I haven’t finished any more books yet since my last post, but I wanted to write about something very closely related to books: libraries. I love libraries. When I first walked into a library after being in Europe for four months and not having gone to the library at all (I borrowed books from a relative), it felt like coming home, even though I had never been in that particular library before. I love the quiet, peaceful atmosphere in libraries. I feel excited at the sight of rows upon rows of books, each contributing to a huge variety of thoughts and knowledge, waiting to be discovered. There are so many possibilities contained within a library.
I enjoy bookstores as well, but only used bookstores create the same sort of excitement for me. I could spend hours browsing even in a new bookstore, but there is something about the fact that they are all new books in a commercialized atmosphere which does not give me the same sense of opportunity as a library. A used bookstore comes closer, especially those with tightly packed stacks overflowing onto the floor, in part because of the sense that each book has been read and thought about before. However, even in a used bookstore there is the fact that each book must be purchased. Only in a library do I have the complete freedom to try any book on the shelf without committing to owning that book. I am much more likely to explore and take a chance on a book in a library than in a bookstore.
I do not always go to the library with a particular book (or books) in mind. Sometimes I simply browse the shelves and will select a completely random book that catches my eye. This approach can sometimes result in a book so bad or boring that I cannot finish it, but it has also produced treasures and allowed me to discover new authors whom I might never have otherwise read. For example, The Secret Years, which I recently wrote about, was a random selection off the shelf, and was so good that I will definitely be reading more by that author. I also browse non-fiction this way at times: I may never have thought of reading writings by Gandhi, but as soon as The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi caught my eye my interest was piqued. I would probably never read these books if I had to buy each one: although I enjoy owning books, I am frugal about what I buy and do not like to take chances on completely random books (except perhaps very inexpensive used ones).
Interestingly, even though I prefer libraries to bookstores and get most of my reading material from libraries, I do like to be surrounded by books that I own in my home. This could be because I grew up in a house where every room had a bookcase. My favorite gifts to receive when I was young were books. I still have many of my favorite children’s books, and in fact occasionally re-read them. Once I own a book, I am not likely to get rid of it very willingly. In fact, unlike most college students, I still have every book and textbook I had to buy for a class in college.
However, to return to libraries: in short, I think they are a great invention. To be able to go to a location relatively local to one’s neighborhood and borrow any of a multitude of books for free is simply wonderful. I don’t know what I’d do without a library.