Taglibraries

A few thoughts about peoplewatching

Thank you for the book suggestions! I appreciate them all. As luck would have it, I’m not picking out books today, but I’m thinking of them as I write. Thinking of them a lot because I’m spending the afternoon in a library. Not mine, not the one of old chairs and old wooden bookcases and books I held as a child, but that’s okay. This one is also full of books, which really is the important part, is it not?

The thing about libraries is that they are quiet and full of books, but they’re also full of people, which makes it hard for me to work. People are rather fascinating, and sometimes hard to ignore, unless, of course, they’re members of my family, in which case I can tune them out like turning down the volume on a radio. Which isn’t, perhaps, something I should admit in public.

But about all those other people…the thing about them is that even when they are quiet, they are expressive. Even when they are still and intent and completely wrapped up in matters of consequence, they give parts of themselves away. Tapping, frowning, smiling, biting on nails (or fingers, apparently), how they sit (legs crossed, feet flat on the floor, chair legs pushed up a little…), how often and when they glance out the window…the list is endless. Our stories trickle out of us everywhere, in so many ways.

If you were watching me, for example, you would notice that I keep rubbing the inside of my ring finger with my thumb. If you were Sherlock Holmes, you might conclude that I’d recently been divorced, or was carrying on a torrid affair with someone who thought me unmarried.

The true, and more prosaic, explanation, is that I made pizza dough this morning in order to let it do a slow rise in the fridge, and I took my wedding band off and set it on top of the baking powder tin so that I wouldn’t get it covered with dough. Significantly less thrilling, but there you have it.

If you write, or daydream, all these little things–motion, emotion, dress, location, scent, habit–all these things are tiny little doorways that you can’t help but want to enter. Does the scowling woman scowl because she is unhappy, or because she is unfriendly, or does her mouth like to go that way and she would smile, fully, warmly, if I were to speak to her? Does the man rubbing his beard find it itchy, and wish that the weather would warm up so he could shave it off without fear of a chilly chin, or did his father have a big beard, and he used to rub it when he was small and frightened in the night, and touching his own beard takes him back to that place of feeling safe and loved?

It is rather distracting. It’s exactly why I don’t tend to write in public spaces–too rich, too full, too hard to stick to my own little universe. This is the sort of thing that happens when I do. There must be a solution, somewhere. Blinders, possibly? Portable cubicles? Aversion therapy?

Let me know if you find an answer. I’ll be your first customer.

Help–need books

I’m trapped in the house with feverish people. Feverish is better than the other possibilities. Zombies, for example. Or vampires. Or exceptionally grumpy folks.

Still, time is ticking by slowly. Lots of napping, lots of quiet. And me, stuck without anything good to read.

That’s not totally true. I have lots of good books here, but nothing new. It used to be that I’d reread Stephen King’s The Stand whenever I was sick, and then watch The Thing. I found it comforting (I’m not dying of an lethal virus! I don’t have aliens eating their way out of me!).

Ever since the great book purge we undertook a few years ago, I haven’t been able to find The Stand. It’s also not really what I’m in the mood for. Jon just finished reading a book about the influenza epidemic of 1918. Nope, that one’s not right either. No flu for now.

Help me out. Tell me what you’re reading, what you’ve read, what you love so much you almost want to tattoo it on your wrist. I’m making a library list, and I could use some suggestions.

Tidbits revisited

Comments are still open yesterday’s post, and I’d love to hear more good news! My good news for the day is that I’m off this evening to see my brother in a play. The nice thing about having a talented actor in the family is that it forces me out of the house and into theaters, something I love but almost never find time for unless my brother’s the star.

There’s a nice review of Specutopia available here. If you haven’t bought a copy yet, do consider checking it out. New publications need lots of love to help them grow.

When we were at the library on Thursday, I found the current copy of The Sun on the shelves. I had an overwhelming desire to bring it up to the front desk and explain that I’d been a patron of this library since I was five years old, and I’d finally made it inside the walls as a writer. I didn’t, but I did make my kids come and look at it with me. The world is full of enormous victories hidden from all but a few.

On the Permanence of Books

I’ve led a geographically stationary life. I currently live twenty minutes from where I went to high school. Aside from being born in Maine, this is the farthest I’ve ever lived from my childhood home.

I’ve patronized the same public library my whole life. Much about it has changed over the years. Once upon a time it was a lovely (and tremendous) old house, stone on the outside, little alcoves and mismatched chairs on the inside. At one point it was renovated, and now is much bigger, with a decidedly more modern feel. Some of the same chairs remain, but none of my favorite hiding spots.

Not in the adult section at least. The children’s section has stayed largely unchanged. Same old stuffed animals arranged along the upper shelves, same benches, same built-in wooden shelves.

Same books too. My children are reading age now, and little excites them as much as a trip to the library. Many of the books they choose are new, but some are not. Some are weathered old hardcovers that have lived on those shelves for as long as I’ve been visiting them.

Last year my son took out My Friend Flicka. It was the first book he’d read that changed his world. As a parent, I could see it happen, I could see that for him it was magic.

For me, it was magic in a different way. That book–that old, taped, green volume, its pages worn soft as cloth with time–I knew that book. I’d held that book as a child. I’d curled up with it, read it, cried over it. It probably still held crumbs in the binding from when I’d sit at the table eating lunch and reading. His hands, mine, we’d shared the feel of that battered old book.

My house can no longer hold all my books. Slowly, painfully, I’ve been shedding my collection, trying to make room for children’s books, for games and puzzles and art supplies. It’s hard to let go of them, my old paperbacks held together by failing glue, with pages stained with tears or chocolate, with passages underlined by my teenage hand.

I understand the arguments for e-readers. As a reader, I’ve only to look at my own cramped house to see one valid reason to switch. As a writer, I see how e-publishing is revolutionizing the field.

As I sort through my books though, logic fails me. Some are weightless, their only impact on my life as a few hours of entertainment on a rainy day. But some…all I can say is that magic lingers in their pages.

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