. (I don't know if that's a comment on the state of writing today or my super-critical personality.)
Aside from the wasted dosh, those "meh" books pile up and irritate me by encroaching on precious apartment space they don't even DESERVE until I donate them, foist them on less critical friends, or sell them off.
The great thing about library books is I can start a book, dislike it, and just stop reading it. I don't have to finish it! I can simply return it! When I buy a book, I feel compelled to finish it no matter how sick I am of the writer whining for page after page that her mother is to blame for her weight, her sexual predilections, and why she can't wash the dishes.
Now, when you check a book out of a library, you have the looming "due date," putting a deadline on your reading. I actually see this as a good thing, because with bought books, there is no deadline, no expiration date, no real incentive. The lack of structure simply gives me permission to let those books lie fallow for years before I finally crack them. (If ever.)Sometimes I'd rather just re-read a favorite instead of risking boredom, irritation, and disappointment with a new book. (I have issues with change.)
However with library books, I dive right in, decide if I'm interested enough to continue, and then either settled in contentedly for pure enjoyment or ditch and select another in from my stack.
Walking home from Forest Street with my market bag swinging heavy with books at my side, my soul thrilled as if I had just selected several pounds of books for my elementary school summer reading list. Now, as then, I could hardly wait to dive into my crinkly, plastic-sheathed pile when I got home. I always counted myself lucky that summer reading lists did not fill me with dread as they did some of my friends. Forced to read over the summer? Yes, please!
Unfortunately, unlike those sticky summer days where reading book after book managed to be both an educational duty and a pleasure, autumnal adulthood makes me face the reality of work before reading. I didn't used to worry about return dates because I tore through books much in the way I tear through Cheetos, but now i'm all adult and have other responsibilities beyond reading
In fact, too many years have gone by where it's just been work INSTEAD of reading. Pretty stupid habit for a writer to fall into.
Meanwhile, a true testament to how long it's been since I checked out a book is when I said to the teenaged girl at the Palo Alto Downtown branch, "Oh, a receipt? No more due date cards?" and she said, "Cards? Oh, yeah, cards -- that's old school." Yes, that's item 58 on my list of things that makes me feel way old. A list that gets longer with every passing year.
The problem is, I have a really hard time not throwing out or losing these paper receipts. I transfer them from book to book, use them as bookmarks, search for them frantically when they slip under the couch, and long for the days when the due date was stuck in a securely glued pocket in the book.
On the other hand, advances in library technology isn't all bad. I love renewing online, and the self-checkout with the sliding and laser scanning through a designated computer sort of makes me feel like a librarian, one of my dream jobs.
The cream in the puff came just yesterday. I got interested in a particular book and automatically started typing in the library address to request it. I have finally broken free from the chains of Amazon.com!