My lavish library love
I have a confession: I’m a glutton. No, I’m not prone to Netflix binge-watching. I tend to avoid all-you-can-eat buffets as a rule. And considering my undying aversion to malls, shopping sprees are few and far between. But lead me to a well-stocked library, and all bets are off.
One of my favorite Saturday afternoon activities is to walk to the library a few blocks from my house (named the Free Library, aptly—or redundantly?) with an empty canvas bag in hand and no list to speak of. I always head straight for the memoir section. Having majored in English, I do relish well-written literature, but there’s something about autobiographies that stir my heart and imagination in a particular way. I crouch and scan and scour the shelves for titles or authors or spines that catch my eye. I pick up book after book, putting a few back after fair consideration, but mostly holding on to my selections. Then I’ll often meander to the stacks of fiction, favorite authors’ names in mind as I ascend the stairs and duck away into quiet, hidden rows. I head for Austen and Berry and Bradbury, Hugo and Steinbeck and Wilde. I look for books that’ll make me laugh, that’ll break my heart. Books that will invite me into well-worn shoes to walk miles and gain a confidant. Books about the Holocaust, or the science of affection. Books with unlikely heroines and voices of courage.
I just love the extravagance of it all. It’s a harmless, innocent extravagance, not one that’ll leave me with a stomach ache or dip in my bank account or nagging dissatisfaction. I’m just as guilty of overusing technology as the next millennial, but libraries remind me of reality. Their contents remind me of authenticity, what with their dogeared pages and forgotten bookmarks. I feel the fruits of my indulgence as I feel my bag’s strap dig into my shoulder on the happy walk home. I often read my most intriguing new selection, keeping an eye out for curbs and traffic, too excited to wait until I return. (No, I’ve never collided with another pedestrian. Or a car. It’s an art that I’ve mastered.)
Then a few days later, I’ll happen to be passing by running errands or after Mass, and I just can’t resist the call. Yes, I have seven books awaiting me at home. No, I haven’t gotten more than three chapters in in any of them. But what gems might be awaiting me there? Surely I can’t pass them up. Plus, it’s hard to say no to the offer of abundant air conditioning on a sweltering day. So I’ll mosey in again and add to my literary loot.
I know, I’m fickle. Perhaps I ought to develop better discipline, to stick with one book at a time, to actually finish every book I check out as opposed to every fifth. If that. But it’s a cost-free luxury in my life that I’d rather not forgo.
I’m happy to report, though, that I am growing in perseverance. I couldn’t resist picking up Les Miserables after a recent trip to Broadway. And though I’m only 1/6 of the way through, I have read 200 pages. Go unabridged or go home, I always say. And slowly but surely, Bishop Bienvenue and Jean Valjean and Fantine are drawing me into a new kind of love. It’s heartbreaking and enticing and lavish. And I can’t put it down.
So, my beloved Free Library, as much as I love my reckless browsing ways, it’s time we took a break. (It helps that I’ll be away for the next two months, but never mind that.) I certainly will miss you. But in the meantime, I’ve got a new way to indulge—in every last one of those 1200 pages.