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.