Although the first library I remember going to was in Montgomery county, Maryland -- we were there to pillage the book-sale tables -- "library" will always be synonymous with the Virgil I. Grissom Public Library in Newport News, Virginia. I fell in love with the library, because where else could I check out and read ten whole chapter books a week? In sixth grade, during the ten weeks of "Read Around the Library" where we had to read a book from each of the major divisions of the Dewey Decimal System, I was smitten anew.
And then in high school, I let snobbiness stand in the way of a formerly great love affair.
The Potomac Community Library in Woodbridge, Virginia and I collided right around the time when I was able to begin buying my own books in serious bulk -- no more saving up allowance money for David Brin paperbacks -- and I was snotty enough to wonder why I should bother waiting to borrow a book when it was quicker to own it outright. And clearly, I could buy more interesting books than the ones the library stocked. Who were these professionals who selected books, when I obviously liked books more than they? What kind of bibliomaniac would approve five copies of My Antonia and completely bypass Firebrand? Didn't really good readers build their own libraries?
(This is the point where every librarian reading this is welcome to begin composing the hate mail.)
Collegiate libraries were useful primarily for all the material I couldn't check out, and while I spent lots of time in Newman and and Folsom libraries, neither rekindled the steady burning pleasure I had known in Grissom, the joy from staking out a large, ugly chair in the reading area and plowing through a stack of books solely for pleasure. And while I continued to buy books with impunity, there was something a little sharp-edged in the reading transaction, the unvoiced expectation, you better be worth what I spent on you.
Money ruins a lot of relationships, yes?
So for ten years, my regard for libraries had been akin to the dim affection one feels for the first boyfriend -- they mattered at one point, and you'll always value them for that, but they're not really relevant to who you are now. Better to take a few chances on Powell's or Common Reader, right?
Except ... except Phil and I went downtown to the Los Angeles Central Library. I had a work assignment I didn't want to do, I needed research material for it, and I would be damned if I bought a book on a subject I didn't like for a piece I resented writing. I got a library card, the equivalent of fielding a phone call from the old boyfriend.
And then two weeks ago, I decided to call back. I discovered that the Los Angeles Public Library lets you reserve books online from anywhere in the system, and pick up those books anywhere in the system. The minute I turned in the last CSI recap of the season, I retrieved my haul.
Oh, the joy! Because libraries have out-of-print books, I tore through Florence King's Wasp, Where Is Thy Sting? and HE: An Irreverent Look at the American Male, then followed up with Betty MacDonald's Anybody Can Do Anything and Onions in the Stew by the end of last week. I've enjoyed all four enough to be glad I read them -- but not enough to have wanted to buy them. I feel as though I've just nabbed a secret bargain.
I spent this weekend reading Paul Fussell's Uniforms and BAD: The Dumbing of America, and right around the point when I decided he was an insufferable ass, I had my opinion confirmed courtesy of ex-wife Betty Fussell's memoir, My Kitchen Wars.
Up next: Guy Gavriel Kay's The Last Light of the Sun, David Bowman's Bunny Modern and a re-reading of George Trow's Within the Context of No Context. And my deadline-oriented soul loves that there are due dates: let Maria Bellonci's biography Lucrezia Borgia and H.F.M. Prescott's Mary Tudor gather dust on the headboard while I plow through my borrowed books.
Those of you who have been steady and true to the library are already nodding your head at all this, the thrill of the due date and the anticipatory pleasure of picking up reserved books having already worn out. But I am rediscovering the library, and falling in love all over again. As far as summer flings go, I could do worse.