If you want to find me this summer, check the public library. I’m in the stacks!
My friend Sophie has a new rule for books. Let’s call it the Sophie Book Rule. “If there’s a book I’m dying to read,” she says, “I make myself get it at the library first. Once I read it, if I feel that I must own that book, then I go buy it.”
This is a good rule I am now trying to follow. I’m “trying” because I am faced with the desire to buy a book 1.2692 times a day and this is and likely forever will be a thing. But it’s already getting better! Why, just this very afternoon I discovered an intriguing author and what did I do? I clicked over to the Chicago Public Library website and put it on hold instead of clicking over to purchase it at any number of quality online booksellers who also have brick-and-mortar shops. (Checking for local booksellers is Mary’s Book Rule.)
Look, I’ll never stop buying books. Not possible. But this return to the library is deeply satisfying. Being there regularly —and I’ve been every couple days for about a month, now, returning something or checking something out — connects me with a part of myself I forgot about.
I haven’t had this close a relationship with the library in a lot of years. I guess I’ve just sort of drifted from the public library. Was it the internet? Adult distractions? I’ve been reading this whole time, but it’s been text on screens and books purchased at the bookstore or online.
My sisters and I went to the public library in Winterset practically every day growing up. We would wait there for Mom to collect us after school or we were instructed to hang out there until our friends’ parents got home, stuff like that. The Winterset public library moved across town a few years ago; the old library building is the city building, now, but I bet you anything it smells the same and I still know all the rooms.
The summer was the best time to be a kid in love with the library because of Summer Reading. Summer Reading (this may not be a proper noun but I’m going with it) was a program to encourage reading in summer. The details of the program varied from year to year. Some years there were lists, games, stickers, buttons, prizes for numbers of books read; sometimes you just read stuff you found. The incentives I have forgotten completely. All I remember is the joy of a new stack of books with the check-out cards in the front envelopes. I remember the way the new books’ plastic covers were taut and the older books’ covers were loose and curled at the edges. I remember lazing on the couch in July, reading and reading and reading and reading and reading and then going to the pool and then coming home and reading and reading. This was a good way to spend a summer. It still is.
Sophie told me she used to feel possessive about books. I knew what she meant; sometimes you feel like a book was written for you and you alone and it can be hard to realize other people were also written to.
“But the library fixes that,” Sophie said. “Because when you check out a book from the library, you feel in the pages as you turn them all the people who read the book just like you’re reading it now, and it’s such a wonderful feeling. You’re together with them, you’re all in the book together at the same time. I love that.”