The library I frequented the last time we lived in Roanoke is closed now. The building still stands there, across from the post office, looking sad and empty and alone. I will miss it--its fiction aisles were just the right width apart for proper browsing and none of the books were beyond my (admittedly short) reach. The fiction collection was large enough for one to be assured of finding something good to read but not so big as to be overwhelming. But! There is a new (I think new) library not more than a few extra minutes' drive from our apartment (we are living now in effectively the same place we did before), and it is big without being impersonal and there's wood and lots of seating and many of the librarians from the old closed branch work there now. I was happy to see those same faces again, though I will miss, too, seeing them go about their business in that old branch, which was small enough that it felt (pleasantly) as if the building really were their domain. This new building sort of hovers over everyone; I think the librarians belong to it now, rather than the other way round.
I got a new library card in short order (much easier than getting a new driver's license, as it should be), picked up a volunteer form, and asked for the quick standing tour. New books and DVDs behind you, Children's thataway. Fiction, nonfiction, and quiet study upstairs. Oh, and we're having the last day of our fall book sale down that hallway in the meeting room to your left.
I had seen some notice of that book sale on the website, but thought I had missed it, thought it had ended at the weekend. How serendipitous to have idled out to the library on just this day, on this day when I had planned to do nothing more than laundry (which, incidentally, languishes still). I made my way to the sale, giving myself a stern talking-to as I went. "You will be restrained," I insisted. "Money is a little tight, and, anyway, you couldn't fit more than two or three more books into the apartment, and then only if you get the cats to teach you that thing they do with parallel dimensions." As luck would have it, the sale was "fill a box for $3" on this last day, so the money problem was well in hand, and the books were so well-picked-over after five days of sales that taking home a box-full of books I actually had any interest in would have been a challenge. But I did manage an impressive and exciting haul of five books, all in excellent shape.
The first treasure I found was a near-pristine paperback copy of Island of the Blue Dolphins from the seventies. Not worth anything, I'm sure, but I almost invariably like better the covers of children's and young adult books from around the time I would have been the right age to read them than the covers they put on those same books today. And somehow I've never managed to read Island of the Blue Dolphins, so I considered my book-sale foray a success within minutes of browsing its long tables of collapsing rows of still unwanted tomes. Next I found The Red Tent, which I have almost taken home at full price from book shops several times and of which I am somewhat wary. But people whose opinions I trust have recommended it to me, so I tucked it under my arm along with Island and carried on, figuring if there ever was going to be a time, at $3 a box, now was probably it.
Somewhere about a third of the way through the fiction, a nice-looking elderly gentleman browsing on the other side of the table from me tapped his fore-finger on the spine of a hard cover standing on its edge in the middle of the table. "If you're looking for a good one, that one," he said.
I smiled. It was a Jean M. Auel novel, a Clan of the Cave Bear installment from somewhere in the middle of the series. I have Clan of the Cave Bear, and I've been told that it's best to stop with that one.
"It's a whole series," my new friend said, pulling the book up and handing it to me. "Prehistoric stuff."
"Oh? How interesting," I said, or something similar, as I took the book and pretended to look through its opening pages. I was caught off-guard by the recommendation and couldn't summon the words to express my lack of interest without coming off rude.
He turned away, but just as I was about to return the book to its row, he turned back. I ruffled a few pages, trying to look intrigued. "It's speculative, too. Of course it would have to be, because no one knows what happened in prehistoric times."
Was this a joke? Some kind of religious remark? Or just a statement of fact? I smiled again, and gave a little laugh. "Thanks," I said, probably at the wrong point in the exchange all together. He smiled and nodded, and, this time, really did move on. I scurried away to the nonfiction tables, leaving Clan of the Cave Bear IV behind.
I found there something called The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination, which seems like it can't fail to be right up my street, and a Bill Bryson we somehow managed not to have yet, I'm a Stranger Here Myself. I've peeked into this one already, shortly after I got home, and nearly choked on my afternoon snack laughing at a chapter called "Rules for Living." ("11. Any electronic clock or other timing device on which the time is set by holding down a button and scrolling laboriously through the minutes and hours is illegal. . . . 19. In office buildings and retail premises in which entry is through double doors and one of those doors is locked for no reason, the door must bear a large sign saying: 'This door is locked for no reason.'") And finally, just as I was about to pay for my finds and make tracks (upstairs to see the fiction and nonfiction stacks, where I found, my to my puzzlement, a copy of Dante's The Divine Comedy on the nonfiction shelves), I saw, in a sorry little heap of bedraggled, forlorn-looking nonfic with titles like "The Do-It Yourself Guide to Plumbing" and "Understanding Baby's Diseases Made Easy," a book called The Pencil, written by Henry Petroski, whose The Book on the Bookshelf I read with great delight a year or so back. That someone could be so fascinated by this ingenious little writing utensil to write a whole book about it, and that some other someone could be so impressed by the first someone's enthusiasm to agree to publish the thing, makes me uncommonly happy. And that it sat there, waiting, patiently, amongst such dismal fare, is one of the best arguments for a library book sale I can think of. It is certainly my favorite find of the afternoon.
And so, only five books, and only three dollars spent! Restraint, achieved, I say. But now, where to put them? So far I've had no luck at all convincing the cats to give up the secret to that thing they do with parallel dimensions.