Archive for October, 2007

I am such a huge book lover and have been for as long as I can remember. I sometimes pause to think about what my life would be like if I didn’t read or if I just gave away all the books I have amassed. It’s hard to contemplate what that life would be like…barren, depleted, gray…I recently read statistics on the numbers of books adults in the US read and was very stimulated by the discussion. (You can read more here and here about this issue.)

Reading Sherman Alexie’s book ‘Ten Little Indians’ for last night’s book club meeting was very rewarding. I used to think I wasn’t a big fan of short stories but this book, and previously Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘The Interpreter of Maladies’, have initiated an appreciation of the short story genre for me.

When I read these two passages in the first story, ‘The Search Engine’, in Alexie’s book I felt myself relate to them immediately. So many books, so many great unreads waiting, and so many books that may never be read…

Passage 1:
“In the Washington State University library…Corliss…endured a contentious and passionate relationship with this library…she hungrily wanted to read every book on every shelf. An impossible task, to be sure, Herculean in its exaggeration, but Corliss wanted to read herself to death. She wanted to be buried in a coffin filled with used paperbacks.”

Passage 2: Corliss’ conversation with the librarian as she checked out her books:

“Corliss wondered what happens to a book that sits unread on a library shelf for thirty years. Can a book rightfully be called a book if it never gets read? …
“How many books never get checked out?” Corliss asked the librarian.
“Most of them,” she said.
Corliss had never once considered the fate of library books. She’d never wondered how many books go unread. She loved books.  How could she not worry about the unread? She felt like a disorganized scholar, an inconsiderate lover, an abusive mother, and a cowardly soldier.
“Are you serious?” Corliss asked. “What percentage are we talking about here? If you were guessing, what is the percentage of books in this library that never get checked out?”
“We’re talking sixty percent of them. Seriously. Maybe seventy percent. And I’m being optimistic. It’s probably more like eighty or ninety percent. This isn’t a library, it’s an orphanage.”
The librarian spoke in a reverential whisper. Corliss knew she’d misjudged this passionate woman. Maybe she dressed poorly, but she was probably great in bed, certainly believed in God and goodness, and kept an illicit collection of overdue library books on her shelves.
“How many books do you have here?” Corliss asked.
“Two million, one hundred thousand, and eleven,” the librarian said proudly, but Corliss was frightened. What happens to the world when that many books go unread? And what happens to the unread authors of those unread books?
“And don’t think it’s just this library, either,” the librarian said. “There’s about eighteen million books in the Library of Congress and nobody reads about seventeen and a half million of them.”
“You’re scaring me.”
“Sorry about that,” the librarian said. “These are due back in two weeks.”

Our family love the Seattle Public Library and, those of you who know us well, know we use it a lot! One of the joys for me in moving to the US was that I would have access to the amazing library system here. Now that I have access I certainly make the most of it. So please, if you haven’t taken advantage of the library for a while (wherever you live), go check out a book.

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