Ah, the public library of our youth! The musty smell of old-fashioned books with library bindings, the discovery of such diametrically opposed writers as Angela Carter and Elizabeth Goudge, Dostoevsky and Betty MacDonald, the reference room lined with the card catalogue and encyclopedia sets, and the comfy chairs in front of the fireplace. I checked out Carter’s The Magic Toyshop at the age of 11, under the impression it was a children’s book. I didn’t finish it…
There is an excellent public library system here, a public library in even the smallest towns in Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota. On a visit to Hawarden, Iowa (population 2,836), a librarian at a newish library called a volunteer to take us on a tour of the writer Ruth Suckow’s house. And so she helps preserve the culture.
And here are we Americans in 2021, with our excellent libraries closed and culture denied us because of the plague. Much as I appreciate curbside pickup, the experience has its limitations. There you are, in front of the library, unable to go in and browse. All you can do is sit in the car, show your ID at the window to the masked clerk, and pop open the trunk so he or she can deliver the reserved book. The pop of the trunk is the highlight of the transaction.
And so when one of libraries reopened, I couldn’t wait to go and gaze at hundreds of thousands of books. I resolved to pat the bookshelves, too. (Just one of the high shelves.) And I planned to check out all the Gladys Taber and D.E. Stevenson, so the librarians would not weed them from the shelves. They seem to have weeded most of them anyway, so perhaps the check-out-once-a-year rule no longer applies.
I asked my friend Dora to come along to help me lug the Tabers and Stevensons. But she was dithering, Working at Home.
“How can you think of the library at a time like this?” asked Dora dramatically. “They have taken me off the Warner project.”
“What?” I couldn’t help but laugh. “You called it Jarndyce v. Jarndyce.”
“They’re trying to get in my head.”
“There’s nothing in our heads,” I said soothingly. “And that group of narcissists are too miserable to notice anybody but themselves.”
“And now I have to pretend to do work.”
Now that is a very grim situation for Dora. She is really good at work, and it gives her what she calls a “nucleus for angst.” She misses complaining to co-workers in the break room, not “having time” to throw out the teabag (which steeps all afternoon in the cup), and staying at work till at least eight p.m.
“So come with me to the library,” I coaxed.
“Which mask shall I wear?”
I suggested the mask with the happy face.
I know this is not a glamorous outing. Going to the library is ordinary by definitions. The librarians all wear soothing conservative clothes from Talbots (traditional clothes of which I approve!) so as not to distract us from books, and we patrons look like urchins in identical jeans and sweaters. There is less talking than you would expect these days. The library staff sit behind the counters and stare silently at the PEOPLE. Perhaps we are the first people they’ve seen besides one other in months.
Dora said thoughtfully, “I’d forgotten there were other people.” That’s because she gets everything delivered.
I haven’t forgotten. I know there are LOTS of other people because I still recognize what I call “the blog people.” By blog people, I mean actual bloggers, people who “like” my blog (thank you!), occasional commenters, and vloggers at Booktube. All of them are virtual, of course.
I told Dora to check out the “blog people,” especially those who are participating in a Japanese literature event this winter. “You need something to do while you find a new Jarndyce.”
I have other reading plans myself.
Meanwhile, I plan to write haiku about waiting for the vaccine. Next week I plan to write one about the inauguration, if I remember to turn on the TV and watch it.
Have a good weekend! And has anybody else been to the library?