Old Library Books

There’s a quiet joy to it.  Even if they have other people’s markings in them, books I obtain ex libris are among my personal treasures.  They bring back memories of reading library books—learning new things.  For a fleeting moment when reading my current used, ex-library book, I was taken back to a night long ago.  The youth group at my local United Methodist Church had occasional sleepovers in the church itself.  Despite being a small town, folks were okay with mixed genders (with chaperones, of course) doing this.  We were even allowed to go into the sanctuary at night.  Churches are scary places in the dark.  We would sit there and talk about nothing in particular, the way teens do.  And I always brought a book.

On one sleepover I was working on a term paper on—don’t laugh—vampires.  I’d been researching with the limited resources of Oil City High School’s library, supplemented by the Oil City Public Library.  I still remember the exact book I took along.  Although awaking ultra-early only developed with me during my commuting years, I’ve always been an early riser.  (The early teen, or tween, years excepted.)  I remember waking up before everybody else, returning to the sanctuary, sitting in our usual pew, and reading about vampires by the light of dawn coming through the windows (which were only modestly stained with off-whites and yellows).  And feeling profoundly happy.  Friends were asleep downstairs and I was curled up with a library book.  What more could you ask?

Many such memories linger as I age.  But my current reading of a marked-up library book brought something else to mind.  Many such books have marks near the beginning that quickly peter out.  As if most readers never made it past the introduction.  I’ve stopped reading a book or two in my time, but generally I need to get past page 10 or 20 before I’m willing to make that call.  I often find that a book’s introduction is one of the best parts—especially in academic books.  Authors try to draw you in with intriguing ideas and then, at least in my field, get technical once you reach chapter 1.  Honeymoon’s over.  The mind of the person, however, who marks up a library book and then suddenly stops intrigues me.  Perhaps I’m just feeling nostalgic this morning, but reading a withdrawn library book, with its soft pages and old book smell, is one of life’s great gifts.  Even if it’s not about vampires.

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