Ah, the Possibilities

I love libraries.

I love the possibilities libraries represent.

Chester County Library

Take last night, for example. I didn’t feel like spending money on Oryx and Crake,1 which I wanted to read since the next book-club book is sort of a sequel. I’ve been told I don’t need to read Oryx first, but doing so may increase my enjoyment of The Year of the Flood. I decided to go back to the library.I haven’t been to the library lately, instead buying books online or 3 for the price of 2 specials instead. What an idiot I am. Not only because of the dollars spent on books,2 but because I love libraries.3

I located Oryx quickly, checked for the second Guillermo del Toro-Chuck Hogan book and then started wandering. I paid visits to my favorite fiction authors, fingers grazing the spine of Jonathan Carroll’s Bones of the Moon fondly. I have a copy at home, but I discovered Carroll with this edition on these library shelves. He’s in my top 10 authors, and Bones is probably in my top 5 fiction books. I swung around the corner to say hello to Paul Auster and reluctantly concluded adding one of his books to the pile would do disservice to an unread Auster at home.

I meandered through fiction for a good 15 minutes. My heart beat a little faster and I’m pretty sure my eyes were dancing with a growing smile. See, one of the reasons I love libraries is that I love Story. I love the Tale. The Fable, the Saga, the Snippet. Give me a good A happening to an interesting B, and I’m hooked. This, sadly, is why I will continue to read Dan Brown. His writing’s not great (I won’t argue with anyone who called it clunky), but buried under the dreck is a good story. That’s what I remember months after putting the book down.

Libraries are full of Story. No matter what your state of mind, some author somewhere has written something to enhance it, pull you out of it, provide another perspective. It’s all there on the shelves in front of you.

And Story isn’t limited to the fiction aisles. I headed to the back of the library to see if Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw was on the shelves. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t have the Dewey system memorized; I looked up the call number first. Bourdain wasn’t there, but cookbooks were. What did I want to pretend I could pull off in my kitchen?

A few feet away I found Chaucer and Shakespeare. Tennyson’s Light Brigade made me smile. And then it was off to modern poetry with its memories of falling in love with John Ashbery and William Stafford in college and the chronologically related memories of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The beginning of the section reminded me of the poetry anthology I started to put together shortly after college when I was still living at home. I set up shop in my sister’s bedroom while she was away at college. Electric typewriter,4 stack of paper, 3-hole punch and whatever poetry books I’d brought home from the library that week. I’d pick out my favorites and type them out to save in a binder (which I still have). For some reason, I only listened to John Mellencamp and Marillion during the anthology project.5 I should finish that project sometime. It was my way of getting all my favorite poems in one place without buying a ton of books. In the back of my mind, I was also learning the craft from the best: Maybe by typing their words, I would pick up something about rhythm and internal rhymes.

Modern poetry aisles gave way to drama and monologue books, books about making it as an actor. Memories of my anthology gave way to memories of when I knew I would be a successful actor. The trips to New York for open auditions, completely blanking on a monologue at an audition for the major Philadelphia companies, the strange relationships community theater gave me and why I left that world.

Then I was in the adventure sports section. Books on diving reminded me that I need to do that again, albeit more successfully than in Mexico this year. Two shelves were devoted to Everest climbers – the ones who succeeded and the ones whose bodies still rest short of the summit. I’m never going to climb a mountain, but I admire the desire and willpower to do it. I need more of that in my life.

Books on travel caught my attention next. Where would my next adventure take me? Back to a favorite city? A new city with an old friend?

Somehow I found myself in a section of books about games. The Elfish Gene jumped out at me. I know some of my friends would like this book; I know some of my friends (maybe me) are depicted in this story of a boy’s introduction to Dungeons & Dragons.

The book made it home with me, as I reluctantly checked out without wandering through history and science and art. The hour was late and I had Story in my hands to bring home. My time in the shelves had reminded me of places and people who held/hold an important place in my life. I visited old dreams, regretting abandoning some and laughing at who I wouldn’t be if I hadn’t left some behind. New dreams started to percolate because of words on a spine.

All those possibilities, neatly captured between plastic-coated covers. Stretch out your hand and find one. Take it home. Mull it over. Go back for more.

I love libraries.


1Hi. My name is Tammy, and I’m addicted to books. Buying Oryx likely meant shopping online and getting seduced by the siren call of used-book prices and free shipping if I only spend $20 more. Go back.

2Unread books that overflowed their home and now mock me from their ever-growing pile. Go back.

3I’ve occasionally thought the man who builds me the perfect library, the library I’d recognize as “my” library when I walk in, would be the man I’d spend a life with. Go back.

4 wouldn’t own a computer until about a year later. The Macintosh Classic II, I believe. I still have it. And will continue to own it until I figure out to get some sound files off of it, but that’s another blog. Go back.

5Confession: I own (or owned) every John Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp and John Mellencamp album produced before 1991. Sad, but true. Go back.


5 thoughts on “Ah, the Possibilities

  1. My favorite Twilight Zone episode: where one man stands alone in the world, the last man alive on earth, at the largest library on earth, his dream come true! Now he can spend the rest of his days in peace reading to his heart’s content. (Alas, the story has a sad ending, he crushes his glasses. That would not deter me, I would read the books with them up to my nose tip!)

    1. Didn’t that star Burgess Meredith? I’m with you. I’m either reading book to nose tip or finding my way through the rubble to Pearle Vision!

  2. “I cannot live without books.” – Thomas Jefferson

    I know exactly what he meant and I know exactly what you mean. Very nice post indeed.

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