You are forgiven if you think the title refers to my four-year-old son’s first library card, which he indeed got Tuesday at the Merriam Park Branch Library in Saint Paul, and of which he is extremely proud (see self-satisfied smile, above). He signed his card himself (so cute it hurts a little) and showed it to his brother, dad, and t-ball coaches that night. It was a great day and fun experience to get Noah’s card, and I really hope he uses it until he’s an adult with that signature on the back.
But I really meant me: I’m 38 and I’ve lived in Saint Paul 20 years and I just got my card. This week.
Not really my first, but my first in a long time. I had one as a child, of course — the Fergus Falls Public Library was two blocks from our house and I spent many happy hours in the children’s reading room. The old Carnegie library there had at some point acquired a terribly ugly addition, but the children’s room was in a wonderful old stone turret in the original building. The stuff that books and daydreams are made of.
Then I went to high school and shared trashy paperbacks with my girlfriends and (very) occasionally visited the school library. In college I had to buy piles of literature for my English degree, and consequently read little else. (Though I did slog through Anna Karenina for fun my freshman year. Stick with it; it is worth it. Trust me on this.)
Somewhere along the way I acquired the habit of buying books, not borrowing them.
I love to stroll through a bookstore and gather anything that catches my eye, leaving with a stack of 10 or more new treasures. I read reviews in magazines or online, tear out the title and with about two clicks on Amazon, more books are on their way. A few months ago I got a Kindle and that makes buying books so easy it is truly dangerous. Finish one book on the beach (or in bed at 2 a.m.)? Another is ready in less than 30 seconds.
I don’t keep my books. I donate them or resell them or lend them out with the casual “I don’t need it back.” If I didn’t, I would never have room for all the books I’ve purchased in the last 20 years. So it makes little sense that I always buy anything I want to read.
I buy books, I think, because it is the easiest and fastest way to get them. No waiting, no errands, no late fees. And for many years in my life, time was the most precious commodity I had. A visit to the library is another trip, and books must be returned. I never took the time (or gave myself permission to take the time) to learn how libraries have changed and adapted from the card catalog days of my childhood, or realize I could enjoy the experience as much as wandering through Barnes and Noble or the Red Balloon.
But for almost two years now, I have had the great blessing and good fortune to be able to slow down my life and do the things I would have, should have, or could have done. The nagging projects. The not-quite-finished. The not-quite-me.
Getting a library card was one of them. Done.