Saturday, December 26, 2009

Wisdom Sanctums for Lazy Bookworms and Others..

Finding Inspiration at your Local Library
A count of the books I had read for 2009 revealed a disappointing eighteen. A few minutes spent thinking about this and I had convinced myself bitterly that yes, only the privileged few can regularly afford the prices charged by hip and trendy bookstores-cum-coffee shops, with their shelves crammed with volumes of hard- and softbacks wrapped in funky designer covers flaunting the (sometimes-xeroxed) mugs of writers; the aroma of cappuccino hanging heavy overhead.

So, while not on my list of New Year’s resolutions, I made a concerted effort to pay my favorite local library, the British Council Library, a visit at the soonest opportunity in the new year. The proverbial door to a whole new world has subsequently been opened.

Also prompting my visit was my search for Marianna, the lead character in a good old novel I had read when I was a teenager, shrouded in a dark veil of teen angst and with a strong sense of anachronism that gave me a perpetual look of being lost.

Marianna was a girl going through the motions in the Sixties, who found herself overwhelmed by the camaraderie among the young and stoned at Woodstock, who became the inevitable university-dropout hippie who opted to travel through Europe and India instead, who did yoga and who never looked clean to her parents (no matter how often she showered). I had read the book non-stop in a few days during one of my winter school holiday breaks.

It didn’t help that I had met Marianna at a very impressionable stage of my life. Her experiences intensified my sense of anachronism; she fuelled my search for any remnants, even sneak peeks at the Wonder Years (remember Kevin’s sister, played by Olivia D’Abo, was a hippie), of that age.

My need to reconnect with Marianna was sparked by my own kind of 90’s Woodstockish Grunge experience (on a much smaller scale of course) over New Year – on a farm far away from the city with hundreds of other revellers, dancing barefoot in the rain in the mud for three days…

So it was in search of this Evan Hunter novel titled “Love, Dad” (after the way Marianna’s father ended correspondence to her) that I entered the British Council Library on a recent sweltering summer’s day. This library is a gem in the near morass of urban decay. Mosaic floors, colorful panelling along the walls, high ceilings with ornate cornices, slick computers, sunlight streaming in through sash windows, wooden-floored staircases, a pervasive atmosphere of old and wise, of being in the midst of a higher order… a sanctum of unexpressed exhilaration for knowledge.

I found Marianna easily in the maze of bookshelves zigzagging through the large fiction section. I zoomed in on the hardcover section and found “Love, Dad” sitting snugly between several other Evan Hunter novels. A quick scan of the rest of the shelf, something caught my eye… Aldous Huxley’s “A Brave New World”. There was a time when that book was on my "To read" list. I didn’t have such a list anymore, I realised. Now’s a good time to start again I thought to myself, getting all the more excited at the prospect of finding treasure upon treasure of books that I’ve been intending to read, but didn’t.

But these observations lost their haloed glow when the librarian informed me that I had to pay $200 worth of unpaid fines that had accumulated. I had to go back the next day. I discovered my card had also expired since my last visit over two years ago. This was effortlessly fixed. The experience left me warm. Libraries have only benefits to offer.

To summarise, I’d say:
  • You can save money by not having to pay for books (unless you’re a lazy bum and don’t return them on time). Latest releases can also be obtained.
  • By borrowing books you don’t clog up your own already-dense collection any more only to sell them to a second-hand bookshop a few years down the line.
  • It’s a peaceful and relaxing place to escape to for an hour or two given the spacious reading rooms. And the Art and Music section can be a sanctuary especially on a crazy Saturday morning.
  • It’s a great way to meet new people.
  • The British Council Library (and others) has an Internet facility and a Small Business corner for the business orientated.
  • Libraries usually have a community-based information database offering details on recreational clubs, support groups, book clubs etc.
  • Most Libraries facilitate literacy classes by offering reading space and books for new and early learners.
  • Libraries take special care to cultivate a friendly and welcoming atmosphere for children. It’s the ideal way to introduce children to books and encourage a love for reading.
  • It gives you a place to start to complete your "To read" list.

Having revisited Marianna in her ageless Sixties time capsule, I concluded that the read wasn’t as intense second-time around, though I understood why it had left the imprint on my soul when I had read it.

And even though I’m spreading the gospel of getting up and getting in touch with your local library, I know, there are just some books you have to have in your own collection, sitting on your own shelf. No doubt I’ll aim to double last year’s amount, hopefully at no extra cost.


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