I’ve always pretended to be obsessed with public libraries, even though my obsession has waxed and waned over the years. See, I think it’s cool—in the authentic, slightly nerdy way that characterizes all the coolest things—to use libraries. Not only is it eco-friendly, and affordable, and community-minded, and old-school, and bibliophile-esque, but there are all sorts of slippery little bonuses that come with library use. Librarians will help you hunt down weird titles. They’ll order things for you. They’ll pull out the microfiche if you’re the sort of maniac who needs microfiche (ME!!). And they’ll chat with you about Murakami or whoever, and they’re often calm and kind, and it’s really, really nice.
I think very fondly of several librarians from my past: the librarians who worked in the suburb where I spent my teen years, who always made me feel smart and never judged me when I checked out all sorts of dreadful pop CDs; the librarian who worked at the public library of my college town and was also my English TA; the librarians at the huge central library in Los Angeles who helped me find strange tomes full of sociopaths and said, “Maybe we’ll have your book here, when it comes out.” And now they do.
The times when my obsession has waned are usually the times when I’m not reading as much. In those times, it’s easy to browse bookstores—and easier to browse stationary shops—looking at books as aspirational treasures. That one would look good on my coffee table. That pen would make my desk look like the sort of place the writer I want to be might pass some time. (Ugh.) I buy carefully, measuredly. Two books maximum. Okay, five, but only if I’m feeling crazy.
But I’m always happiest when I’m pulling in kilos of slightly dog-eared, grimy books from the nearest library. Of course, this comes with its own dangers. I recently discovered that I can put library books on hold, online, and have them delivered from ANYWHERE IN CHICAGO to the public library that’s a mere twenty feet away from my apartment. The result is that I have lost all control. I currently have 22 books checked out, and three more on trucks somewhere, speeding towards me, from another library somewhere in the city. I don’t know if I will get to the comic book version of Beowulf, or the introduction to Aesthetics, but at least I can say I tried, and I don’t think the librarians mind.