Finding My Perfect Number of Library Books
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A long-time believer in the magic of libraries, I consider myself lucky to have spent some quality time with a handful of literary wonders. From the main branch in my hometown with the high ceilings to my current branch with the pink camellias in the front, I find and frequent my local library in each of my cities. When I move I stay on the mailing lists and smile whenever I get updates from old branches. Sentimental, I never throw away those old library cards. Like old photos, I look at them, the beloved wrecks of my life.
There are three steps, my love and I arrived in Mississippi with a van full of necessities. A few steps from the beach, we rented a very small pastel cottage. Before finding our permanent home, with an ID card, the mail delivered to my PO Box and a hopeful smile, I opened a library account, anchoring myself in this then unknown southern location. Because I lugged a crate of books across the continental United States and temporarily slept within walking distance of my new branch, I borrowed one book, sometimes two, at a time. My first crate was Tommy Orange’s debut album, There There.
Based on my payment history, I have borrowed and returned 130 pounds since moving to Magnolia State. Of these, I read 102. Better than I expected. Although, if it was a pop quiz, a teacher would have scribbled 78% up, and the C creaks over my perfectionist heart. When I was little and left food on my plate, I remember my parents saying my eyes were bigger than my stomach. This may also apply to reading. Whether I couldn’t pick up my takes or finish my borrowed books on time, these unread titles made me become realistic about how many books I can read within a given time frame. What I took home rivaled and complemented my current readings and the side eye imagined by my TBR batteries. So the search for my ideal number of library books went smoothly.
Usually, I commemorate borrowings from my library on social media. Thinking back to those shiny batteries, I see my constant rush and, on larger transports, unnecessary stress. Above all, the library remains a joyful space for me. I think my only sad stories are the takes that escaped: Figuring by Maria Popova; The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes; and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Months ago I asked for it again – wanted an original October read on astrology, murder, and poetry – and I’m starting to think the suspension will go on forever. I imagine the Nobel Laureate displayed prominently with a client’s favorites, in the underworld of their backpack or bed, or living their new life as a branded coaster for an iced coffee , and I’m glad someone has discovered a novel that is potentially worth ghosting for their library.
Which reminds me of the books that have lived with me long enough to feel like my own. Books that I have renewed as many times as possible. The books that I called the library to ask for, If no one has it pending, can I keep it for another three weeks? Books piled up on my side table when the pandemic unfolded and the library doors closed for an uncertain length of time. Korean cook! by Robin Ha, I highly recommend the “Bean Sprouts Salad” and the “Pan Fried Tofu”. Directed by Desire, my eyes are wide open for Haruko / Love Poems by June Jordan every time I walk through the threshold of a bookstore that offers titles from yesteryear. By reading Who put this song? by Morgan Parker, I copied some jaw-dropping phrases like ‘If you don’t have a card, be a card’. One embarrassing and guilty thing: Of the 19 tracks I’ve racked up over months, I haven’t cracked seven. (None of the above included.)
To improve my reading record, I rage against my impulse to hug all the interesting books to my chest and change little things. As I slip the unread ones into the drop box, I notice door stops in the mix: collected poems, heavy anthologies, radical family sagas. Now if my cases include a book over 400 pages, I bring a smaller stack home. With each new moon, I decide I want to learn more about a certain genre or topic and eight titles. I know I’m more likely to finish them if I read across genres, so I strive to have variety in my races: comics, poetry, and prose. Since I picked up Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys and Dantiel W. Moniz’s Milk Blood Heat in September, I have completed everything I checked. A modest streak but I’ll take it.
Deep in my reader’s soul, an intuitive part of me knew my ideal number of library books from the start. In my extensive math research, it winks at me several times. With one exception, the only times I completed all of my loans, I left my branch with four pounds or less in my tote. When borrowing five non-ignorable books out of six times, I made a title unread. Do you also feel my ideal number? It revolves around four.
In 2020, I read 165 books. That number includes 42 library books, which means I got about 25% of my reading material through the public library. Thank you, blessed libraries, for existing. What would I do without your magic?