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LIVING ON IN LIBRARIES
I'm reading a fantastic book. A book about books, what could be better? It's fascinating. It's technically about the worst library fire in American history, when the Los Angeles Public Library burned in April 1986, but it is also about the idea of libraries, the history of them, the purpose and updated use of them and how they've changed from a modern-day viewpoint, and the love of books in general.

The first chapter, which details the spread of the fire and what it consumed, and how much it destroyed actually almost brought me to tears. The thought of all those things gone. Gone forever. Not just books, but manuscripts, magazines, photographs, films, ephemera and so much more. All the library fires and book burnings that have taken place over the history of mankind, encapsulated in an inferno that is brought vividly to life in the pages of another book. When the author talked about the reactions of the librarians who were watching the fire from outside, I almost cried again. It says a lot about me, I think, and a lot about a lot of people, that such an event could be so devastating. In one chapter, the author decides to burn a book to get a feel for what actually happens when a book is set alight. She found the thought of it and the action of it indescribably difficult. She talked about how even throwing away a book was nearly impossible, just like the idea of throwing away a living plant. It resonated so much with me. I remember my visceral reaction the first time I found out about altered books...technically art, but O! the desecration. And I laughed to think of all the poinsettias I've hung onto for MONTHS after the holidays because I couldn't just throw them away. Now I rarely buy them, just so I won't have to be faced with discarding them just because the holiday they represent is over.

The author, Susan Orlean, described her own childhood visits to the library with her mother, and I was instantly transported to visits to our libraries (and there were many, since we moved so much). Coming home with a big pile of books was such a delight. Checking out favorites (D'aulaires' Book of Greek Myths especially) over and over. The special crinkle of the mylar/plastic covers. The little pockets in the back with the crookedly stamped dates of check out and return. I don't remember any specific library building; I suspect they were the rather generic base libraries that were available to us military brats. I also remember very fondly a bookmobile that was dark and cozy and full of wonderful finds, but I cannot for the life of me remember WHERE we lived when it was a thing in my life.

I took the kids to the little library here in Flyinge when they were small, but not that much...it was fine for the kids, but there was only one shelf of books in English and unfortunately, they were invariably the types of best sellers and classics that I had either already read or had no desire to read. I could order books from the library system, but it was often easier to just buy my own, since my tastes are pretty specific, and eclectic. It kind of makes me sad now to think that my children, despite being surrounded by books in our house and all the reading we did together, probably didn't have the kind of childhood library experience that I remember.

And in keeping with my frequent thoughts about dying, she makes reference to an expression from Senegal which is used to politely say that someone has died: "his or her library has burned." Yes! That is exactly what happens. Your whole life, and all you have writ upon it, your own hearth-fire, gone out, burnt up, disappeared.

This blog is an attempt to put the fire of my life in a place where it won't go up in smoke when I do. Having it printed into book form each year is another attempt. No one wants to disappear and even if my life is, ultimately, insignificant, it's still full of things that were important or funny or topical or interesting...hopefully, to someone. I worry not just about my own books but the books I own. I want someone to love them after I've gone. I suspect I can't trust my family...none of them read that much. But I hope that they will make their way into the homes of people who will also read and reread and treasure them.

I bought the book on Kindle, looking for something to fill the gap between the excellent book I finished last night (Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver) and the what I've heard is another excellent book that is for book group on December 6 (Educated by Tara Westover), thinking that because it was non-fiction, it might take me a little longer to read. I typically don't start the book group book until about a week and a half before our discussion; too far in advance and it won't be fresh in my mind to talk about.

I'm only 30% of the way through this book, but I can already tell that I'll devour it quickly...it's that good, and that interesting. I'll have to fill the gap with more than one book at this rate. Good thing she's written more books for me to read!
 cheerful
mood: cheerful
music: Nespresso machine


Comments
(Anonymous)
The Library Book

I love to read writing about libraries and the love affair people have with books. Such writings tell a great deal about the writer, usually as much about the writer as the subject about which they are writing. People who have visceral reactions to book burning or even the THOUGHT of book burning are in love with ideas and knowledge. Their curiosity about the world around them can barely be kept in check; they fairly explode with a thirst for knowledge. If you hurry, you can have her autograph a copy of The Library Book tomorrow evening in Tulsa, OK. Be there by 7 pm. ;-) I am glad you wrote about the book; I'll have to get my hands on a copy soon.

JS

RE: The Library Book

I love books about books. Like icing on a cake!

This sounds like a book that I would love! *adds to the embarrassingly long "to read" list*

I have always loved going to the Library. I suppose it is a mixture of love and knowledge which fills my heart as soon as I walk through a library door which is so very compelling. As a young girl in Adelaide I used to practically live in the local library on my summer holidays. I didn’t often get there during the school year, except on Saturdays, but come summertime I was there every day. You were only allowed to take one book out at a time as a child and I was a voracious reader so I would be there every day. I’m quite sure they got sick of me.

There is something really special about a library. They all seem to smell the same, a mixture of leather and paper and glue. There’s also an aura of respect and reverence in the air, quite like entering a cathedral in a way with everyone speaking in hushed tones and tiptoeing about.

As a girl I loved the tales of Enid Blyton. Her fairy stories were marvellous. I devoured them like a hungry man at a banquet. I also loved her tales of the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. All her books carried my child’s mind on adventures to locales I could only dream about ever seeing. As a child growing up in far away, remote Australia these places seemed so very exotic, and how wonderful to have your very own parrot named Kiki!

I also loved Nancy Drew and I believe I read just about every book in the series, some of them several times. She was my hero. She was pretty and smart and there was no mystery she could not solve. I fancied being just like her when I grew up.

Then there were the Bobbsey Twins, Nan and Bert, Freddie and Flossie. They lived in a big house and had a cook/housekeeper and a handyman/man of work, something very far removed from any of my own life’s experience. They got into adventures and scrapes too, which helped to fuel my child-like dreams and aspirations.

Trixie Belden was another one of my favourites as were the great classics such as Little Women, Alice In Wonderland, and one of my all time favourites, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.

The love of books and reading is something I have carried with me my whole life. I am always reading one, or two or sometimes even three books at a time. L-G can’t understand how I can keep track of so many. I guess I’m just a genius! Hahaha I think it’s more likely that I get bored really easily and so my mind likes to skip around a bit. Perhaps its my love of the written word that inspires me in a way to want to write my own words. I don’t know. I only know for sure that my life would be a life half lived without the written word to inspire and enthrall me, and the library has always been the best and cheapest way to fuel my voracious appetite for reading.

I think I remember reading somewhere at one time that it was Benjamin Franklin who invented the lending library. Is this true? I guess it doesn’t really matter who invented the library, I only know for sure that I am grateful to whomever it was who did it, for they have brought great joy into my life and into the lives of many others. My kudos to them, whomever they may be.

You would love this book! Bump it to the top of your list! And you wrote a whole post which I think you should just copy/paste to your LJ: post for today? Check! Haha!

ONE book as a child?? That is just plain CRUEL.

I had ALL the Nancy Drews, read them over and over AND all the Trixie Beldens. I still regret getting rid of those in my twenties, how stupid was that? I have the first 5 Nancy Drews, purchased again much later, just because. I only ever read Blyton’s Naughtiest Girl books but I loved Nesbit and all the classics, the Oz books, everything Alcott wrote, the Little House books. And I still discover great kids books. I found Swallows and Amazons as an adult and have reread them several times. I could go on and on.

I don’t know if it was Franklin in regards to the lending library but it sounds like simething he would have endorsed!

"And you wrote a whole post" Gah! I did, didn't I? I've promised myself not to keep doing that, but I still persist. I think your post stirred up a lot of memories for me.

I've ordered the book. enabler!

YAY! Can't wait to hear what you think of it. I'm about halfway through but I'm placing bets on whether I'll finish it tonight.

(Anonymous)

I loved reading all this - I'm so glad that books are your life. I read- but no where as much as you. I gave up reading fiction when I couldn't deal with life after having to stay up all night to find out what happened. But every once in awhile I'll try one again -still doesn't help my sleep! Fun to remember all these books from childhood - many of them were ones I read also! Love, Lizardmom

(Anonymous)
From Megsie

A post about a book about books! Perfect.

I am a great book collector. I wish I had more time to actually READ them. I just ordered that new Barbara Kingsolver book, and I have had Educated on my shelf for about six months. I have stacks and stacks that I have yet to read, and I still order more...I also ordered White Fragility yesterday...and How Humans Learn last week. Some day I will be the reader I am meant to be, but right now my reading consists of mostly poorly written papers. And a lot of them.

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