Tuesday 13 October 2009

Serious Issues with Libraries

Here is a lovely picture of the plum tree in my garden in full bloom a couple of weeks ago. Not for any real reason; I merely thought that my random posts deserved a picture just as much as my review posts. Very pretty, no?

Anyway, while I am tearing through another German monster as quickly as possible (a book, not some Yeti-like creature from the Bavarian Alps), I thought I'd relate a little story about something that happened to me last week. Are you sitting comfortably? Tough; I'm starting anyway...

Last week, in an attempt to ease the pain, I went off to Casey Aquatic Centre, where I whiled away an hour in the swimming pool (good for the back) and the sauna (good for the soul). On leaving the centre, on my way back to the car (a tiny, bottle-green Suzuki Baleno; I have the girl's car while my wife has a larger car, which is red - and which my daughter calls 'The Big Red Car' for obvious reasons), I noticed the local library across the road, and, avoiding the hordes of schoolkids who had just piled out of a coach on their way to tormenting the poor people who had arrived at the pool a little later than I had, I decided to pop inside (the library, not the coach) and see what I could find.

My primary aim was actually to see if they had any Julian Barnes in stock as I had expressed a desire in an earlier post to read some of his more famous works after finishing 'The Lemon Table'. They had one of his books; guess which one it was...

Anyway, I didn't give up there (obviously;otherwise, this would be a really pointless post) and decided to browse the shelves to see what goodies I could find amongst the piles of Potter and the newly-opened Dan Brown extension (with room left for his latest pile of... I mean, bestseller). As I walked past 'G' (and not 'M', strangely enough), I caught sight of some familiarly pastel-coloured books lurking on the bottom shelf, and, bending at the knees as all Catholics and bad back victims must, I had a closer look. Sure enough, just six inches above the carpet covering the floor of Narre Warren library, there were three or four books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (author of 'Love in the Time of Cholera' and 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'), none of which I'd read before.

And then, as I was stretching out my hand to pluck them from their nesting place, it happened. I froze, and a voice in my head said, "But wouldn't you rather buy these books?". I got back to my feet and stood there for about five minutes, trying to ignore what had just happened, but it was no good. The little voice had struck again, and I was forced to move on. You see, ever since I started earning enough money to buy books, even second hand, I've been loath to borrow a book which I suspect I may like because, if I do like it, I know I'll want to buy it. However, the prudent, sensible, financial side of my persona (the one who pays bills the moment it gets them and has nice spreadsheets to prove it) will then veto the purchase as there's no point buying a book you've already read. Therefore, every time I step into one of these places, I fall into the classic library Catch-22: the books are either not worth reading or too good not to buy. It's the best catch there is...

OK, I'm exaggerating slightly, but I do tend to leave libraries with books which I'm not altogether sure about rather than ones I've been wanting to read for ages. On this occasion, I eventually managed to stroll up to the desk with 'Saturday' by Ian McEwan (he's not quite up there on my must-read list yet, despite my review of 'Atonement'), 'Ignorance' by Milan Kundera (too short for me to buy full price) and some big yellow book by Martin Amis (if I can't remember the name, it's obviously not something I was planning to buy). Relieved to have run the gauntlet and come out relatively unscathed, I handed my books over, only to discover that I had left my library card in my other wallet (well, why would I need it when I was only going swimming?). As the librarian was politely, but firmly, explaining that I would be unable to take the books home with me on this particular day, I felt (and this may not surprise you) quite relieved. Obviously, it just wasn't meant to be.

As I turned to walk away, the librarian glanced at my books and said, "Good choice, though". While it's always nice to have your taste in books validated by someone who won't let you have them, I did feel that this was a little below the belt. I walked back to the little green car, lost in thought and submersed in my memories of the whole traumatic event. I'm sure I'll get over it, and I may even go back next week (I've even moved my library card into my swimming wallet - not that it swims, it's just... oh, you know what I mean), but there's one thing that bothers me about the whole experience. It's not the book choosing dilemma, uncomfortable as that was: it's the fact that despite man being able to send telescopes into space to look for evidence of life in other galaxies, Narre Warren library is unable to lend a member with three different forms of photo ID any books because he has left a tiny square of plastic at home. I think there's a moral in that for all of us.

Please let me know if you find it.