Rediscovering the Library

30 March 2011 by Conor Published in: Musings Tags:, 39 comments

My feeling is that anyone who makes use of libraries has a hard time understanding why they aren’t completely packed. They’re almost too good to be true, libraries.

You get the occasional wake up call, of course, when you’ve been away for a while. I was asking my friend Charlie, who reads a surprising amount for somebody who owns an X-Box or Wii or whatever. If I had one of those things, I’m telling you right now, I would never read another word. I’m addicted to video games which is why my family is forbidden to use them. Liz suggested it at one point, for the exercise games, and I told her that it would be like bringing a six pack of crack vials into the house.

“In what way, exactly?”

“In the addictive way.”

“But you’re not addicted to crack. You’re telling me that if there were six vials of crack in the kitchen right now, you’d smoke them?”

“You never know,” I said, because I don’t like to be proven wrong. The I realized that maybe assuring my wife that I was not a crack addict was more important than being right, so I said, “I probably would not smoke the crack in the crack vials.”

Which I think ended up diminishing my point a bit, because I thought the crack example was pretty good.

Anyhoo, so I was asking Charlie if he prefers to buy books, real books, or if he’s made a switch over to Kindle or iPad or anything.

“I like the real feel of the books,” he said.

“So you’re not swayed by the whole cheaper price point thing?”

“I get books from the library. My price point is zero dollars. That’s my price point.”

“You don’t care about owning the book?”

“You mean for my bookshelf? So I can pay thirteen dollars for an inch and a half wide vertical title on a shelf? And with another thirteen dollars I can have three inches of wall decoration? With something that I’ll read once and never again? That seems like a good idea to you?”

“Yeah, but do you actually GO to the library?” I asked, feeling like I was about to make a major bust.

He hesitated, wondering if this was a trick question.

“Yes, I actually go to the library.  That’s where I get the library books.”

I thought about that. I thought about libraries in general. About the plastic covers on the books, and the sleeve pasted on the inside cover that tells you when the book is due back. It reminded me of when I was a kid, when I went to the library all the time. I had to – my dad didn’t have a TV. As a child, when your parents don’t have television, you have no choice but to live in your own world. You have no idea what your classmates are going on about when they’re talking up the latest drama in Saved by the Bell, and you try to chime in and you make an ass of yourself.

In short, libraries, to me, were a place for children. Charlie telling me he actually went to the library was like watching an adult go to a fancy dinner and asking the tuxedo-clad server whether they had Marshmallow Peeps.

Such was my ignorance, and I suspect I’m not alone.

Well, Liz and I have rediscovered the library. (I’m in one right now, actually – the Wilton Library in CT.) They let you take out books for free. Books that you sort of kind of were curious whether they’d be good, you can just walk out with those. Bring ‘em back in a couple of weeks, they say.

Kids are in the libraries too, and they’re sitting alone or in small groups, reading. I didn’t pick up on this when I was single, but now, as a father, the sight of a young person reading, it feels like a clean breeze in the air, blowing away the smog of reality TV and video games and brain-numbing activities, like a glimpse into the future that you want for your own children. I want my children to have what I had, that excitement about going to the library, because kids get it – they get that the books are free and how freakin’ awesome that is.

Especially now, in this Young Adult renaissance, where Suzanne Collins and JK Rowling (God love her) and soon-to-be-released new author Veronica Roth are getting kids obsessed with books. Obsessed with them.

I know what you’re thinking – you can hear the crunchiness in my voice. But I’m not saying that books are going to save the world, only that they bring something to us, they take root in us and those bloom eternal, in much the same way that TV and video games can kill us by stealing our time away from us. I know, I’ve done it, and I still love TV.

But we will never look back and remember the good times spent watching TV. I will, though, remember afternoons at my house after school, bagel and cream cheese and apple cider and lying back in what I thought was a super cool bean bag chair, with the smell of worn paper in my hands, hands sticking to the plastic cover of a library book, utterly lost in that world. It turned me on to writing, which led to a book.

It couldn’t have been any other way. And thank God for that.

Comments

  1. Wed 30th Mar 2011 at 9:21 am

    I love libraries! There is something about the feel of an actual book in your hands, physically turning page after page, that an electronic click-to-turn-the-page program just can’t beat. :-) I’ve always loved to read, and that’s partly why I love writing so much today, too!

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Wed 30th Mar 2011 at 6:15 pm

      Jess- I was straying from real books for a while when I was traveling, since on long journeys a Kindle works so well, but I’m back to loving the book as well.

      Reply
    • joan  –  Thu 31st Mar 2011 at 3:00 pm

      News break, Conor. Your mother is totally addicted to libraries: 2 or 3 visits a week and so is your son, Finn. When he visits, I can get him to eat all of his fruit or veggies just by promising to take him to one of our great Ormond Beach libraries if he will consume a reasonable portion of these natural goodies. And months later, the librarians are still asking for him and puttiing aside books or a new puzzle and hoping that he will come back soon and they will know that they have the best job in the world.
      PS they love your book and today it arrived in a large print version for the other part of the reading world.

      Reply
      • Conor  –  Fri 01st Apr 2011 at 9:12 am

        I saw the large print version, it’s wonderful! And the Ormond Beach library is a great one, I remember getting audio books out of there a few years back, surprised that they’d let me just walk out with them….

        Reply
  2. Wed 30th Mar 2011 at 10:53 am

    Amen!

    Reply
  3. Rebecca
    Wed 30th Mar 2011 at 11:42 am

    Yes! Love your description of you as a kid, “…utterly lost in that world.” That was me too. That’s part of what I have loved about homeschooling, being a part of sparking that love in my kids as well.

    Reply
  4. Kelly MacNeal
    Wed 30th Mar 2011 at 3:04 pm

    My children and I too love libraries! Last summer at our local library they would have special events for the kids. The one that my kids still talk about is the reptile show. My 3 yr old held a baby ALLIGATOR!!! Now WHERE ELSE can one do that without spending a dime???

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Wed 30th Mar 2011 at 6:16 pm

      Kelly-
      Nowhere safe, that’s for sure. Though if you guys come east, maybe we could go to Florida and see if we can’t find some out in the wild. Now that would be a story…

      Reply
  5. Wed 30th Mar 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Huge fan of the library…in fact that’s were I got your book (which now I feel a little guilty about since I feel like I stole money from the Little Princes). My kids and I are there a few times a week and it is a HUGE deal with each of the kidlets got their own library card.

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Wed 30th Mar 2011 at 6:17 pm

      Hi Darlene-
      I’m not sure taking a book out of the library is quite the same as stealing money from orphans – the libraries help spread the word! And yes, my first library card – joy…

      Reply
  6. Jessie
    Wed 30th Mar 2011 at 4:20 pm

    I can so relate to the whole no TV thing. I was an adult before I realized that “Little House on the Prarie” was not just a series of books, but also a TV series. No idea. My dad was a school librain (and just finished you book!). I am extreamly proud of the fact that my father inspired a passion for reading in children for 33 years of his career.

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Wed 30th Mar 2011 at 6:18 pm

      That’s hard core, not knowing Little House was a TV show. I don’t know how we could top that.

      Reply
  7. Melissa
    Thu 31st Mar 2011 at 6:18 am

    We live down the street from the library, so we can walk there. We are there at least twice a week, gettign books and movies, I live with bags of books and every single time, like its something new, LOL, I saw i cant believe this is all for free! :)

    Reply
  8. Melissa
    Thu 31st Mar 2011 at 6:18 am

    Oh and a side point about librairies, you can also get local musuem passes there for Free!

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Fri 01st Apr 2011 at 9:09 am

      Melissa – Really?? Had no idea – libraries are holding out on us! Or maybe we just all should become librarians…

      Reply
  9. Thu 31st Mar 2011 at 6:57 am

    If you like the library, you should take a look at http://www.librarygadget.com. It’s especially useful if you have multiple library cards in your family, because you can see everything your family has checked out at once.

    I’m the developer, so let me know if you have ideas for other features. @bluestemscott on Twitter

    Reply
  10. Edward W. Diggs
    Thu 31st Mar 2011 at 7:58 am

    Conor,

    God Bless you and your work in Nepal. I saw you on the 700 Club today and plan to go out and purchase the book this week.

    I spent 3 weeks in Nepal, working with Habitat for Humanity. It was a memorable experience. It truly humbled me, realizing how Blessed I am and how material things were not important to me anymore.

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Fri 01st Apr 2011 at 9:10 am

      Edward,
      Amen to that. Nothing like spending a bit of time in a place like Nepal to understand what we really “need” and what we don’t. I try to get back enough to keep that fresh in my mind.
      Thanks for purchasing the book!!

      Reply
  11. Mary
    Fri 01st Apr 2011 at 10:30 am

    As a Library Director, I am thrilled to read your comments! Not only do libraries offer books for free, many offer magazines, newspapers, music,, and the internet…all for free! Additionally, we try to offer activities, such as, lectures, live music, story time, book discussions, craft classes, and much more. Thanks for the plug for libraries – it’s just what I needed today!

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Fri 01st Apr 2011 at 11:09 am

      Hi Mary,
      It’s well deserved – you guys are doing great work!!

      Reply
  12. Dad
    Sun 03rd Apr 2011 at 1:00 pm

    And your Da saw the Rathmines Library (public, endowed by Dale Carnegie) as a refuge from the age of about 8. Crucial–I can remember the look of the books too–red and brown and a sort of sickish green–but full of lovely escapes.
    And no cost no cost–to walk home with three books–a life raft to get through the next week on.
    Great to see what a load of responses your Library riff roused. A little boomlet.

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Sun 03rd Apr 2011 at 7:45 pm

      I also remember from an early age your office being in the library, and doing all my grade school papers in that Vassar library, on Ponce de Leon or whatever it might be – combing through volumes of encyclopedias. I liked that…

      Reply
  13. Tue 05th Apr 2011 at 5:34 am

    I just finished reading Little Princes for our bookclub and reviewed it on my blog. I really enjoyed it and I’ll be subscribing to your blog now that I’ve found it.

    I read the book on my iphone kindle app, and I hate paying for a virtual book. Nor do I like not having a real book in hand, but I greatly appreciated the ability to read it in every spare minute I had because I enjoyed it so much!

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Tue 05th Apr 2011 at 7:55 am

      Hi Sara, whatever works! Thanks for the kind review!!

      Reply
  14. Tenzing Diki
    Tue 05th Apr 2011 at 9:12 am

    Hey Conor,
    I met you yesterday at New Canaan library and I just wanted to say that I have already finished reading your book. It was such a page turner. I left Nepal at 2006 and thanks to your book, it brought back some memories. Your book was a great page turner. I cannot wait to hear more updates on the kids in Nepal. Thanks for this wonderful book.

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Sat 16th Apr 2011 at 7:53 pm

      Thanks Tenzing, and great to meet you!

      Reply
  15. Fri 08th Apr 2011 at 12:34 pm

    hey bud i took around some volunteers from the usa recently here in cape town, who help set up libraries in 3rd world nations. In south africa, the stats are 3000 schools are in need of libraries! I am working on an idea to get people out here, each bring 10 books, kinda like the ‘pack with a purpose’ ethos. Its really a need in our nation, where we have so much catching up to do just because schooling was neglected for so long. Your 1st world libraries sound like bliss! I just love the idea of going back to basics with books! Anyways, thats my 5 cents worth on a friday night, after buying my wife a Tim Keller book for her birthday, whom you introduced to us when you were out here. and i want try get Little Princes to be a setwork for our School of Hope, and maybe all the schools in our province. It would be great to discuss the deeper themes with kids who are so in tune with need, lack, survival, and see what it does to open up the concepts in your book. God bless buddy!

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Sat 16th Apr 2011 at 7:53 pm

      Absolutely Adrian, you guys have such a heart for this work!
      And glad you’re reading Tim Keller, I’ve been listening to him on podcasts, can’t get enough of him!

      Conor

      Reply
  16. Egle
    Wed 13th Apr 2011 at 7:43 pm

    I got Little Princes out of the library and I probably wouldn’t have bought it as I’m not a huge fan of memoirs. However, it was available and it had very positive reviews so I checked it out and I enjoyed it very much! Ironic to this blog entry, I checked it out digitally and read it on my iPad! Thank you for making digital copies available for the 21st century library patron.

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Sat 16th Apr 2011 at 7:52 pm

      I love that it’s available digitally as well – we can reach so many more people!

      Reply
  17. Sapna
    Thu 14th Apr 2011 at 2:53 am

    Hi Conor, I have recently started reading ‘Little Princes’.

    PS. I have never written a book review or written to any author. So please forgive my naive comments.

    I first got to know about the book when I received a newsletter from one of the book-read-websites I am a member of. I live in UK and the book hadn’t released here until March end. I had been eagerly waiting for the release date. And must confess it was worth waiting. I instantly fell in love with the book.

    You have brought the characters to life. I can imagine how each child would be looking, what they would be wearing; I can hear their laughter, feel their agony. I was touched by the fact that after your year’s journey around the world, you went back to Nepal. But was more touched when you decided to go back, after you got to know that the seven children were missing. I can understand how terrible you would have felt on getting that news. No words to appreciate what you have done for the children and their families. Equal kudos to Farid too and others who helped you in your mission.

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Sat 16th Apr 2011 at 7:51 pm

      Hi Sapna,
      Thanks so much for getting in touch, I’m honored to be the first that you wrote to! I love hearing that the book touched people!

      Reply
      • Sapna  –  Mon 18th Apr 2011 at 1:52 am

        Thanks for the reply Conor.

        I am sure the book would have touched a number of people. I am planning to buy a few copies and gift them to friends.

        Reply
  18. Ardith Ohka
    Mon 18th Apr 2011 at 3:27 pm

    As a librarian, thank you for the great post!

    Reply
  19. Rebecca Buerkett
    Mon 18th Apr 2011 at 5:46 pm

    As a librarian, I thank you for posting this! So glad to hear people talking about libraries. I, too, have been a lifelong library user, even before I started working in one. When I think about places I’ve lived in the past, I always remember the libraries. It’s such a gift to give your children!

    Reply
  20. Tue 19th Apr 2011 at 7:02 am

    I kept hearing about Little Princes on a national teen librarian listserv (yes, they actually exist) as an Adult book with tremendous teen appeal. I finally gave in and read it. It was the first Adult non-fic I’ve read in six years and now I’m wondering what else I’ve been missing while caught up in the teen/YA world. It was a fabulous read. I figure that at this point in my life, the most I can do for the kids over there is tell everyone I know about this amazing book and make as many people aware of the situation as possible. Libraries love you, Conor, and I’m happy to hear that you love libraries, too!

    Reply
  21. Connie
    Thu 21st Apr 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Tuesday night at our branch library there was a concert featuring a 3 piece ensemble playing and singing Brazilian music, in Portuguese and English. The guitarist was amazing. Mellow music, the back door open onto the cool April night. It was a cheap date for my husband and I- free! Why aren’t more people at libraries, indeed?

    Reply
  22. brnoze
    Wed 04th May 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Dear Conor,
    I recommended your book to our book club for our March book choice and it has become our favorite. Thank you for your humor, and heart. Both were so evident in your writing. Now I have a comment about kids and books. I am a retired 2nd grade teacher and I made it a goal to get my students to love reading. One of the first extra credit assignments of the year was to bring in their library card and the computerized slip telling about the books they borrowed on their card. (It had to be their own card not a parent’s) I had gift certificates from a local restaurants for a special treat for the students who brought in the card. I explained to them that the librarians called the card the “Smart Card” because of all the things you can learn by using it. With my own children who are now grown, I was not above a bit of bribery. For every earned A on their grade card they could purchase a book. Even an A in gym would earn a book. My kids knew what a sucker their mom was for literacy so this practice continued through college. I have spent money in worse ways and places, with much less of a positive return. It was worth every penny. My kids and I will still visit local libraries as we travel. Great places to spend an afternoon. By the way, I love librarians, too. I have had many an enlightened conversation just checking out books.

    Reply
  23. Kris
    Tue 24th May 2011 at 8:32 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Conor, for the wonderful plug for libraries and your inspiring book. I chose it for a library book club that meets at a local senior center where it was greatly enjoyed. I grew up spending hours in the library and working as a librarian being able to pass on that joy of reading has been an incredibly rewarding career.

    Reply

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