As a kid, the library was where it was all happening.
I loved everything about it, the stacks of books, the Dewey Decimal System, those small but very long drawers holding the card catalog. Even the shushing librarians. All loved.
Every week I took out huge piles of books. If I liked an author, I read everything they wrote. Books were a refuge and a means of mind-travel and the library contained an endless supply.
Even though I worked at the Boston Public Library when I was in college, I didn’t take out as many books as I did as a kid. Boston was filled with new and used bookstores so I started buying more than borrowing. I swapped a lot of books though. Back then you didn’t just read a book. You read it and then gave it to the next person who then passed it along again. Can’t do that with an e-book.
After college I got a job in publishing and the free book gravy train started. At Random House, piles of unwanted books lined the hallways—all free for the taking.
So I took.
But then Amazon and the internets came along and buying online quickly became a tic. If I wanted a book, I ordered it through them. I ordered and ordered and ordered, even the books I knew I didn’t want to keep. As the damage they were doing to my chosen profession started to become painfully visible in layoffs, I started buying in bookstores again, but was never totally able to kick the Amazon habit.
The difference? Now we’re on a budget. The money isn’t flowing quite as much as it has in the past. I subscribe to a watery view of money. A tidal view. It comes in. It goes out. Sometimes disruptions affect these tides and the lows are lower. Or the lows last for longer than a few cycles. Nothing is forever but when the tide is low, it’s a great time to examine the ocean floor, look over all the stuff that lurks, unseen, beneath the abundant water.
So I’m taking stock these days and figuring out what really matters. What’s really worth it and what is just extra. Or fluff. Mostly I’m genuinely enjoying this winnowing process. What I’m discovering is this: something goes away, something else appears.
Spending mindlessly on books? Need to stop the Amazon habit? OK then, now what?
Two things: Start noticing all the used bookstores that are all around you, and remember an old love, the library.
Inspired, we took ourselves over to the local branch about 4 miles up the road — and while libraries have changed since I was a kid (not nearly as many actual books on shelves) they have also taken advantage of the internets and are now all interconnected. With our hot new library cards in hand, we logged on to the dozens of collections available to us. Within minutes I’d placed four books and three DVDs on hold to be delivered to my local branch.
All of them are books I would have ordered, or movies I would have paid to watch through Amazon. And now all of them are free. I just have to give them back when I’m done. Which for 85% of what I read or watch is exactly right. How many books do you re-read anyway?
And as an added bonus, I also discovered an amazing photographic bonanza in the library system’s digital archives, a repository of countless historical photos from New England. Feast your eyes upon this sublime image of a woman carrying her wares to market circa 1900 in my new hometown, Hadley.
I’m richer than I thought.