Friday, September 2, 2011

Check it out ...

Today I overcame one of my life fears and got a library card. This "fear" is not what you think. It's not used pages tethered together with dried mucous. It is not the pubic hair bookmarks curled in the binding. It was a fear that my name would be fed into the computer and that I'd hear the sound of a distant dot matrix going berserk. That I'd be handed a bill the size of "Congratulations on your Graduation" sign from 1992.

I've had a library card before, used it to check out books. But I've never been able to master the art of the return.

This was a problem even in elementary school where I accrued fines that rivaled the cover price of Tiger Beat magazine. I had no problem solving Encyclopedia Brown's mysteries in a timely fashion or zipping the book into my backpack. But getting it out of my backpack and walking it down the hall proved to be too much of a hassle and handwritten notices would begin to appear. Be ignored. Appear again, with larger fines, penned harder. (I have variations of this problem to this day. I like to think of it as keeping it real).

In one of the first short stories I ever wrote -- I must have been 9 or 10 -- our hero walks into the library, touches a book and is immediately tackled by library officials. She's thrown into the back room where she sees a picture of herself on a Wanted poster. The crime: Unpaid fines. Eventually this is all sorted out and she gets a hero's welcome at the pep fest when her classmates learn that her fines have helped fund the new computer room.

Hip! Hip! Hurray!

I got a library card soon after I moved here almost 11 years ago. I checked out three books, including Ted Hughes' "Birthday Letters," a collection of poems about Sylvia Plath. And then I never went back to the library ever again ever. Nor did I read the book, come to think of it. It is now probably filed in the poetry section in our basement, shelved somewhere between Edward Hirsch and Garrison Keillor.

Funny aside: Chuck actually was on the wait list for the book. Dibs on it when it was returned, which it never was, but now it is in his basement. And he hasn't read it either. Fate!

I got a library card because I spend a ridiculous amount of money on books. This is my financial priority. If I had $28 to my name, an ounce of gas in my car, two rotten bananas on the counter and a new buzz book was released, well. In the last two hours of our vacation I bought six books. Four were graphic novels that I relished buying from a real-live comic book store; Two were at a regular old bookstore on a table filled with books about Brooklyn by Brooklynites, which I justified by thinking "Well. If I can't physically be here on vacation, I can at least read about it."

Chuck has started a new program where he matches my book purchases with a record purchase. This has made me a little out-of-body-experience, hyper-aware every time I hand my check card to a bookseller -- once a mindless gesture, a tick. I don't buy willy nilly, either. I buy hardcovers if I have to. I buy in bulk. I'm a book bulimic.

The unfortunate truth is that not everything I read is worth buying. Of course, you can't always know that ahead of time, but even I can do the math: About 90 percent of what I read is a 3-star pick I'll forget about as soon as I read the first sentence of the next 3-star pick. I'm hoping, with the help of this library card, to hold my purchases to things I suspect of greatness.

"Did anyone say anything to you?" Chuck asked when I flashed him my plastic.
"Yeah. She said 'Ever heard of a certain someone named TED HUGHES?!'" I lied.

Anyway, I checked out a mucous stained copy of "Sophie's Choice" and when I opened it I was greeted with a rain of pubic hair.

NOTE: Oddly enough, I had just started kicking around getting a library card a few days ago when I was struggling to find a copy of "Sophie's Choice" at a used bookstore. Then Kristin wrote a post about getting a library card and she finished off the sale. I will be forwarding all fine notices to her.

1 comment:

Jodi said...

I have a copy of Sophie Choice I haven't read. Oddly enough, my friend the Theologian bought it for me when I vowed two summers ago to re-read Owen Meany to see if it holds up.