23 December 2008

Book me

If he had occasion to embarrass me, my father had one story in his arsenal that he turned to first, and I’ll paraphrase it here for you.

“With every kid,” he’d say, “things are different. They’re all born with their own personalities already in place. And you wonder what they’re going to be like, who they’ll be. You wonder what their little voices will sound like when they learn to talk, and what sort of things they’re going to say.”

Here I typically buried my face in my hands.

“It was the same with Jilly Bee,” he’d continue – he always called me Jilly Bee – “we wondered what words she’d learn when and what her voice would sound like, if she’d sound like her sister at all.

“Then she learned to talk. And she talked and talked and darned if the kid didn’t talk all day long. We couldn’t shut her up. We’d be watching TV and she’d be chattering away during the show and we’d have to try to shut her up until the commercial break.”

It seems I was a bit of a chatterbox. But looking back all I can figure is that for the first 18 months or so of my life, I couldn’t talk, and once I learned I felt I had to make up for lost time. So I talked and talked and talked. Even in my sleep, as my sister complained.

Teaching me to read was a matter of self-preservation for my parents. I could read to myself out loud, in a room other than the one the TV was in, and they’d get a little peace. I imagine that my siblings helped me out a bit, and my parents read to me. In any case I could read fairly well at three, and at 3 ½, I got a library card.

I’ve always been a fan of libraries. I go in, and I get to take their books. Any books I want! I can just take them! I got such a kick out of that as a kid. I was used to going to stores with my mother and hearing that no, I couldn’t have this or that, because it was too much money. But in the library, it was all free! I was hooked. Fines in those days were about a nickel a day for an overdue book. Nothing I couldn’t handle.

Many years later the library moved to a new home, one much bigger than the closet-sized city building it had been in before. I hated it at first. It didn’t feel like my library. It smelled funny. It was on the edge of a cliff. I had my reasons. But I lived in a town without a bookstore, so I went to the new library.

At the start of my senior year of high school, the library had an opening for a shelver. On a whim, I applied, and much to my surprise I got the job. They’d never hired a teenager before, so I was rather flattered, although I suspected my literacy and familiarity with the library had more to do with the decision than anything else. That, and the fact that three of the librarians had known me since I was three and started coming to the library. In any case, I started working there most days after school.

I loved it. It was heaven. Every book in town was at my disposal. I got my grubby hands on new books the instant they were processed (and many times I got to type out the labels, apply the barcodes, and cover them). Not only that, every day before I started work, I could access my account and check on the due dates of the books I’d checked out. I could renew them myself if I needed to.

When I moved to Gilbert, one of the first things I looked for was the public library. And I found it – less than two miles from my house, it was a monster of a building, with easily twice the number of books I was used to. I didn’t know any of the employees, I didn’t know where anything was … and I couldn’t renew my own books.

None of this stopped me of course. I checked out book after book after book, often filling up my card. But the thing you have to remember about me is that I’m sort of an idiot. I had the darndest time remembering to renew my books before they were due back, or remembering to turn them in on time. I had so many books out that I didn’t read most of them. And fines were no longer the nickel I was used to. I think it was a quarter per item per day.

A few years ago, I had a period of six months where three times, I owed more than sixty dollars in overdue fees. Once I owed more than 100. I was gainfully employed and not in much debt so I managed, but I felt sick about it. I am at heart a very cheap person, and I realized that for the money, I might as well be buying my own books to keep forever instead of borrowing. So I started going to bookstores and I never looked back. I’ve been to the library building twice in the past three years, and both times I just went in to vote – I didn’t even go in to the main library where the books are. No books checked out meant no fines. And bookstore books had the advantage of not smelling like the last person who checked them out, as is so often the case with library books. And I can read them at my leisure with no pressure and no time limit. They are mine, to do with as I please.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I own a good 5,000 or so books (that I know of). It’s self-defense and a very twisted sort of cheapness. And it works.

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