The ul­ti­mate pass­port

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.