The ultimate passport
We’re entering the last few months of 2016 (!), and I’ve been staring at my bookshelves with longing.
This hasn’t been a great reading year for me. Before having a baby, it was nothing for me to tear through three novels a week. Now? I’m lucky to finish one in a month, not including audio books. Evenings were once my prime reading time, and I would really look forward to those quiet hours. Ha! “Quiet.” That’s cute. As a lover of random statistics, I use spreadsheets to track my annual reading. I did have a blog for that, but I’ve stepped away from reviewing every book I read — mostly because it started to feel suspiciously like work. And I already write for a living. Let’s not ruin reading, right?
For my own curiosity, I have spreadsheet columns to track various characteristics: fiction or nonfiction; owned or borrowed from the library; print, audio or e-book. I also keep track of my personal rating: on a scale of one to five. At the end of the year, I like to see how the books measured up. Literally. I’ve only read 16 this year, down from a one-time high of 85.
The spreadsheet is a relatively new preoccupation, but my love affair with stories began decades ago. At P.D. Brown Memorial Library in Waldorf, I was handed my very first passport: a library card. The only thing in the pink faux-leather “grown-up” wallet I begged for Santa to bring at Christmas.
Save a short stretch in high school, I don’t think my library card has ever expired. But in a digital landscape where physical books seem to carry less and less importance, why do libraries still matter?
Well, for starters, they’re not just about books.
Walk into any local library on a weekday and peek at the folks using public computers. They’re checking email, applying for jobs, connecting with friends, doing research . . . for free. Many of us take our connectivity — smartphones, iPads, laptops, wifi — for granted, but as many as 27 percent of U.S. households do not have a broadband internet connection, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Libraries are social hubs. Pull up their impressive calendars full of activities for children, adults, seniors — many also offered free of charge. They’re places to connect, chat and learn. Libraries bring people of many backgrounds together and offer resources to families, teens and kids alike. They’re also meeting places, with organizations able to rent space as a neutral location for gatherings. Libraries foster a sense of community.
Personally, libraries have given me the chance to read and listen to so many books I would not have been able to purchase. I finish an audio book every week or so — and at upwards of $20 a pop, that pricey hobby would have had to be axed long ago. The library lets me explore others’ lives while I’m running errands (probably for diapers), granting access to stories as diverse as memoirs by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, actress and comedian Tina Fey and chef Marcus Samuelsson.
What did I know about these accomplished individuals beforehand? Not much. And that’s what I love best about memoirs. I’m indiscriminate with my tastes, giving equal time to actors and activists, writers and wrestlers. The less I know about the subject beforehand, the better; I won’t enter with any judgment.
And you know what? I’m rarely disappointed. We all have a story to tell.
Even knowing how often library items change hands is appealing to me. How often do we “share” anything — with anyone — these days? My sister and I once swapped clothing in high school, desperate to not be seen wearing the same top twice in two weeks, but short of that . . . well, I have my things, and you have yours. We don’t combine them. We probably don’t discuss them, either.
But books? Books beg to be shared. The library lets us all interact with and ponder the same stories. I might not know who had Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)” before or after I did, but we’re still connected. (And both have excellent taste.)
When I find tidbits like receipts or postcards tucked into spines, I think about the hardcover traveling with another reader in a briefcase, duffel or backpack. I think about it seeing other places before it arrived on my coffee table, and the hands that will hold it long after it’s been returned by me.
Maybe you’ll enjoy the story . . . or maybe you won’t.
Either way, you’ll probably learn something.
Libraries are great for that.