Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Praise of the Public Library (with Various Parenthetical Asides, Some Pertinent, Some Merely Distracting)

It's difficult to be a book-loving minimalist. So many tomes, so little shelf space. We try (Mr. M and I) to keep our material stuff within workable limits, but we both love to read and to collect books. When we visit used bookstores ("used bookstores?" What in the world does that mean? Are there bookstores that remain inviolate? Let us rather say used-book stores) we almost never come away empty-handed. Our idea of a date is to spend an evening sitting at Barnes and Noble, drinking their excellent tea and reading the merchandise. (O tolerant B&N, you deserve your own laudatory post for allowing us to freely handle your wares and scan your magazines from cover to cover though we rarely purchase more than a beverage.)

Even better than a bookstore is the public library. Thanks to this praiseworthy institution, I can indulge my voracious hunger for words, at no cost to myself but that of time. (Well, time and the occasional late fee.) Purchasing a book is, for me, a kind of literary contract of marriage - "Do you, Mrs. Micawber, promise to love, honour, read and re-read this book, to treat it with respect and refrain from bending the spine backwards, to shelve it with care and dust it at least occasionally? If so, say 'I do'...." But the library offers me the reading equivalent of one-night stands. I request, I read, I return. No commitment required, no strings attached. In the same vein (and a dreadfully mixed metaphor) the library allows me to test-drive a book before deciding whether or not I really want to marry it - or buy it.

Another advantage to a well-stocked library system is the availability of out-of-print books by authors who are no longer among the living (and all of my favourite authors belong in this category.) Thus I can, for example, every few years or so, read through the entire hilarious Barsetshire oeuvre by the incomparable Angela Thirkell (some 29 books in all), while slowly building my own collection as I come across used copies of her work.

Public libraries also have amazing book sales. Thanks to our village library (and some short-sighted librarian who decided to get rid of these wonderful works) I am the proud owner of several P.G. Wodehouse volumes printed in the 1920s and 30s - some of them first American editions. (They're not in very good shape, but that doesn't bother me. I bought them to read, not to sell.) A first American edition of Mrs. Miniver (oh, to be able to write like J. Anstruther), with the original dust cover. Seven or eight Michael Innes novels - does anyone still read that erudite academic's whimsical and witty work? - also came from a local library book sale. All bought for 10 to 25 cents each.

I could go on - I haven't even touched on music and movies - but it's time to stop nattering. I'm headed over to the library system's website to order up a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child. An Amazon gift card is burning a hole in my virtual pocket and I'm seriously considering spending some of it on the aforementioned tome. But not before a test drive.

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  1. French cooking a la Child...In the event that this becomes a reality with your pocket burner, I do hope you post about your adventures.

  2. Oh, I do enjoy a good natter about books! There is rarely enough time to accomplish the crocheting I wish to do, let alone read! One day... :)

  3. I absolutely love libraries but unfortunately, the library near us is very small (with a limited selection) and has odd hours. Of course, all this is due to lack of funding which is so sad. My son and I still (each) have library cards though.

    I also hope you post about your culinary adventures with Julia Child. :)

  4. I think I'd love an Amazon gift card as much as it would cause great anxiety!! What to pick????

    I've loved the library all my life, but yet, still have a lovely library of my own!! I so totally relate to the feeling of care for a book once it's come home!! Especially the dear old ones! They so need a nice home that appreciates where they've been! :)

    I went through a minimizing sweep earlier this year and when it came to the books I just left them alone. :)

    I'm with everyone on the Julia Childs book!! If that is your special purchase I hope you will share what you are cooking!! :)

  5. Our library if rather small too and specializes in Chicklit, serial mysteries and 1 copy of each book of the New York Times Top Ten list. Getting anything really interesting involves special orders. I'm an Amazon lady, i should be able to deduct them on my income tax.

  6. Your ideal date is the same as mine, only we can't get away with purchasing just tea. We can't escape without buying at least one thing, or two, or three...

    LOVE bookstores. Love books and magazines. Don't so much care for dusting them off once in a while. :)


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