I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I am struggling to get back into reading again. That’s a sentence that I never would have thought would come out of my mouth. I have been a voracious reader my entire life. The stereotype of the kid who ordered to “Get your nose out of that book and go outside!” is part of my life. I was also the kid who took that book outside with him and read under a tree. Not every time but enough.
And the pandemic drove a nail through that.
The lockdown phase, which was only moderate here, pushed me into a strange and unhealthy headspace. I wasn’t working (school was closed, and the idea of rideshare driving wasn’t appealing), which kept me stuck in the house. My first ever serious bout of depression crept in. Months later, I realized I’d developed what I call my “groundhog routine”. Once a day I’d open the front door, stick my head out, sniff the air and look around. Then pull my head back in and close the door. The days became an endless stream of binge-watched television, another sign of how far from my norm I’d wandered. I HATE binge-watching. Somewhere along the way, I lost the habit of reading. I’d scan stuff on my phone, became a Reddit fan (don’t hate), and watched my annual reading number plummet. It’s not who I have ever been, and it’s not who I want to be.
So one day recently, I took a big step. I would push myself to read. I would go to the library and check out a book. No, a COUPLE books! It felt like a step in the right direction.
Then I got to my local branch.
I want you to understand how much I love libraries. When we move, getting a new library card is one of the top three items on my to-do list. I fell in love with my elementary school library (Hance Elementary in Gibsonia, PA) and then the Richland Library, which remains the go-to image of a library in my head. Later in life, I’d fall in love with the James Prendergast Library in Jamestown, NY. I love wandering through the stacks looking for something to surprise me. I’ve discovered many wonderful authors and adventures that way. So my anticipation was that I’d strike up that old habit, and be off and reading.
What I found was a collection of books with no apparent sense of balance. Let me give you an example: Robert Louis Stevenson wrote some wonderful stories that are both fun and easy to read. “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “Treasure Island”, and “Kidnapped” as easy examples. There were three books on the shelf, one of Jekyll and Hyde, plus two copies of “The Black Arrow”. That’s it. Meanwhile, James Patterson, an immensely popular writer, had ten full shelves. Each shelf was roughly 3 feet long. There were usually 3-5 copies of most of the titles. This is a common approach to library collections these days. Fill the shelves with multiple copies of popular writers. Because that’s what readers want.
Well, maybe SOME readers.
In a spirit of fairness, let me note that after years of having access to the main branch library in Jamestown (literally a block from my office), my current local library is a small satellite branch. I do not expect it to have the same collection as a central branch. But the selection I found the other day was really disappointing.
I am NOT saying that popular contemporary authors shouldn’t have a primary portion of the collection. But just as there is a logical fallacy to “If it’s old, it’s good”, the mirror image is equally false “If it’s new, it’s good”. Cut the authors like Patterson (and he’s not alone in the volume of volumes he commands in the library. I am NOT picking on James Patterson!) down by even a single shelf, and use that space to make sure there is a competent collection of not only “classic” works, but diverse authors too.
Bring the adventure of discovery back to the library.
So what did I get? “The Winter of Our Discontent” by John Steinbeck, “Fuzzy Nation” by John Scalzi, and “Don’t Cry, Tai Lake” by Qiu Xiaolong. I’m a big fan of the first two and am looking for something new in the third. It’s part of a series about a Chinese police officer that is both a murder mystery and environmental crisis.
I’m starting to feel excited about reading again.
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