At my request, my father taught me to read before I started school. This memory came to me because I’m currently moving into the nostalgia phase of my life, not yearning for a return to the past so much as thinking fondly about it. And much of my past has been centered around libraries. It just so happens that my library book group’s February choice is, appropriately, “The Library Book,” by Susan Orleans. It devotes many pages to the Los Angeles central library fire in 1986, but also introduces many figures past and present involved in that library system, and it’s a fascinating story.
The King County public library is not my only library. I joined the University of Washington Alumni Association so I could have a UW library card. I don’t use it often, but am glad it’s there, if for no other reason than to visit the Suzzallo Library undergraduate reading room.
I have a deeper relation with libraries than merely borrowing books. My first job — at age 15 and a half — was as a Page in a branch of the Seattle Public Library. During my three years on the job, I mostly shelved books, a humdrum job but fun because I got to work with two very nice clerks. On my most exciting day, I accompanied one of them on a hunt for overdue books. No joke. In those days if you didn’t return your book, library staff would come looking for it and you.
We had the same experience at each home we visited, i.e., we waded through the tall grass in front yards that sheltered large collections of broken toys. When we reached the front doors we were greeted by snarling dogs, non-readers for sure. We heard whispering behind the doors but the yaps soon overpowered those voices. After knocking a few times we left. We never did recapture a book.
I don’t have much of a history with bookstores, but they’ve been on my mind after I picked up — from among my library’s Choice Reads — “The Bookshop on the Shore” about a mobile bookshop in a small town in Scotland. I followed that with “The Bookshop on the Corner,” an earlier tale by the same auth0r about the same mobile bookshop. The third bookshop story, “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend,” is set in a dying town in Iowa, and “The Little Paris Bookshop,” takes place aboard a floating store. Each of these fluffy stories were about fictional stores that were cozy and staffed by an owner who had great insights into what each customer needed to read. They also incorporated a touch of romance.
I don’t have experience with many cozy bookshops, except for the lovely Trail’s End Bookstore in Winthrop, Washington. The independent and chain booksellers in my city have both departed. Half-Price Books is all that’s left.
I’m encouraged to read that according to a recent Gallup poll, U.S. library visits outpaced trips to movies in 2019. I suppose that could mean that everyone was watching movies at home and had no need to leave or to read books. Still, I’m fortunate to have my library, one of the busiest in the country, and I use it often. My dad would be proud.