I’m Having an Affair with My Library

bedtime reading

It all started back when I got my library card, right before summer. I felt sad and confused, having said goodbye to my Milwaukee County library card long ago.

I never recovered from that loss. It took time to heal, to open up to the notion of loving again.

Strange, because I love books so much. I continued to read, mainly on my Kindle or the occasional used book from Powell’s. I wasn’t reading as much though, not as much as when I had my last love—my library card.

Stranger still, my neighborhood library is two blocks away. I would pass it often, lusting over the dusty shelves from the sidewalk, pining over the stories I longed to hold.

One day, fed up with loneliness, I was ready to love again and I got my Multnomah County library card. And so began my library love affair.

As with any new relationship, there were uncertain and embarrassing moments. It had been so long since I had been inside a library, that I forgot to use my “library voice.” When it came time for me to use the self-checkout, and I struggled with the machine, I begged for help in my outside voice. (For those who have never heard me speak, my voice carries far.)

The library stopped—the symphony of whispers, the rhythmic flick of the pages. I blushed and the nice librarian man came to my rescue.

The library resumed its mellow song.

I scurried out of the musty building, a far cry from the way I sauntered in. I looked down at my book on the gum-stained sidewalk and smiled with love.

For the first time in life, I discovered reading outside on a summer night. It was magnificent.

summertime reading

Another first for me…reading at the bar. People read at bars in Portland, so it’s not frowned upon.

wild

Without planning it, my beer and book ended up with matching outfits. Darling, aren’t they?

reading with beer

After a long run with ebooks—unable to grasp the length of the story—I gasped when I picked this one up and understood the life commitment I had made.

thick book

Then there was the one that changed me, long after I returned it…”How Yoga Works.”

yoga book

Instead of getting angry over this cigarette burn, I marveled at its progression through the pages.

burned book

For any book that is well-loved will carry the stained memories of those who loved it.

cigarette burn in book

Traditionally I have been a devout protector of books—never one to write in the margins, highlight a sentence, or burn or rip it for whatever reason. Except for the occasional chocolate smudge that just won’t rub off, I don’t spill on books either.

Why? Because books have always been living beings to me, and I never want to harm them.

As I explored many books this summer, I was simultaneously horrified and fascinated by the dog-eared pages. When I found one, I would narrow my eyes at the page, silently shaming the person who dared to molest that crisp corner. But then I scanned the page, curious to read which sentence or paragraph compelled them to crease it forever.

And because that part touched someone else so deeply, it had the same effect on me. So I decided to fold the corner of a page this time—to leave my mark, to affect someone else through the majesty of words.

a moveable feast

“People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.”  – Mr. Ernest Hemingway, from “A Moveable Feast”

** This post is dedicated to the lovely Letizia at Reading Interrupted, who lost her dear furry friend, Baffi.

You have reminded so many of us about the magical importance of loving books and libraries. Thank you, Letizia.

44 thoughts on “I’m Having an Affair with My Library

  1. cravesadventure says:

    I would be broke if I bought books because I am a voracious reader, so I have had an affair with the library for many years. I love a book in my hands – a little dorky I guess, but it works for me 🙂 I recently moved to Florida and my first stop was to get my drivers license and then a few days later to get my library card.

    Happy Reading – Happy Day – Enjoy!

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Awesome! Yeah, my library card delay was related to my driver’s license. All sorts of back and forth at the DMV here because of a mistake they made. All good now, and I get to enjoy the wonderful libraries here in Portland!

  2. rossmurray1 says:

    I’m all for Kindles and their convenience (I borrow e-books through my library!) but there’s a truly tactile transference in print. Last night I was forced to finish the last 20 pages of Cloud Atlas by downloading an audio book after my hard copy disappeared overnight. Like, gone to another dimension or something. And it’s a library book! Glad I was able to finish it, but listening is a different experience from reading.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Totally agree, Ross! I was on an ebook kick for a couple of years, supporting my fellow indies but also enjoying that instant gratification with 1-click ordering. Feels awesome to cozy up to print books again. It’s a very different experience.

      Haven’t gotten into audio books myself. People rave about them, but I always want to “see” the words. I think my brain would be too confused otherwise. 😉

  3. Andrea Stephenson says:

    I’m glad to hear you’ve fallen in love with a new library Britt – your library must be quiet, you’re allowed to use your outside voice in our libraries 🙂 Love the meditation on the cigarette burn – I never used to turn over corners, but now I kind of think books should show they’ve been read and loved!

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      It’s funny too, hon, because this library is on a busy street corner and it’s tiny. Guess I expected it to be more casual than a fancy library, but I was totally wrong.

      The cigarette burn was really interesting—smack in the middle of an awesome book. Well loved, indeed!

  4. Letizia says:

    Oh, Britt, I have tears in my eyes as I type this. Thank you so much for your sweet dedication. I have many books with Baffi’s bite marks in them from when she was a young pup and whenever I dog-ear a page I think of her as her ears were the same shape. It’s been two weeks since she passed and I’ve only just been able to start reading again. I love your photos: the cigarette burn is absolutely fascinating and I love it beyond words. You’ve made my day, darling friend.

  5. Sheila says:

    I love the dog-eared pages or when people write notes in a library book. It always makes you stop and wonder. With our library, we usually have to put books on a waiting list so then there’s a fun anticipation in waiting for that book. That’s great that you were able to read outside on those summer nights and now it’s getting to be about time to start reading by the fire. That’s nice of you to dedicate this to Letizia and Baffi – when I think of dog ears or chewed up pages I always think of them.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      It always pulls me out of the story, but it’s so fascinating to see what speaks to people.

      I do the waiting list too! That’s how I’ve been reading so much, since this library near me is teeny-tiny. I order everything online and wait for it to arrive. Honestly, I feel very spoiled by this system and I hope it’s widely available in other parts.

      Yes, the dog ear piece will always stay with me.

  6. Carrie Rubin says:

    There is no one better with which to cheat then a library. Its seductive, quiet aisles packed with books are an affair waiting to happen. And I don’t mind the dog-ears either. Like you, I wonder what it was on the page that caught the reader’s attention. Sometimes I’ll even see the faint underlining of a pencil, and I like that too. Then I know exactly what line called out to them.

    Nice of you to dedicate the post to Letizia. She has indeed reminded us of the importance and life force of books.

  7. diannegray says:

    It’s such a shame a lot of the libraries are closing, they are such wonderful places. I must admit I am guilty of folding the edge of the page to save my place. What a beautiful post, Britt xxx

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      What are libraries doing out there, Dianne? Sheila and I were just talking about how lucky we are to be able to place holds on books and pick them up at our closest library. I do everything online, then walk a couple of blocks to grab them when they arrive. I feel very spoiled, as I’m thinking this isn’t the case in too many places.

  8. danniehill says:

    What a wonderful post and news of your new affair. I missed the days of wandering through the rows of books and even understanding the Dewey Decimal System. My first love

  9. Jilanne Hoffmann says:

    Awesome post, Britt! Libraries have been and will always be my longest-running love affair. And I have to say that the libraries in SF, especially the children’s sections, tend not to be the super quiet places of old. They’re filled with energy and buzz, not a bad thing. Although truly loud voices are frowned upon.

    The Library of Congress reading room is the one place where hushed voices still predominate. The place fills visitors with awe, similar to the feeling one gets at standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. One sense of awe derives from nature’s immensity/beauty/timelessness and the other sense awe derives from mankind’s breadth/depth of knowledge as well as the grandeur of the reading room itself. So I guess I could have a love affair with library spaces as well as the books they contain. 😀

    My son loves to dog-ear his books, but it’s more a marker of his place than anything else. Kills me. I, however, am one to write in the books I use for research or for any other more academic use. I never wrote in books until I got my masters. Then, I found it to be a necessity. I needed that marginalia to keep track of my thoughts. Now, I love finding marginalia and its insight into the mind of someone who read the book before me.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Yeah, the noise level thing is a little up in the air, isn’t it? I do love the quiet spaces though. Such a rare thing to find in our chaotic modern world. I was out of practice, accustomed to being heard when I needed something.

      Interesting to scale that back and lower your voice so as not to disturb others who are enjoying their peace. Never thought of it when I was a kid, with my mom taking my to libraries constantly, but now it’s kind of a precious thing.

      I used to destroy my research books with highlighters. Funny how those are so different from fiction, which I handle with utmost care.

  10. Naomi Baltuck says:

    Oh, Britt, I loved this post from start to finish. I am guilty guilty guilty of folding over pages, or even highlighting passages that I will want to find when I am researching, but only on my own books. I too love to see what catches the interest of others, or even to go back to my own books and see what it was, years later, that compelled me to leave my mark in a book.

      • Naomi Baltuck says:

        There are certain books I treat with reverence–like the old ones with inscriptions from my grandparents to their children, or from my dad to my mom. But my kids will find my books tattered and well worn, with all the good parts marked out for them!

  11. Karin Van den Bergh says:

    There’s nothing quite like the feel of paper between your fingers. I still don’t have a Kindle and somehow I don’t feel much for it but now that my book shelves can’t take it anymore – nor the rest of the house (garage included) I better get looking for a local library. Love those places. Oasis of peace and silence.. Maybe the only place today to find that.
    I’ve been brought up with a huge reverence for books. Our house library was like “sacred ground” and we (my sis and I) always had to make sure we had washed our hands. Both my parents were/are bookworms but especially my dad went a little over the top when it came to taking care of.
    My own books speak for a life of respectful usage. I treat them well, but I do write in them occasionally and some of them hold souvenirs. We like to leave a trace for different reasons.. to affect others and to be remembered in some small way?

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      I love both…though, of course, nothing beats print. I’ve read a lot of indies on my Kindle, who like me, do not have their books available for print. This is something I’m working on as there are many who still prefer print books and CreateSpace now offers print-on-demand, which is amazing. Just trying to find the time to get them formatted—a huge pain in the ass. 🙂

      Same here. My mom is a devout bookworm, so I was fortunate to grow up with great respect for books. Haha, on the hand-washing! We didn’t go quite that far, but I understand.

  12. Roy McCarthy says:

    Gasp! You turned down a corner? I have a primeval instinct against that sort of desecration. Funny, I’ve never borrowed a book since I was a kid. I use the Central Library here but only for study and writing. I wish they served beer there though 🙂

  13. reocochran says:

    I just joined a book club sponsored by the libraey. It meets at a working nature preserve farm. We read, “Flight Behavior, ” which has the migration of Monarchs in it along with a simple farming family, their relationships and science played part of this adventure. I love borrowing books now that I have an empty nest with less room. I like to say my living area is small but my life and where I like,to “play” is outside the box. 🙂

  14. Minuscule Moments says:

    I enjoyed this post Britt the library has such a distinct smell and brings me back to my childhood. My mum would drop me off with my older siblings whilst she ran errands in town and I would lose myself in stories. That library smell is still a joy to me. Weird huh? Don’t get me started on damaged books, it gets under my skin too.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      This library smells a little bit more like musty carpet than books, but I still love it to pieces. My mom skipped the errands and eventually (when I was hungry) I’d have to drag her out of whichever bookstore or library we were in. 🙂

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