Why Do I Keep a Library?

Hope.

My father keeps a library. His father and mother had books and albums of photographs galore. My mother keeps a library. Her mother and father did not. Visits to my grandparents homes felt different, and the difference was most obviously, to me, in the books.

I grew up among books. They were my playground, my refuge, my adventure-land. I could retreat to the library and lie with National Geographic, the World Book Encyclopedia, or ancient Triple-A maps. There lived philosophies, prophets, histories, fantasies, adventures. I traveled to far distant Camelot with a Connecticut Yankee. I never thought I wouldn’t keep a library.

But the reason for it was the future: my children would laugh and play here too.

They haven’t, not as I thought.

Their pleasures have been, in large part, electronic. What is there to see and love in a virtual world? How do you pass it on? My youngest, No. 2 Son, recently excavated the Apple Macintosh LC-III that I kept because maybe one day I might need it. It holds nothing much. I never bought much software, and toward the end it was not much more than an e-World terminal. He’s been playing Sim City 2000 (1993).

I feel a certain nostalgia, but of what use is an LC-III now? I regret my digital life. What is there to show of what I’ve done? I may have saved some documents, but who can read them? Even an audio recording of my grandparents needs a cassette player. Consider this website: It is not just HTML and CSS and a smattering of PNG images. It is WordPress and PHP and Apache and MySQL and FreeBSD and Pair.com and electricity and the Internet. What future does it have? It hardly holds interest for anyone now; of what interest will it be when I am gone?

But books, barring insect, fire, or flood, will remain.

And if my children do not play here, perhaps one day my grandchildren will.

Escapism

I have not been bored since I learned to read. I would read anything and everything; and what with the public libraries and my family’s collection, I didn’t often run out of material. Unless there was a planning failure. If I forgot to stick a book in my pocket. Did you know other houses don’t have as many books? Did you know some have none?

Ours was a household of readers. We didn’t have a television until after I was the fourth grade, and that was a small black-and-white set kept in the spare room. Later, someone in the congregation gave us a cast-off color TV just before we moved back to Virginia. (My own sons are now that age. Time moved so slowly for me then.) I have few childhood memories of television shows; most are of books and places and playing. My grandparents’ houses were defined by smells and their libraries: brick, boxwood, and Classics Illustrated on Mom’s side; apples, bread, mathematics, photographs, and genealogy on Dad’s.

I would sit for hours and read, so deep in concentration that I couldn’t hear the world outside. Reading filled all the gaps in the day: walking down the street, sitting on the toilet, riding in the car, between classes. Still now when I finish a book I immediately look around for something else.

I’ve noticed that I have a habit of doing something similar with other entertainments–grasping for the next movie, the next update, the next web page–until there are too many things all at once, pulling in a multitude of directions, and I feel torn limb from limb. I stay up late restless, unsleeping, unthinking.

What am I not doing?