For someone with a degree in English who has always loved to read, I am surprised at how infrequently I pick up a book these days. Part of the problem is that the stuff I’m required to read for my work (plays, or books for audiobooks I’m recording), takes up a fair amount of the time and energy I have for pleasure reading.
But lately, I have been craving a good book, and have even had my eye on some specific ones: Tina Fey‘s Bossypants, Jenny Lawson‘s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, and Jillian Lauren‘s Some Girls, My Life In A Harem (I got to hear tell the story about how she became involved in the harem at The Moth last month, and have been dying to read her book ever since).
In the past, if I wanted a book, I would just go to Powell’s and buy one. If you have never been to Portland, Powell’s is an incredible new and used book store – super huge, it takes up a whole city block and has several floors – you need a compass and a sack lunch to work your way through it. In December, Ron wanted a bunch of books as Christmas gifts, and because I was broke, I took all the books I felt I could part with and resold them at Powell’s, and then used that money to buy as many books for him as I could afford. Not a bad system, really, because with resale, you almost always get a higher percentage in trade than you would in cash.
I was starting to poke through my bookshelves again for what I might sell to afford the new books I wanted, but since my collection had already been pared down considerably in December, I was feeling a little sad about it. I love my books – books were a big deal in my family. I have great memories of my parents reading to me, and my Mom took us to the library in Salem every week in the summer, where we participated in the summer reading program. My sister is a voracious reader, to put it mildly, and interested in the most far flung genres and topics you could imagine – I’ve read some of the coolest and weirdest stuff just by living in the same house with her and idly picking up whatever she left on the coffee table. On her birthday, Lisa would ask to take a family day trip up to Powell’s so she could spend her birthday money on books. I majored in English in college, and to this day, there is something about walking into a library that floods an instant sense of calm and happiness through my entire body. And I’ve never been more tongue-tied and starstruck than I was while meeting Margaret Atwood at a reading – my signed copy of her novel Lady Oracle is still one of my most treasured possessions.
But suddenly, my pity-fest was interrupted by a glaringly obvious realization: I didn’t have to BUY a new book, for the love of God – I could just BORROW one from the library.
Why was this not my first thought? I love libraries. How did I get so far off track? At some point, I started buying books instead of borrowing them, and over time, it just became a habit. But with my current finances, it’s a silly and wasteful habit when I can read the books I want for free – in fact, I pay taxes for the privilege of doing just that.
Sometimes I am astonished by my own stupidity.
Don’t get me wrong, I still am an advocate for buying books – I love owning my favorites, and reread them all the time. I like the idea of supporting authors who are trying to make a living – I want them to have thriving careers so they can write more books, and my dollars help them do that. But right now, I need to do things differently.
So I went online, and looked up the books I wanted. And guess what? All three were available at a library in my neighborhood. Upon arriving, I was shocked at how much the library has changed since I last visited – when I went to check out, it was a self-checkout system, and I just placed my stack of books on a glass screen, where the computer instantly recognized the bar codes and offered me several options for a receipt with due dates. Old school book borrowing meets new school tech – super cool.
And what hadn’t changed was how incredibly kind and helpful librarians are. I was having trouble finding one of the books, and the librarian not only walked me over to the shelf and located it for me, but when he saw me hesitate uncertainly in front of the self checkout, he talked me through it without making me feel like an idiot. In college I had to take a “Library Studies For English Majors” class to graduate, and it was one of the hardest courses I took for my major – no joke. Librarians have to know a crazy amount of stuff, and because libraries are free and open to the public, they also have to deal with a ton of weirdos. There is no way they are being paid enough to deal with they encounter every day. Be nice to librarians, people.
I can’t wait to delve into my books – and unlike purchased books that don’t have due dates, these will give me an incentive to do just that.