Checking out the library
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to start going to the library.
This resolution was prompted by the closing of the Border’s that I walked by each day, and stopped into each week.
The nearest bookstore is now a further walk than the library. So why not start using the BPL? It’s not as if I don’t have a long, library-loving history.
I grew up in a house of books, a house of voracious readers.
Now my parents weren’t sitting around reading Flaubert and Henry James. They read popular novels, historical novels, Ellery Queen mysteries. They subscribed over the years to the Literary Guild, the Book of the Month Club, and the Quality Paperback Club. (I still have those Quality Paperbacks, which I’m holding in reserve for some future book shortage and/or disablement. The only one that I can recall the title of off-hand is Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson.)
For a few short (and later deemed shameful) years, they subscribed to the Reader’s Digest condensed books, where I first started reading grown up books by sampling best sellers of the day. Most memorably, I read the condensed version of I Was Chaplain on the Franklin, a harrowing World War II story by a Jesuit from Holy Cross . (Father Joseph O’Callahan, who won a Medal of Honor for his heroics.)
Although they were less likely to be cracked open, we also had “The Classics,” leather bound editions of whatever – I actually don’t remember any of the titles, other than the Jane Austens, which my mother re-read every year, and I’m guessing some Alexander Dumas. Then there was the blue, cloth-bound complete Yale Shakespeare collection. These high end books were housed in the living room, along with the Collier’s Encyclopedia. The more pedestrian books were shelved in the family room and in our bedrooms.
Naturally, we kids had our own books, too. From the time we could grasp an object, there was likely a Golden Book in our hands.
Once we could read, we were also book club members: Children’s Classics, American Heritage, and Vision Books. Vision Books were for Catholics. My two favorites were More Champions in Sports and Spirit and Lydia Longley, First American Nun. My favorite chapter in More Champions, was about Herb Score, a gifted pitcher who was never the same after being hit in the eye with a ball off the bat of the Yankees’ (figures) Gil McDougald. (I just googled Gil, and found that he was a graduate of the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit school, so he was no doubt, like Herb, a Catholic, too.)
We saved up our allowances to buy The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys at Woolworth’s. We always got (and gave) books as gifts.
But there was no way we could afford to buy enough books to satisfy our collective and individual reading joneses. So each and every Friday evening, after supper, we went en famille, to the Main South Branch of the Worcester Public Library. (Or the Worcester Free Public Library, as it was then called.)
The en famille who went were my father, my sister Kath, and my brother Tom. My mother stayed home with the little guys, but my father took her library card so that he could check out twelve books, instead of the allotted six.
My cousin Ann Kelly worked at the library while she was in high school, and I remember how great it felt to walk in the door and see our ‘big girl’ cousin’s welcoming smile.
I checked out a lot of drivel – teen romances – but at the Main South Branch of the Worcester Public Library, I also discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, and the wondrous Betsy-Tacy-Tib books by Maud Hart Lovelace.
Since then, my tastes in reading have been catholic, but have arced towards great writing of lasting quality.
Early on, the habit of reading was set for a lifetime. But when I began working full time, I bought more and checked out fewer books.
And now I’m back.
I had forgotten what a wonderful experience it is to graze the shelves, making a grab for anything that looks interesting. I had forgotten what a marvelous experience it is to see, all in a row, the complete works of a recent crush like Stewart O’Nan (which I am making my way through), rather than the couple of novels that even a good bookstore might have kept in stock. I had forgotten what it was like to pick up and enjoy a book by an old favorite, like John Le Carré, whose work I last read over 40 years ago. Or to finally read a book by a writer who’s been on my list for years – Pat Barker – and see what I’ve been missing up til now.
Dumping a tote back full of library books onto the bed and deciding which one to pick up first is every bit as satisfying as dumping the tote back full of Border’s books. Or opening the delivery from Daedalus or Kenny’s Book Store, two sources of bought books over the years.
Actually, it’s even better than bought books, as I no longer have to fret about where those bought books go next. The good ones I can always find a home for among my read-a-holic family. But the not-so-good ones, the buying mistakes… Fortunately, my sister Kath is always willing to take them to the Wellfleet Library book sale. Still. A checked out mistake is easier on the pocketbook and on the environment than is a bought mistake.
Some parts of the library have changed since I was last a regular.
You no longer search through card catalogs. And check out is automated – no more smiling cousin Ann at the checkout desk! Just a security guard who can also help you figure out how the bar code scanner works.
Still, browsing the stacks, sitting down to read a few pages to see whether a book by an unknown-to-you author is “it”, and heading to the check out with an armful of good reads…
There’s nothing like it!
So what if, six weeks after signing up, I’m still only 60th for a reserve copy In the Garden of Beasts. They have dozens of copies. I’ll get there soon enough.
Ah, the library.
I think I’m falling in love again.