Learning to read again

I’ve written about rediscovering the Providence Public Library. I go at least once a week, sometimes twice. It’s quiet and lovely, especially the book stacks (most people go to use the computers, which are right in front; there’s also a nice first-floor children’s section, and the librarians are universally cheerful and funny).



I check out at least a book a week.



And, almost by accident, I have learned to read again.



Funny: I have a room full of books, literally lined with books. I am always pulling them down, looking up things, lending them to people. But I am not adding new books to the mix. (I do, of course; it’s a lifetime habit. But I buy books and put them on the shelf without reading. That’s terrible.)



But now I am checking out books I do not own from the library, and there is a date stamped in them, and if I do not return them by that date, I will be charged – I don’t know – five cents a day.



hate being late.



So I read. I read novels, and screenplays, and radio scripts, and short stories. I have put things aside because they’re not very good. I have reread things.



I’m beginning to fall into a routine: one weekend day (either Saturday or Sunday, whichever has the crappier weather), with a book and a glass of seltzer water. I lie down, and I read.



I’d forgotten how lovely this is.  I can turn pages as quickly or as slowly as I please. If a book bores me, I can throw it aside. I can speed through a chapter or a section if it’s not wonderful. I can linger over things. I can reread things a few days later!



And I can lie down while doing it!



I find that I now (more than recently) have ideas in my head. Now, where could those have come from?



I have been more relaxed lately, too. To be fair, it might be my medication. But books are medication too. I’d forgotten how consoling they can be.



As W. H. Auden said in “For The Time Being”: “You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.” 



It’s good to be back.


The Providence Public Library


The Providence Public Library is a grandiose pile of masonry on the corner of Empire and Washington downtown.  I went in a few times in the late 1970s, but it seemed very hoi polloi to me. (What a nasty little snob I was in those days!)



Also, I was entering that phase in my life in which it was important that I own books rather than just borrow them.



Thirty-five years have passed, and my home bookshelves are groaning with books, loved and unloved, read and unread.



And a few months ago, for some reason, I don’t know why, I went back to the Providence Public Library.



And I fell in love with the place.



Let me tell you first that it’s open for less than forty hours a week.  It opens at 12:30pm four days a week, which is a crime against humanity.  I didn’t know that when I first started going there; I got there around 12:15pm one day, and was surprised to see a line of people waiting to get in.  And do you know why most of them were there?  To use the small bank of public-use computers.  By the intense look on their faces, they were job-hunting.  What does that tell you about the usefulness of the public library?



The other sections of the library – the reference stacks, the reading rooms, the music rooms – are very quiet.  Well, maybe “quiet” is a stupid word to use about a library.  Let us say instead: deserted.



Which is itself a sin and a shame.



But I have to admit I enjoyed it.



I wandered into the fiction section as if by instinct.  I was the only person for miles, amid racks and racks of books, acres and acres of books, with that musty elementary-school smell all around me.  Do you remember those crackly plastic covers that library books always had when we were in school?  They still have them.



I got my bright blue library card that very first day.  I have been back at least once a week, and I get such pleasure out of it.  I return my last week’s reading in the little basket, and I wander light-headed through the stacks. 



And I’m borrowing them!  I’ve finally gotten away from the idea that I have to own books!  I used to love the idea that I owned them, they were mine, I could keep them on a shelf and pull them down anytime I wanted to . . .



Sometime around the ten-thousandth book, this stopped making sense.



Let’s face it: ultimately we own nothing, not our homes nor our cars, not even our precious books, not even ourselves.



We can only ever borrow things and use them for a while.



And maybe libraries are a perfect expression of that.



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