This cartoon by Chris Obrion went viral on social media in 2015 when the Library Journal posted it to its Facebook page. Although originally created for The Roanoke Times, which re-ran it last year alongside an editorial by the president of the Roanoke Public Library Foundation, I actually saw it earlier this month, also on Facebook, shared from a post on the Ohio Now page.
In fact, it’s been shared more than half-a-million times on the Library Journal page, a wonderful paradox, don’t you think? The technology that was supposed to overtake the need for libraries is actually out there celebrating them.
I join that celebration.
I’ve been using my Santa Monica Public Library card since I retired and I just checked to see how many books I’ve borrowed. I was astonished to see it was 128—most of them checked out within the last two years! Although I admit I have not read all of them, for various reasons, I have read at least 100 of them.
There are so many reasons to love and support libraries, as epitomized in this cartoon. I want to wax rhapsodic over my appreciation for rediscovering the love I have always had for reading.
I remember the summer I had a reading list to go through before departing to attend my senior year in high school at The American School in Switzerland (my mother thought I should become a diplomat, and would gain cultivation there).
The book I remember from that summer was Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain (it’s not about a theme park, people), which happens to be set in Switzerland. It was big, heavy in weight and ponderousness. But I was completely and utterly consumed by it.
In my reading life, I’ve been through a biography phase, a historic fiction phase, a non-fiction phase, a short story phase and now I’m happily ensconced in my novel phase. What have I read lately that thrilled me?
Well, when I returned from a month in Scandinavia in June 2017, my heart completely captivated by Norway (pre-immigration policy controversy), I read a twelve-hundred-plus page Norwegian classic, a trilogy called Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset.
The amazing thing was that the minute our tour guide began speaking about this book, I was already online reserving it directly from my phone, from the bus I was on in, traveling through the landscape surrounding the fjords. And it was waiting for me on the reserved shelf at my branch (Pico) when I got home.
The author, the 1928 Nobel laureate for literature, immerses you in the world of 14th century Norway, through the life of one brave woman who dares to buck the norms. It’s a tale of family, love, betrayal, birth, death…it was impossible for me to put down, as I really did not want to leave the head space I was in, remembering the glories of Norway’s beauty. It took me five days of non-stop reading. One passage describing the sunset so overwhelmed me that I actually wept while reading it (I took pictures of the page it was written on).
Recently I was utterly absorbed in another long book, this one in the 800-plus page range (had to renew it to finish it, with only night time reading), by another writer whose work transports me completely. Having previously read her absolutely brilliant, Booker Prize winning romance Possessed, as soon as I saw A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, I had to pick it up.
It’s another tale about families, love, magic, mysterious creatures and imagined worlds. Byatt situates us in the midst of an unusual family, where the breadwinner is the mother, an author who writes children’s fantasies, that are published for public consumption. But she also writes unique fantasies for each one of her children, which are kept in a cabinet and continually added to as they grow. The books relate uniquely to each individual child, and we sometimes get to read those “fairy tales” as part of the novel.
As we get to know the characters, and the artistic and social circles they inhabit in late 19th century England, secrets emerge about parentage and out-of-the-ordinary romances. It’s a book about art and creation as much as about families and revelations. And I didn’t want to put it down when it was over, but alas, there is always an ending.
Our library has so much to offer beyond books: there are ESL and citizenship classes, computer instruction, story time for toddlers, teen groups, book discussions, movies, lectures, craft classes, drum and dance…and yes, folks, they do still have books. And they’re easier than ever to check out and reserve.
If there’s one thing I love, unequivocally, here in Santa Monica, it’s our library system. Thank you!
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.