Monday, January 27, 2014

Someone Told Me It's All Happening at the . . . Library

This is something in the almost-too-obvious-to-say category, but I'm going to say it anyway: I love the library. Whenever I put a book on hold, and the forget I did, and then get that email saying it's my turn, and then go find my book on the "holds" shelf, and then scan a couple of barcodes, and then slip the prize in my bag to take home, I think: score. It's like going shopping with a magic card that never sends you a bill.

And, bonus, when you're done you get to give the book back so it doesn't gather dust or take up space in your apartment that has zero free bookshelf space.

The books themselves, when they arrive, are beautiful artifacts. They have stamps from branches all over the city (well, almost: not Queens or Brooklyn). They are well-worn, with curling pages and softened bindings that tell a story of appreciation. People have read these books. These books have done their jobs well.

Louisa is in heaven at the children's room in the Bloomingdale library, dashing around, pulling books off the shelf ("Read this! Read this!"), choosing which two will come home with us, and, then, often, will go to bed with her. (Sleeping with books: is that a thing?)

Our new m.o. for voracious reader Ruby is borrowing books for her Kindle. She can be very picky about her books, so borrowing books this way has a myriad of advantages: 1. she can't see the cover, lest there (gasp!) be some deal-braking image on it (say, a girl in a dress); 2. she can try the book, and if she doesn't like it, I haven't lost any money or killed any trees trying to get her to read it (This goes for me, too. Have you ever bought a book you didn't like? I have books on my Kindle that did not get finished. It's depressing.); 3. if she loves the book, and then reads it in one sitting, and demands the sequel RIGHT NOW, we can usually oblige.

(Although, there is always a risk. After borrowing the first Artemis Fowl book, which she adored, we discovered the other seven books in the series were not available to borrow electronically from the NYPL. So she used her Amazon gift card from her birthday to buy them, one at a time.)

I'm on the waiting list right now for a handful of electronic books. (#146 on 109 copies of The Lowland; #13 on 60 copies of Little Failure, #73 on 103 copies of The Goldfinch). This wait-wait-wait-read approach to fiction consumption has its pitfalls: you have to read fast (usually you get 2 or 3 weeks to read a book), and if your number comes up twice at once, that can be a challenge (especially if you happen to have a sick child or a lot of work to do or a husband insisting that you catch up on episodes of True Detective).

Using the library is not as uncomplicated, ethically, as you might think. I do feel a pang of guilt about borrowing books. Just as strongly as I believe that public libraries do a great service to the public, I also believe writers should be paid for their work. The last time I bought books in a bookstore may have been last summer, when we picked up some reading for the big girls to bring to camp. That said, as an avidly book-consuming family, I feel confident that we're still contributing financially to the well-being of writers. Despite our library use, we still easily buy more than half of what we read. But those books we do borrow make a difference in the bottom line, and add variety and ease to our reading habits. So cheers to that.

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