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I Am Now a Card-Carrying Member of the Brooklyn Public Library

I fought it as long as I could, which might seem strange considering that in order to fulfill the purpose of this blog I need to ensure that I always have a book waiting to be read on my nightstand. However, the shameful truth is that for the last year since I picked up and moved to Brooklyn, I have had plenty of books of my own to read: birthday presents, Christmas presents, and more than a few spur-of-the-moment purchases.

But there came a time, dear readers, when my stockpile was beginning to run dry. Faced with the headache-inducing small print of two mass media paperbacks of Ayn Rand’s most well-known works, I decided it was time. A little too gleefully, I filled out an online request to have my brand new library card mailed to me.

Take that, I thought as I smugly gazed upon the books around my room, carefully avoiding eye contact with Rand’s prose. I have conquered you all, and now the rest of the literary world shall be at my fingertips.

It sounded less evil in my head.

I only had to wait a few days for my card to arrive (Insider’s Tip: it can take up to a month if you want to get a card mailed from the New York Public Library; score 1 for Brooklyn’s apparently less popular system), and five blocks later I was standing before the hallowed halls of Brooklyn’s central branch.

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Walking into a library for the first time with an unused card is one of life’s unexpected joys, in my opinion. I did find that Brooklyn Central had a few quirks, though, such as the librarians’ choice to place Tolstoy’s War and Peace on the New Fiction shelf with a big NEW sticker on its unassuming spine. Good news for all the classicists out there: Tolstoy’s hip again.

Another quirk? Patrons can take out up to 99 items on one card. Now maybe the suburbs of Philadelphia are a bit backwards, but when I was growing up, I was only allowed to borrow 10-15 books at a time. Fewer if a majority were hardcovers or new releases.

There is, however, a downside to this gloriously high limit of 99 items:

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At least people are reading, right?

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…and this is my brain on books.

If my Brooklyn apartment was going down in flames, I would grab them first.

I mean, if I had time.  Otherwise I’d definitely save myself and probably one of my roommates if she was incapacitated due to smoke inhalation.  If both of my roommates were down for the count, whomever is closest to the front door is the lucky winner.  Sorry, Roommate #2; I’m only human, and I can’t drag both of your unconscious butts down three flights of stairs.

But my books – I’m really very fond of them.  My Harry Potters, my Hunger Games trilogy, my Les Misérables, which I sought in what seemed like every used bookstore in the northeast until I settled for a new copy.  Apparently there’s not a huge market for used Hugo, but I’m sure the story was just as good with the pages in mint condition.

And I’m still searching for the perfect three-in-one copy of The Lord of The Rings.  Once I find it, that one will have a place of its own on the “Save in Case of Fire” list.

My point is that books aren’t just what we turn to when we’re bored.  There are much easier ways to be entertained these days.  We have to devote energy to books so that we might understand each story rather than just experience it.  When we turn the final page and clap that back cover shut in triumph (or tears – Peter Pan, anyone? that one left me emotionally gutted), we, you know, think stuff about the story.  Whether we liked it, whether we didn’t.  We might even know why, if we really want to put that kind of dedicated mind-power into it.

I usually do, because I don’t just care about stories; I care about how they’re written.  Did the authors say something profound, or did they just try to?  Kudos either way – getting a book published is no walk in the park, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that even if I didn’t fall in love with their writing, someone else probably did.  But whether the writing falls flat or it knocks the wind out of readers (nice one, Elizabeth Kostova – The Historian gets a top grade in my book), it’s worth talking about.

So that’s what I’ll do here.  And I promise I’ll be honest.

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