Monday, March 26, 2007

To the Library and Beyond

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine remarked that, for someone who reads as much as I do, I don’t go to the library very often. I told him what I tell everyone who asks: I don’t go to libraries because they always want their books back. I’m possessive about my books, especially books I like, and I don’t like having to give them back. It’s selfish I know, but after having accumulated $30 dollar fines on a number of occasions, I’d decided that everyone would be better served – my pocketbook and honest library patrons alike – if I got my books from the bookstore where, for a set price, my books could languish on my shelves as long as I liked.

My pocketbook, however, has of late been rather bare so this past weekend I bit the bullet, promised to be a good library patron, and applied for a new library card. I’d forgotten how much going to the library is like being a kid in a candy store with license to get whatever and however much I liked. Oh, the bounty I escaped with:

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
Tokyo: Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta
Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz
Heat by Bill Buford
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
And a bunch of plays by Shakespeare that I haven’t read in a while or ever (King Lear, As You Like It, and the Henry VI plays to name a few).

Habitually, I read the first chapter of any new book I acquire. It satisfies my curiosity and allows me to finish books I’ve already committed to reading. So I spent a very pleasurable afternoon dipping my toe into a new book before flitting off to a another pool. Here’s a sampling of the first sentence from a few of the books:

“One night last summer, all the killers in my head assembled on stage in Massachusetts to sing show tunes.” –- Assassination Vacation

“Not so long ago, in one of those small, carefree lands that used to be so common but which now, alas, are hardly to be found, there was a prince whose name was Ibrahim.” -- Tokyo: Cancelled (Alright, this isn’t exactly the first sentence in the book. Tokyo: Cancelled is modeled after The Canterbury Tales. This is the first sentence in the first story “The Tailor.”)

“There was a woman who had seven sons and she was happy. Then she had a daughter.” -- from “Where We Come From” in Nice Big American Baby. I’m not going to give away the story but someone please tell me: is it even possible for a woman to carry a baby inside for her for four years and not – I don’t know – die?

"Years ago, before the trains stopped running on so many of the branch lines, a woman with a high, freckled forehead and a frizz of reddish hair came into the railway station and inquired about shipping furniture." -- Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marraige

“A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into; the other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time they come afterwards.” – Quoted by George Orwell, from The Road to Wigan Pier as preface to Heat

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