Tuesday, February 21, 2012
IN PRAISE OF LIBRARIES
The worst imaginable punishment when I was growing up was a revoked library privilege. My brothers and I all loved to read. Books were my escape, my way of exploring the world, my constant companions. And the public library was a magical place of unending possibilities. Surrounded by stacks of Tin Tin comic books and Nancy Drew mysteries, I spent many happy hours of my childhood between the shelves of the public library.
I love the slightly musty smell of paper and ink in a library. I love the hushed meditative quiet of people absorbing knowledge or engrossed in fantasy of the imagination. And with just a small plastic card, I can access all of these wonderful volumes of biographies and novels and comic books and detective stories and travel books... For FREE!
When I lived in Asia, public libraries were one thing I really missed. English reading material was very hard to find. And so the few volumes I had taken with me or acquired there were read over and over and over. C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia were among my minimal collection. I practically memorized those books over the four years in the Far East - especially "The Horse And His Boy" and "The Magician's Nephew" and "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" - my favorites.
One of the first things I did when I came back to the US in 2008 was to renew my public library card. I remember walking into our city library again for the first time in several years - the same library I spent hours in as a girl. It's been remodeled and looks different now. The old card file system is gone, replaced by computers to aid in the search for a particular volume. But it still thrills me to see the shelves and shelves of books, on everything from Mediterranean soups to The American Civil War.
Today I picked up three new titles in The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series, a novel about Chinese immigrants to the US in the 1940s, and a historical fiction work on the disciple Luke - the physician who wrote one of the Gospels on the life of Christ. It's such an amazing thing to be able to swipe my little card and walk out with several volumes under my arm. And though it's late tonight and I should be going to sleep, I'm tempted to dive into the novel about the Chinese-American family, just as I used to do when I was a girl and would stay up late reading my latest library book with a flashlight under the covers, long after I was supposed to be asleep.
Just a few pages can't hurt. Just for a few minutes. So I snuggle down under my blankets and crack open the cover and prepare to be swept away into a glorious adventure. I read eagerly, impatiently, jumping ahead, scanning the pages, anxious to see what happens next - until finally, eyes heavy, the book slips from my hands and I reluctantly take off my glasses and turn off the lamp by my bed. My book will still be there for me tomorrow.