Confession: I am illicitly using the local Colorado Springs library while we are here for the summer. The librarian chewed me out today when she found out that my primary residence is in California. I nodded, listened very politely, gave her my most winning smile and said, “Soooo…can I have an extension on my library card?” She huffily granted me an additional month. I think if I go in at the end of July and listen to another stern lecture, I can get through August. As Tim says, “Librarians are like accountants. They play by the rules and they rarely make exceptions.”
From my precarious position, I’m in no shape to formally complain about the book selection. But let me tell you, if my tax dollars were supporting this library, I would have something to say to whoever decides what goes on the fiction shelves. I went in there looking for Hamlet, Ulysses, The Sun Also Rises, and This Side of Paradise. No, no, no, and NO. In fact, no Shakespeare at all. And no Joyce, no Hemingway, no Fitzgerald…AT ALL. I started looking for my standard go-to titles. No Pride and Prejudice, no Jane Eyre, no To Kill a Mockingbird. My frustrating twenty-minute search did not yield a single book of quality, so I started flipping through the titles that were filling the shelves. What compelling works of literature had muscled out the books I considered classics? If people weren’t reading Steinbeck and Faulkner, what were they reading?
Well, there was Man Eater (now a Lifetime original mini-series) about a woman who is “gorgeous, funny, and wildly uninhibited” and whose exes are “a veritable who’s who of Hollywood power players.” I think I lost a couple of IQ points just reading the dust cover.
There was Passion, Betrayal, and Killer Highlights, a little gem with a cover illustration of a skinny-yet-buxom and *headless* woman who was holding a hair dryer like a gun. I couldn’t even read the description for that one.
I know better than to feed myself a diet of literary garbage. But I’m an English teacher, and it’s my job to know better. Going through those stacks at the library, I felt like a nutritionist going down aisles of potato chips and cookies at the grocery store. The nutritionist knows that a steady diet of packaged, processed, sugary, salty food will make you overweight and give you a myriad of health problems. The nutritionist doesn’t have any problem saying “no” to junk food because she knows the benefits of a fresh, healthy, vitamin-filled, balanced diet. She also knows how much better good food tastes. But she still feels frustrated thinking about all the people who fill up their carts with all this nasty junk food thinking it’s what they want and that it will do the job of feeding them. Similarly, I feel a little sick thinking about people who never get around to reading great books because they’ve become accustomed to a steady diet of bad books.
I’m not saying libraries should get rid of all books that aren’t great literature. Nor should stores get rid of all junk food. Lighter reads (just like potato chips) are perfectly fine once in a while. But stores and libraries alike should make sure that their shelves are stocked with lots of healthy options. Libraries should educate patrons about what constitutes a great book, and they should do a little promotion of the classics, like an end-of-aisle display or a monthly book-talk.
I finally did find two books in that library that I would consider excellent: Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year and Middlemarch, by George Eliot. And I was able to access the online catalog and place holds on all the titles for which I was looking. On the whole, however, I was extremely disappointed by what I found at that particular branch.
Think carefully about your literary diet. Is it showing you truth and teaching you things about the world and yourself, or is it providing you with nothing but empty escapism? If it’s the latter, you may find your mind growing as soft as your waistline would on a diet of nothing but Twinkies (may they rest in peace).
Oh, and if you happen to live near the Cheyenne Mountain branch of the Pikes Peak Library, go in and complain for me, would you? I need to stay on the librarian’s good side.