Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Bookshops & Libraries

Today, I am mostly sneezing. The first day back at work after Christmas is always a strange slow beast, lumbering slowly from "first thing" to "lunchtime" to "home time" like a snail with brakes on. It would have been nice to be at home amongst the bookish things, but alas, administrators gotta... administer.

This bloggish thing is getting off to a fun start. I'm enjoying spying on people who are doing Bout of Books, and in particular, pondering the following question:

"Would you rather never be allowed into a bookstore again or never be allowed into a library again?"

I can only assume that this question was devised by an utter fiend. Who else could conceive of such a monstrous idea?

I know the answer instantly. I could be miserable and forego the pleasures of fuddling in bookshops, if it secured a future lifetime of meandering through libraries. Bookshops are splendid emporia of new things - new ideas, new titles, new authors yet to be devoured - but sometimes all the newness can be overwhelming. Little voices whisper "Look, but don't touch", or "Don't crumple my pages". I prefer a library book sometimes, who wouldn't mind if you accidentally creased a page or dropped it on the floor in the same way that countless others have done before you.

The bookshop is limited by the elasticity of my own budget - copious on payday, yet sensibly restrained as weeks go by. In a library, I am always free to take as many books as I can carry, if only I make a promise that I am only too happy to bequeath - that I will return next week, to stumble up these stone steps and through the red door back into this place, in search of something else, some different adventure.

The thing about libraries is that they draw in so many different people, who rummage and shuffle and wend their way through the stacks. I frequent three local libraries, and in each, I will find a tangle of different people, all exploring ideas in their own different ways. I like the thought of reading books that unknown people have read before. Did they love it? Did they hate it? What is that dubious smudge on page 110, or would it be better not to know? Has this book been on faraway holidays, or has it only ever languished in houses in my neighbourhood?

A library can be a friend, whereas a bookshop can be a fickle acquaintance. There are bookshops to which I've been once, and will probably never return, but libraries are places to which you go back, again and again. If life is a long, dusty road, then I am eternally on my way to return my library books.

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