Some Notes on the Acquisition of Books at the Library
The evening (it must be evening, for that is when the sense of book starvation is most acute) is now twilight. You leave the house in a light sweater and find that for the first time in several months, all of your internal organs are still functioning after 7PM in the great outdoors.
You leave your smartphone at home and hope that there are at least ten crisis-bearing texts when you get back, to demonstrate how much you have Left the Grid and are Above The Concerns of Everyday Life. You recognize that you might have a slight iAddiction.
As you walk, cradle the cup of tea in your hand as you approach the library. For highest marks, use the mug from Barnes & Noble’s with all the dead writers of whom you think almost more highly than you do yourself.
In your mind you have a sort-of list. You think that you’ve never read Julian Barnes and it might be a good idea to start. Something from childhood, maybe, a long-lost fantasy story. Something you won’t have to fight yourself to read.
You enter and dare the librarian to challenge your open cup of tea. She does not notice. You are an unacknowledged tea rebel.
You proceed past the horrible computers and the dim lighting and the students who are working on Real Assignments to the Fun Section of the library. Every library has a Fun Section, the McDonald’s drive-through of literature.
Being a faux-methodical sort of person, you start with the B’s and find Bill Bryson. Bryson is fixed between “Guilty” and “Pleasure” in your mind because nobody that fun can be good for you. Three would be too many but if you take two, you can get rid of one before checkout and you probably will and oh look is that his Australian one?
Your faux-methodism gives up as you skip over to the bestsellers and wonder if you’ll find the books everyone else has been reading. You notice The Swan Thieves and think about how you bought The Historian four years ago in Cambridge and how you read it alone in an Indian restaurant on a warm June evening and tried not to get the vegetarian curry on the pages and how you gave up eventually because although it was well-written, the supernatural elements didn’t work with the rest of the plot and oh what a shame it is when that happens.
You leave The Swan Thieves behind and pick up In Your Prime about the Invention of Middle Age and hope this will make you feel young.
The novels are the hardest. Bad nonfiction is rarely traumatic; somehow the storytelling contract between author and reader feels less intimate, more like a business proposition than a romance. A bad novel, on the other hand, feels like you brought it home and introduced it to your dying great-grandmother only to have it break up with you because it didn’t like the way you laced your shoes. You dismiss most of the novels you see as crap.
You find The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and the cover is beautiful and your heart starts racing. This might be a Novel. There are novels and there are Novels and you are — you realize, like an oncologist staring at a stage IV tumor — in desperate need of a Novel to invite you into some other world. Scrubs just isn’t the same.
You pick up Cinderella Ate My Daughter because of that piece you just read about breast cancer in the New York Times and then you remember Julian Barnes and how you’ve been meaning to get to him so you check the Fun Section. Barnes isn’t Fun, according to the library authorities, so you put your books down at the search engine and look up the location of his ouerve.
It’s up two flights so you entrust your hoard of books — none of which you are going to get rid of before checkout — to the librarian, hoping she guards over them with a Smaug-like ferocity, and carry your empty mug up the stairs. You know roughly where the PR6052 lines are; you congratulate yourself on Knowing the Library.
You find The Sense of an Ending and Through the Window and wonder if this is the one that Hannah was talking about and Good Lord is Julian Barnes really “one of the greatest British authors of our time” and if so GOOD HEAVENS you better start reading him, you poor excuse for an Anglophile.
Run down the stairs and your books are safe, the librarian not having moved much from her perusal of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. You check out the books, one by one, and de-sensitize them, one-by-one-by-one.
Stagger home in the lavender light with books heavier than a two-month old baby and no bag, because you “forgot” the bag in an attempt to make sure you didn’t get too many books. That turned out well. The air is colder but not unpleasant; it carries a sense of health and Victorian constitutionals with the scent of Keatsian revolt. You think it might be time for another cup of tea and you will drink it like a conqueror.
Gaudy is a culture and commentary blog. We're interested in the idea of the "gaudy," the reunion of old ideas with new circumstances to create unexpected art. We write about television and politics, literature and music, film and criticism, education and philosophy, about Walter Benjamin, Wes Anderson, and our patron saint Dorothy L. Sayers.