In Which I Debate Buying Books (Or, An Ode to the Library)


June 24, 2011 by Leah

I can’t remember the last book I bought, other than Stitch ‘n Bitch (which should actually be punctuated “Stitch ‘n’ Bitch,” in my opinion). This is fantastic, as Aaron and I have what one might call a serious book problem. We have bookshelves in four of our five non-bathroom rooms. I think our books must breed at night because new stacks of them appear constantly, and the number of books we own that I haven’t read seems larger every day. That said, I’ve never been very good at stopping myself from leaving the house to procure more books. Sometimes you just want to browse a bigger selection than the one you have at home. Enter the library.

Since I moved to Long Beach, I’ve become an extremely heavy user of the fine network of libraries here. My local branch is like my candy store – I just walk in, select some tomes that look good, and can try them, risk-free, for three weeks. If I want something specific, I go online and order it to be delivered to my local branch. It usually arrives within a day or two, and the service is entirely free. My new favorite thing is downloading audiobooks from the library website and listening to them while I knit.

In preparation for our upcoming trip (we’re leaving a week from tonight!), I’m trying to figure out what to take with me in the form of personal entertainment. This has always been a big deal for me – maybe because I spent so much time on planes when I was little. (At least back then they’d pin wings on my shirt and I could go visit with the pilots in the cockpit.) Once, I packed a chapter book and some kind of crafty thing (maybe one of those potholder-weaving kits) to keep me occupied on a drive from Anchorage to Eagle River. For those of you who don’t know Alaska, that drive takes about 15-30 minutes depending on where you start. Clearly, my slight tendency toward obsession (and, some might argue, avoiding the thoughts in my own head), started early.

Also clearly, planning distractions for the upcoming hours on planes (you know, when I will be in a metal tube 35,000 feet above the ground, next to a soundly sleeping husband) and trains is a critical activity at this juncture. I like the idea of audiobooks for the trains part of the journey, as I’ll be able to listen while admiring the countryside. (Also, most of the trains we will be on will have electrical outlets at our seats. Europe is so cool.) The problem is, there are limits to audiobooks when you borrow them from the library. You can check out five books at once, and keep them for either 7 or 14 days at a time. For me, the worst part is you can’t return them once you’re done – your selected time frame has to expire. My early experiments with using this system found me sitting on books I had finished (or found so lacking in merit I didn’t want to finish) for days. That said, audiobooks are shockingly expensive (my husband and my brother recently came to this conclusion independently and within a few months of each other), so I don’t mind the limits. I’ll just have to survive the third week in Europe (and the plane ride home) with no audiobooks, which is fine, since I survived the ages of 10-29 without them, too.

(When I was little, my grandparents recorded themselves reading children’s classics onto tapes and sent them to me so I could follow along in my copies of the books. My dad later followed suit and read the entire Little House on the Prairie series onto tapes and sent those tapes to me, one at a time. And I think my stepdad started in on the Narnia series but got distracted. We are big book lovers, my family.)

Now that I have that sorted, what about real books? Ones with pages? I’m intrigued by the Kindle and similar reading devices, but I’m not ready to take that plunge yet. They cost lots of money, and I only spend big money on dead fish. I like flipping pages and not worrying about a battery dying at a critical plot juncture. I do have the Kindle app on my iPhone – the works of Sir Walter Scott make surprisingly good waiting room reading – but the tiny screen leaves a lot to be desired. If I ever do get a Kindle, the library lends e-books as well as audiobooks, so that’s exciting. It’s not just the Long Beach library that has all these amenities, by the way. Many libraries all around the country use the same or similar online catalog and electronic media lending systems. My friend Kristina, who recently got a master’s in library science, had to spend as much time studying technology as she did the other stuff you would expect someone to study in a library science program.

Back to trip-planning. I read alarmingly fast. Most books I get from the library are hardcovers. That combination would make for a heavy bag. My international travel bag is REI’s seemingly-discontinued (sob) Beast, which is the bestest bag in the entire world as it is expandable and collapsible and has shoulder straps so it can be worn like a backpack and it doesn’t have wheels. I hate bags with wheels (partly because they are heavy and unwieldy and the handles break, but mostly because people look ridiculous wheeling their little bags around). That said, having a bag I carry on my back means I need to be concerned with weight. So, I should really be thinking paperbacks (and minimizing the number of shoes I take).

The library has paperbacks. Maybe I could just go thumb through the paperback mysteries and grab a bunch of books from one series. But what if I lost the books? What if the hostel we’re staying at in the Berber Oberlund has a book exchange shelf? That’s the kind of thing I love about hostels. Maybe I should just suck it up and buy a couple of paperbacks. Or maybe not.

I’m currently most of the way through the audiobook collection of an “urban fantasy” series that is so ridiculous I’m a little embarrassed to be listening to it. I turn it off when Aaron walks into the room. It has, though, gotten less insipid (or maybe I’ve gotten more tolerant) over the course of five books, and now I just have to know how it turns out. And, really, I probably shouldn’t be embarrassed since I am and always have been a completely indiscriminate reader (book whore? Why isn’t that my Twitter handle?). And, the author has another series. And, it’s set it Scotland (I’m obsessed with Scotland) and it has lots of sex and magic.

The library has one copy of the first book of this other series, and that copy is currently missing. I think I’m going to need to buy a book for the first time in a long time. It sounds like perfect vacation reading, particularly since it’s not like I’ll know anybody there. Oh, wait – actually, I will know lots of people there. Like my friend Anna who is working on her PhD and thinks novels are ridiculous. And Aaron’s group of highly educated and gainfully employed friends. I guess I could always throw in Moby Dick, which I have been working on getting through for over a year now. (I last put it down at the point where the crew is finally cluing in to the unhealthy nature of Ahab’s obsession. Good times.)

Books. How I love them.


3 thoughts on “In Which I Debate Buying Books (Or, An Ode to the Library)

  1. I have found that podcasts are good for hours of idle amusement. CBC Ideas and Writers & Company, BBC Arts and Ideas and Excess Baggage, RTE Off the Shelf and Sunday Miscellany. Many innocent hours of diversion!

  2. Ronale says:

    I love my Kindle and I can carry more books than I could ever read.

  3. Kristina says:

    I’m a little late to this one, but given the date of the post I hope you’ll forgive me 🙂 Here is a post a librarian friend offers tips on how to choose a reader for eBooks:
    Currently you can’t read library books on the Kindle, but that is supposed to change later this year. I bought a Kindle during grad school for the PDF function, which saved me from printing out zillions of articles for reading each week. The PDF function then was only experimental, so it didn’t always work properly. Though, when I went to England, I was able to read the ginormous World Without End (I think that’s the title, follow up to Pillars of the Earth) without breaking my back lugging it around (I did wear out my back by lugging all the other books I bough while there, though, necessitating the need to purchase a cute, small, pink, and floral suitcase with wheels 🙂 ). The ability to purchase something wherever you are is a fabulous (and dangerous) feature, as well.

    Anyhoo, read Bobbi’s post, as it has good info on the different readers, even if you don’t have one yet (or did you take the plunge and not share? Hm?).

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