When the rapture comes can I have your library card?

Years ago I saw a crappy banged up car—we’re talking about a total rust bucket—with a bumper sticker that read “When the rapture comes can I have your car?” Despite never having owned a car, I wanted that bumper sticker.

I sincerely hope that the pious believers of the world will receive their heavenly reward and why would any decent gods or deities deny their faithful?  As a pragmatist I realize I’ll not be among the heaven-dwellers.  It’s not that I’ve been such a bad person, nor am I an atheist, but I haven’t settled in to a proper religious practice in a such a way that I would be singled out for eternal dividends.  Anyway, I quite like the idea of being left behind, as long as there will still be books and people left to run the libraries.

I can’t exactly say that reading gives me rapture: reading for me is more like a feeling of space.  You know I can actually remember reading my first word—we—in my first book— “We Feed a Deer.”  I sounded out the word, I got it, I moved on to the next word.  It was all mine right then, the practice of reading and the world of books was opened up with this invigorating feeling of space.

My hometown was tiny and rural, but we still had a library.  I worked my way through that library with ferocity.  From Balzac to beekeeping to the Bolshevik Revolution: I was the 9 year old version of Sartre’s Self-Taught man.  And at school there was the school librarian, the divine Mrs. Kemp, who gently nudged me in the direction of appropriate reading but never denied me any book, ever.

Appropriate books?  Well let’s say I left those behind and dived deep into the inappropriately salacious, starting with my stepdad’s leftover college books, which he apparently never read himself or he surely would have been alarmed.  That was the thing I figured out early: adults looked at me with approval for the act of reading but they never questioned what I was reading.  I mean, I was a preteen walking around with Henry Miller, with William F. Burroughs for god’s sake.  (I did have a close call with my Aunt Wanda, a teacher from California, who intercepted me with one of the diaries of Anais Nin and said “What exactly are you reading there young lady?” After that, I made sure to revert to girl detective mysteries whenever she was in town).

Adults were also under the impression that reading made me smart.  Reading did not make me smart, but it gave me confidence to leap into the intellectual unknown, to other times and lives and foreign places (since before I was a traveler I was a reader.)  Because I started with complicated books so young, I learned to accept, and even relish, an unknown vocabulary and references to the world that were completely beyond my experience.  One of my favorite books was about a rich English girl from India who is sent to a boarding school in London and ends up destitute and living with a cockney servant.  When I first read the book I was unclear what the countries England and India were, and of course I had no concept of colonialism or what the heck a cockney accent was.  But I liked the sound of the words and how they felt in my head.  As a college student majoring in philosophy this ability to swim through books well above my intellectual level keep me afloat and away from the frustration my smarter classmates often experienced.

As an adult I’ve kept my library card busy.  While it’s not something I’m sorry about, I confess to have been guilty of years of indiscriminately raiding the library shelves, with little direction to my reading.  This changed about 15 years ago when I joined a reading group: Great Books Group.  What a revelation!  Reading, once a solitary act, is now a practice I share with other insightful and generous readers.  Our group, which meets bi-weekly at the (wait for it now) library, has been around for over forty years.  While sadly we’ve lost members to age and infirmity, our co-leaders have remained the same: Peter and Dan.  Dan chooses a yearly theme for Great Books and then selects a reading list based on the theme.  (What Dan thinks is a suitable book to complete in a two week time period is often quite hilarious—-a 500 page history book is not unusual).  Dan is a fine writer himself and frequently composes poems in response to our reading selections.  Peter is a classics scholar (he knows Latin and Greek) with the benevolent disposition of a secular saint.  I wish you all could know Peter, whose tendency to constantly reference Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time and Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy is the source of much teasing by Great Books members.  Peter is a natural born teacher and while my identification with The Wife of Bath from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is largely aspirational, Peter is a living embodiment of Chaucer’s Clerk: “And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.”

Despite our rigorous reading schedule for Great Books, I still read a variety of other books.  Thanks to my insomnia, I have plenty of time for night reading, which centers on thriller novels.  I adore thriller novels!  The best thrillers contain a robust combination of the following; disposable “burner” cell phones, hidden bugs or tracking devices, a person who gets shot with a tranquilizer dart, and a character who—in order to change their appearance on short notice—cuts and dyes their hair in a gas station restroom.  I read travel guides of course, and popular current affairs books, but mostly fiction.  My default author for times of stress is Charles Dickens.  I’ve read all of his books, most multiple times, though reading him can be like eating food covered in too many condiments.  Also, I do wish I could go back in time and say “Charles, my friend, please chill out with inheritance plots, okay dude?”

Chicago is a great city, a city with 79 libraries and the excellent Chicago Public Library website which I visit most days to place (paper and digital) books on hold.  The pang of joy I feel from the inbox message reading “Materials you have requested are available for pickup” is matched only by the devastation of  “Error!  You’ve reached the maximum amount of titles you can place a hold on at this time.”  Yes, unfortunately, there is a limit to the number of holds per library card, and I am always at that limit.  So do me a solid: if you’re one of the lucky ones ascending to your seat next to a higher power, before you depart, give me your library card.   You won’t be needing it anymore, and maybe up there in the white, angel-laden place you could think of me back on earth, left behind, with twice as many library books in my queue.

libary

At the library in Riga

 

 

 

19 comments

  1. What a super post!
    I too was a library child…I loved the place and owe a huge debt to the young librarians who fed my interest, suggested paths to follow and who never said that a book was ‘too old’ for me. Know just what you mean about reading about a culture which was unknown to me…the ability to leap into a context and how all that has stood me in good stead throughout my life.
    My father loved Dickens…I do not. I loathe his grotesques, but enjoying Anthony Powell as I do would love to meet Peter.
    Leo tends to wake in the night and once he is settled again I cannot get off to sleep…so it is detective novels for me. Ian Rankin before he started making an industry of Rebus and a gallimaufry of police procedurals headed by the unmatchable Reginald Hill.
    I just have a sneaking feeling that those qualifying for the rapture will never have the vocabulary to describe it…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Helen. I should have known you were a fellow library child. I have a lot of friends who work either as librarians or in some other capacity at libraries and I hold them in the highest esteem. When I met HOB (at a bookstore!) he told me that working at a library was his favorite job and that sealed the deal for me.

      I enjoy Dickens’ grotesques but not his simpering young ladies who are ever-so-attached to their daddies. Did you read all of Dance to the Music of Time? I did, out of loyalty to Peter, and didn’t hate it but Powell’s biography was insufferable—all that coy name dropping of famous Brits….

      You and Peter would get on like a house on fire. No doubt he would give you a book: he’s like a drug pusher, but with books with the people he likes.

      I recently read Rankin’s Saints of the Shadow Bible and was terribly bored by it—not enough burner phones, internet hackers and improbably plot twists for me.

      Like

  2. Powell is a prat of the first water…but he knows and describes his world so very well.
    The shadow bible has not come my way but the later Rankin is so lazy…
    Do you know the Nicolas Freeling stuff…Van der Valk and then Castaing? They are super in giving the atmosphere of the settings.
    And do try Reginald Hil..I think you might like his stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just found a Reginald Hill—The Woodcutter—available for kindle from the library and downloaded it. Thanks for the recommendation.

      Like

  3. Isabella d'Este · · Reply

    my sister!
    i read all of my dad’s sf-novels and Siegmund Freud before becoming 14….
    and I met a person like Uriah Heep in real life ..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Where did you meet the Uriah Heep man? Was he red-headed and writhing?

      Also, we are clearly sisters because Mantua is one of my all time favorite cities, Ms. Isabella d’Estes.

      Like

  4. What a lovely thing to live in a country where there are public libraries. You know how precious they are; hang on to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you have public libraries at home?

      I certainly do realize how precious they are and fear for their future in the current political climate!

      Like

      1. Unfortunately we don’t.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Really enjoyable article!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Guy. How are things with you and Al–have you sorted out the job situation yet?

      Like

      1. Hi, yes thanks. My old job took me back and Al is working with old colleagues at a different firm. We are saving for the next trip and living vicariously through other peoples travel blogs in the meantime. Keep up the good work, I always love your posts. Where are you off to next?

        Liked by 1 person

  6. How lucky to have such a great Great Books group! Apologies for unsolicited advice ahead: perhaps newer techniques of biofeedback would help your insomnia? I have a friend who has been able to go from 2 hours sleep/night to almost 6. This is really a medical issue—your insurance might cover trying it. Best wishes for more zzzzzs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I am quite lucky to be with such a great group of readers—it’s like grad school without the tuition.
      I appreciate the medical advice. I have four doctors (Including a sleep specialist) on the case, but not a whole lot to show for it. I even went to “sleep school” for six weeks. I haven’t tried biofeedback yet, though, and I do have good insurance so I will ask my doc about it next visit. By the way, I’m gad to hear your friend got some relief with this treatment!

      Like

  7. Love it! I also can never have enough books, but I usually buy them and this is not a very good idea with all the moving. I recently discovered that in Luxembourg they have some Book Boxes, you can take any book you want from the box and bring it back or just exchange it with another book. Wish this was in every city of the world 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In Chicago we have these tiny free libraries everywhere where people can leave or take books. I try not to indulge too much because I don’t have the space.

      I hope you have a lovely time in Guatemala!

      Like

  8. It was the bookmobile for me. It stopped three doors up every second Wednesday and you brought it all flooding back, me as kid watching and waiting and them running up the hill to climb into the van’s book-filled bowels. Thank you for prompting that lovely memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a lovely memory! Was the bookmobile a lending library? Or did you have to buy the books?

      Like

    2. Then..not them…

      Liked by 1 person

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