The Library Didn't Go Easy Today

Most times, the library goes easy and that’s how it should be because I love the library.

Most times, the library just presents books to me. They practically spring off the shelves, causing considerable excitement and anticipation. Every shelf seems to contain a title I’ve been wondering about, or something new from an author I like, or something out of the blue that just looks too interesting to pass up.

Most times, it’s just like that. But, sometimes, occasionally, the library doesn’t go like that. Today was one of those days.

I think it’s mostly indicative of the frame of mind that I’m in when I enter the library. Most times, I’m well up for it, and the library lays itself out before me like a world of possibilities. Today, I went to the library to escape all the other things I was supposed to be doing and that sometimes works but, then again, sometimes it doesn’t. Today, I scanned all of the fiction shelves, went the way I always go, and nothing in the entire place presented itself to me as something I needed to take out and read.

This is obviously a silly state of affairs. There are thousands and thousands of books on the shelves and there are at least hundreds in there that I should be pleased to sit down with and read. But this is what I’m saying to you today; sometimes the library doesn’t go easy.

I have my routine. I start at ‘A’ and work my way through all the fiction. Wait. Strike that. I don’t start at ‘A’ at all. I start at the returned bookshelf and also at the shelf where the library people put up a seemingly random selection of new titles and other, older, titles that they like.

Nothing there for me: nada, zilch, zero.

(Of course there is, really. There is stuff there for me it’s just that the library is a state of mind and it was never going to go easy today).

So, here I am at ‘A.’ ‘A’ is normally good pickings. Maybe that’s because I’m sharp and ready for the book-hunt or maybe it’s something else. I sometimes wonder if some writers took on names that start with the letter ‘A’ just to catch the readers who search out their books alphabetically. There are good books on display here in ‘A,’ even today, but I’ve read them or I don’t fancy them right now. Onward to ‘B.’ There are letters I give more attention to than others. ‘M’ has brought me pleasures over the years so I always have a keen look there. And ‘K,’ of course. Ever since I started finding Stephen King there in the 70’s, the joy of happening upon a new book by him has never gone away. And even though I know now that no new book is due, and that I would end up buying it anyway, still, I always give ‘K’ a good once-over. For old time’s sake.

On a day when the library is not going easy, the tension starts to rise when you’re up around the ‘U’ ‘V’ and ‘W’s. How can I have got this far without a couple of books tucked under my arm? This upper echelon part of the alphabet seems somehow more rarefied. As if the chances of finding something interesting are somehow less likely up there. I have had great times up in the ‘V’’s and the ‘W’’s. Not today, of course. Today it is a just a barren wasteland of meaningless titles and unrecognisable spines.

Now I have reached the end of the fiction shelves and I have nothing to show for it. I tell myself I will go to the shop and buy myself a book. But, if I can’t find a single thing I want to read, in this entire universe of reading-material, what hope do I have in the little bookshop? Should I amble down the Biography section, maybe, have a look at the Graphic Novels?

I go back through the fiction to my favourite letters. I stand in front of the books and I threaten myself a little bit. If I can’t find something good to read on the shelf I’m currently looking at, then I am a big fool. I search that particular shelf with microscopic attention and then, of course, I start to see possibilities. I find two books, slender tomes, both by writers whose work I have previously enjoyed. My arm feels better with something tucked under it.

That’s the trick, you see. It’s obviously not the library’s fault if I’m having a bad day there. My mind is elsewhere, my brain is fogged. The library is always the library, consistent, welcoming, and replete with the best of things.

It’s me. Sometimes I just don’t go easy.

While, sometimes, I do.


Jim Murdoch said...

Okay so we’ve done sweeties (well, we touched on sweeties) and I’m now armed with a cup of coffee and a couple of Tesco’s Chocolate Oaties which are so moreish… No, we’re on books. Books, Jim. Focus. I, you will not be surprised to learn, love books. I’m not a voracious reader and never have been but I do love to be surrounded by books even if I know I’ll never read ANY of them. Libraries—and bookshops too—are such nice, calming places to just be. I mean parks are nice and galleries and museums but nothing beats a library or a bookshop. Until you have to pick a damn book. And that’s the thing with bookshops. Books nowadays are so damn expensive, WAY above annual increases for inflation. In 1972 I bought a copy of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich for 35p. I found a table online with the annual inflation rates and it just pasted perfectly into Excel and here’s the thing, that book, today, should cost us about £3.87. The price on Amazon for the exact same edition is £7.15. Christ, I wish I’d bought more books when I could afford them! I mean I like libraries, I do, but I really love my bookshelves at home. Carrie got rid of a fair number of books when we moved but I just couldn’t. I think I parted with one, literally one book.

My first wife was a voracious reader but not a picky one. I’d go to the library once a week or so, stock up on books I would’ve liked to have read but didn’t have the time to, she’d read them and them summarise them for me. I did love the picking of the books. Way more than the reading. The reading was often disappointing. But if you never open a book there’s no disappointment. I was much the same with comics. Love comic book art, especially the covers, but not always that impressed with the storytelling.

I do get how hard it is to pick one book. Carrie once and once only (she learned her lesson) gave me a book certificate as a present and then watched me torture myself trying to spend it. For the record, after a good hour, I came away with a copy of Dust Covers: The Collected Sandman Covers by Dave McKean and regretted it the moment I got it home.

Ken Armstrong said...

I found a book on a charity stall in Nerja - 4,3,2,1 by Paul Auster and I'm loving it. The thrill of the find is really something. Though, at the wrong side of 1,000 pages, it might be bigger than you normally veer towards. :)