Saturday, October 6, 2007

"Not all who wander are lost"

Once again, Friday finds me exhausted, thanks to a long week of grading and teaching and hibernating in the odd moments in between.

I needed to break the routine today, the routine of "home, work, repeat ad nauseum." So I went to the library, ostensibly to get audio books for my grandmother to listen to in place of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. And I did get her books on tape, but I'd be lying if I said the time I spent wandering the rows of books was spent looking for her.

I associate the library with familiarity and relaxation, having practically grown up in various libraries. As far as I was concerned, the library was one cool place to hang out, whether it was the huge downtown branch of my childhood (there were globes about as big as I was! and they had a card catalog, which I knew how to use! and they knew me there!) or the first library I found when my family moved to a new city. Come to think of it, with an outlook like that, I never had a chance to be anything but a nerd. I didn't have many friends, but that was OK; friends often grow apart with time, but books and libraries are lasting friends.

The branch I went to today is one of the more familiar ones; I used to know a few of the librarians. I didn't see a familiar face there today, but I wasn't heartbroken--like the classic introvert that I am, I prefer my own company when I'm tired and overwhelmed. Books don't infringe on my solitude.

I wandered the rows of books without much order. I dabbled a bit in the nonfiction, hovering in the aisle with the literature books for a bit, searching for some poetry. I didn't find anything that tickled my fancy, though I did pick up some Thoreau, skimming through excerpts from Walden to land on a passage, ironically, about the value of solitude. After that, I darted over to the large print books, and then I wandered around in search of audio books. Finally, having completed the task I came for, I wandered fiction for a bit. I wasn't looking for any specific book or even reading titles; I just skimmed across the spines, pulling out an interesting looking one and just as arbitrarily putting it back. There were books at my fingertips and the smell of paper around me--doesn't get much better than that. My students had once again irritated me, so I was unwinding a bit. Once I had uncoiled, I paid more attention to the books themselves, bypassing the ones that had heart stickers on the spines (romance) and skulls (mysteries), largely ignoring the stickers that indicated a book was religious in nature--in short, ignoring the genre fiction. I didn't know what I was looking for, but I knew what I didn't want, and from there, I found a few books that may or may not be read by the time they're due in a month.

Still, it wasn't about the books themselves. I probably check out twice as many books as I actually read when I go to the library. The library itself and being surrounded by the books is the real draw. A much more efficient way would be to use the library catalog to make sure a specific book is there, or even place a hold if a book isn't, and I do these things when there is a specific book I want. But efficiency is something we have far too much of already; sometimes we need to slow down and be deliciously inefficient. So I wander libraries, enjoying the books and the quiet, lost only in my own thoughts.

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