Friday, February 13, 2009

Hail Andrew Carnegie & Al Gore?

Despite a fever I dragged myself to the library this afternoon to return Carlos Fuentes and picked up my next read being held for me at the library. I slid The Years of Laura Diaz into the return conveyor belt and walked to the books awaiting special-order to pick up mine, Revolutionary Road, in the number-three slot.

It's moments like these I like my newish name. While I constantly bemoan the fact this simple five-letter name is mispronounced eighty percent of the time, "Even in Mexico," Jeff sighed on our trip, I do have the pleasure of finding my book at the top of the heap by virtue of the first two letters Ac. So easy, I relished--like a personal service. Walking to the electronic checkout, I slid my card under the bar-code reader, scanned my book and walked across the courtyard admiring a new paperback while I thought, "Isn't this amazing?! I can come to this library and they'll lend me any book I want for free."

It took me a long time to love the library. In my 20s and half of my 30s, I bought every book I read and I read a lot of books. I had the idea that I needed to own every book I read because they were like friends that I wanted around to comfort me and remind me of good times. But I'm not sure they did, and I also wanted a bigger savings account.

Manolo Blahnik wasn't my problem; I had a problem with Penguin. So I went searching for my Manolo Blahnik's at Goodwill or Know Knew Books in Palo Alto. But one day I realized I my bookshelves were outgrowing my wall space and my piled-high books were seriously impinging on my idea of zen living. Expanding my idea of "my" and "mine," I decided that I could think of the used book store as my bookshelf outside my home. I would sell my books to the used book store and if I ever needed them again, I could buy them back. It seemed like a good idea until Know Knew Books closed its doors and I felt the loss of my books.

I had a hard time adjusting, just as I've had a hard time adjusting to life in Cupertino. But there are two things I like about my new home: easy access to the foothills for hiking and the beautiful new library about a mile from my house.

As a lover of beauty, it might be that this aesthetically pleasing place started my gradual love affair with the library. I started slow. If the book was available immediately, I'd check it out; if not, I'd hand over the plastic. When I wanted to read The Glass Castle a few years ago, there were something like 35 requests for the book and that seemed like a ridiculously long time to wait. The first time I decided to "get in line" for a request, I doubted I'd wait. But to my surprise, being number 35 was no big deal. Within two to three weeks, I had an email that my book was waiting for me. I put aside the book I was reading, collected at Ac, and started my "hot" new book.

The most challenging library check out is the 1-week-only book. I can read a book in a week, but I don't like the beat-the-clock pressure. I usually divide the number of pages by seven days and give myself daily goals. Fortunately, there aren't too many of those books for me.

Before I learned to love the library, I regularly mounted up sky-high library fees on a single book. I didn't know how to check out a single book. A trip to the library meant checking out a dozen books. Why? Maybe I was on some left over Pavlovian response from by childhood days of checking out picture books. Checking out one book is a great discipline, because despite my burgeoning list of books to read, I never know what I'll want to read next until I've finished my last read.

In the old days, my library fees grew in response to my laziness to drive to the library to renew a book. Who wants to go to the library to get the book you already have? Thankfully the Internet has saved me that hassle. Renew? Log on from home and renew. Search for a book? Request a book? Log on from home. To make it even easier, I have my library card number printed out on a label and pasted under the screen on my laptop.

Finally, I have to give credit to Shelfari for helping me let go of my book buying obsession, which I know, is the opposite of their business model. They give me a beautiful, virtual bookshelf like a kids' bookshelf where I can see all the covers. I like that I can write a review as notes to myself to remember what I like including favorite passages as if I'm underlining my personal copy.

When I worked for a nonprofit that believed in helping children build libraries of their own and gave away books in addition to tutoring lessons, it made me wonder if school age kids reading chapter books really need these libraries? Is having a personal library a part of our consumer culture? And what's my responsibility to support writers who need to make a living and sell their books?

These days my criteria for buying a book is wanting it as a reference. At Christmas, I spent a book gift certificate on Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food. For my birthday, I asked for Steinbeck's East of Eden because I thought I'd want to read it again and again. I'm not sure I needed the latter. It's at the library and waits for me anytime I want. Why do I need my own copy?

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