Thursday, September 22, 2005

Books and Libraries, A Short, Sentimental Account

I enjoy books for many different reasons. Sometimes it's story, or characters, metaphors, tone, political/philosophical/spiritual content, humor, information. Sometimes it is a huge, uplifting experience to read a book, and sometimes it's brief and casual, a way to pass the time. But books have been my constant companions since I was a very young child, and my life has been improved immeasurably by them.

When I was in elementary school, the public library that served our part of town ("south of the river") was in a trailer--a mobile home. They crammed in as many books as would fit, and somehow I was always able to find something I hadn't read yet. I went to school in the main part of town, and there was a grand library in walking distance of the school. I still visit it whenever I can--it's the historical museum now. That library has marble steps and heavy iron and glass doors, a chandelier and the smell of old books, especially in the basement. It holds precious memories for me; it's one of my favorite buildings in the world.

All that is to introduce this paragraph, the last paragraph of the latest book by one of my favorite authors. Joel Achenbach is smart and witty, and a very talented writer. I have enjoyed his work for years (decades!) and recently because of Achenblog, I have had the opportunity to get better acquainted with him, with the result that I have even more respect for him, and a feeling of affinity based on the fact that we have a lot in common--both experiences and opinions.

I don't know how many people, when they read a book, continue reading after the book ends, into the notes and end matter. But I do. And it was my reward to reach the last paragraph and have it be this:

A final suggestion for those wishing to follow up this story: Despite the powers of the Internet, which make it possible to find, for example, the full text of a Washington quote simply by searching for a phrase, there is nothing quite like browsing the shelves of a good library, where many fine books, too geriatric or obscure to be transferred to the digital realm, languish unread, in serious danger of being consigned to the category of lost information.

p. 302, The Grand Idea: George Washington's Potomac and the Race to the West, by Joel Achenbach

6 comments:

Jeremy said...

Wow. I NEVER read all those end-notes. Maybe I should start!

I also love going into a bookstore and wandering up and down the shelves. Something always jumps out at me, an author I had meant to read but had forgotten, something on a favorite topic, something that I've never heard of but hey, it's only $1.99 in the bargan bin.

Bookstores are dangerous places for my wallet.

Read/Think/Live said...

Those bargain books get me all the time. It's not a big problem for the wallet at that price level, but I have a small house and not too much space for any kind of collection. But when I see Shakespeare for 10 cents or Jack London for a dollar, or some art book selling for a fraction of its production cost, it just seems wrong not to buy it.

I don't spend a lot of time in regular bookstores, but Amazon.com definitely knows my name.

Sara said...

Unforunately for my bank account, both Amazon.com and bookstores, especially the local Barnes and Noble (people at the registers and the cafe say, "Hey Sara!" when I walk in), know my name.

I have a hard time checking books out from libraries because I'm not a fan of giving them back. But I will go and hang out in the basement (ancient history section with all the old, yellowed books that smell amazing) or on the fifth floor (art history section--there's a Dr. Suess art book and it opened my eyes to how perverted Dr. Suess was when not writing children's books) of my college library. Most of those ancient history books can't be purchased easily anymore, so it really leaves me no choice.

Sara said...

By the way, I checked out Artist Alice. Your daughter is very cool.

Jeremy said...

I like Artist Alice's descripion of her art-history teacher: "...young, pretty, nervous, and gets excited about what she's saying until she's out of breath, and has to drink some water."

Anonymous said...

Thank you! You achenbloggers are welcome on my blog anytime. I know your little personality quirks inside and out, you know. I was the only person around to listen to Mom's updates on The (infamous) Blog. I'm not very good at updating every day, but since I have some readers, maybe I should really make more of an effort. Once I start, I always find I have more to say than I thought.

Alice