Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Trip To The Eugene Public Library

Yesterday I went to The Eugene Public Library for the first time in a while.  I had the itch to read a Graham Greene novel.  I had some free time on a Saturday, and I was going by Down To Earth for garden starts. Why Graham Greene? These things are obscure when you ask yourself the question what book do I read next?  And that is one of my favorite questions in life.  That's why I only read one book at a time.  I get to ask myself that question more often.  

I've never read a Graham Greene novel, but I gather that he is a  writer who had a facility for suspenseful pop fiction storylines as well as virtuosic literary prose.  I got The Power and The Glory, generally regarded as his greatest book. It's fantastic--desolate and misanthropic but great.  Amazing turns of phrase, in a fully believable atmosphere, are not occasional; they are in every paragraph.  

I used to go the library alot, and that got me thinking about all the format choices we have for books (and music and video). Yesterday, I scanned the Kindle store for Graham Greene.  I also thought about buying a book for three bucks on Amazon.  And I thought about going to the bookstore.  But going to the library was free, involved walking on two legs and breathing actual oxygen, and had all sorts of soulful benefits:

I ran into an old friend from Oasis Fine Foods days.  We had a chat.  I got to enjoy the cool architecture of the building itself.  I got to listen to a librarian help a homeless man figure out how to access email.  (I wonder if we should just embed services for homeless folks in the library these days. Why not?) I found a book in the G section I thought Tracy might like: Coco Channel and Igor Stravinsky.  I wandered the stacks and found books by other writers I want to investigate: George Simenon, for one.  I participated in public space.  It was quiet.  It was good for my head.

As you get older, I guess owning stuff matters less.  At least I hope so.  Yet, there are all these options for owning digital ephemera--zeroes and ones adding up to The Power and The Glory.  (Or the new Off! album.) Checking out a book connects you to millennia of human experience, when books were used by individuals to stoke their boilers, to escape circumscribed circumstances, to find freedom.  Books were also used by church and state to intimidate and dominate ordinary people, so libraries seem, to me, democratic (or, socialistic in the good sense).  Not having to own the material thing--that's a mature culture.

All of this may be kind of quaint--it's a wild west, postmodern scene.  If libraries can't figure out how to interface with kids and their smart phones, they may not be around much longer.  What library science is anymore is beyond me, and a question for my librarian friends. In the meantime, I love going to the library.  They have tons and tons and tons of great free books there.  And graphic novels like The Walking Dead.  And Big Star cds, and real people who are helpful.

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