ME: How many books have you read this year?
LIAM: (checks reading log) 138, but I haven’t logged a few.
Growing up, the local library, A.V. Sorensen, was where friends (like Norris Wiley and Ercan McCourt) and I would play basketball. It’s not where I went to read/check out books, or do homework. There was reading associated with homework, so I didn’t fill my spare time with reading. I’d rather hoop or play video games.
I’m not sure how, but somewhere along the way I thought checking out books was beneath me. Why? Well, a big factor was a number of people in my life had their own personal libraries. Some people talked up all the books they owned and read. Well, my guess is a few of them talked up the books they owned and shared what the book was about from what they read on the back cover. How many books are owned that go unread? (And then there are those who have massive, personal libraries they passionately talk about and seem to spend joyous time enthralled by what they read. Often, they would lend a copy of a well-read book to you so you could also partake in its life and story. Thank you!)
I realized reading, or the idea of reading, was esteemed. More so, specific authors or topics were respected more than others. Early on when I was a missionary, I tried to have some copies of these authors or topics handy so I could look the part of a “mature believer”. (“Yeah, CS Lewis is a favorite of mine.”)
Meanwhile, what I was more interested in reading about was pop culture or classic literature. As a missionary, reading about pop culture was often frowned upon by the groupthink. I’d much rather read Bill Flanagan’s U2: At the End of the World than something like Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye or Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity, thank you very much. For seventeen months during 1997 and 1998, I was on a team traveling around the country in a fifteen passenger van performing one-act play and sharing about missions. The grind of that time was one of the most difficult periods of ministry. One book that got me through that period was Henry Rollins’ Get In The Van. Not for the faint of heart, but I was in no mood for pretense. It helped. Every time I headed back on the road, I checked in with it. If I was going overseas? Time to pack Alex Garland’s The Beach and experience distant shores and places seeming ever more like America/the West. (Reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, or Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm was more peculiar to my missionary peers.)
Because of my upbringing, and subsequent libraries I experienced as a missionary at Christian organizations, I did not think the books I wanted to read would be available at libraries. That, and the idea I needed my own library, I spent a lot of money on books. Why go to a library when I can have my own curated collection?
How many books did I spend money only to read once? Worse, how many books did I purchase and own simply to collect dust and only be displayed as books I think would impress others? How many books did I regret purchasing? That’s not even addressing the stacks of books that I would like to read someday, but for some reason I felt compelled to buy another book I’d like to read even though there is already a backlog. (The Japanese word for this is “tsundoku“.)
How much time, energy, and resources could have been utilized better when I was a missionary, and for most of my life, if I would have taken advantage of the public library? This thought kept coming back to me over and over and over…and over while I’ve been on sabbath the past year.
Jana has been taking advantage of libraries a lot longer than me. She’s in a book club that has met nearly every month for over ten years now. The Omaha Public Library (OPL) and Bennington Library have helped make participating in the book club possible. Our four boys love books. We’ve enjoyed reading to them. Jana has helped ease the pressure I felt to purchase books for them over the years by checking out countless titles for them. And the OPL doesn’t charge late fees with kids book on kids’ accounts!
Because of Jana’s book club experience, and with our boys, she kept encouraging me to check out the library before plunging in to purchase a book. I can’t recall what book it was, but there was something she checked out that surprised me the library would have. So, I started perusing the library. It took some time to break the book buying habit I had, but over time it became apparent how much sense it made to use the library. The worst thing with using the library? Maybe waiting a few days or weeks for a book you want to read. This was the case with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years In Power. However, the wait was worth it when I read it earlier this year. Now I’m waiting to read Michelle Obama’s Becoming. (Down to #32 in queue position as of writing this!)
I started running this past summer, and the library has made it possible to listen to audiobooks through the Libby app. I remember chuckling during an early run because while some may listen to music to help them power through a run, I was listening to Malcolm Gladwell discuss 19th century French impressionists as I first ran. (From Gladwell’s book David and Goliath.) After that, it was Barack Obama’s Dreams of my Father for my workouts. Now? JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike novels help pass the time on a 10K.
One area where the library has been helpful is with comics. I had no idea how many graphic novels and trade paperbacks were available at the library. As someone who has collected comics in the past, it can be expensive. It’s hard to jump into a title/story when you have to purchase a number of issues to get caught up with the story. Again, the circles I was living in there weren’t a lot of comic readers where I could borrow something. (If there were, they didn’t publicize it.) It’s fun to read acclaimed stories like Vision by Tom King, or read up on The Flash Joshua Williamson.
Jana also told me how if the library did not have a book you wanted, you could request to have it purchased. I tried it out on a book the boys were interested in, Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus’ Trollhunters. The OPL got the book. Then I tried it on something I wanted, John Walton and Tremper Longman’s The Lost World of the Flood. The OPL got the book. Right now on my nightstand is another book I requested, Basketball: A Love Story by Jackie MacMullan, Rafe Bartholomew, and Dan Klores.
You know, what may have turned me on to the public library were the movies. I love going to the movies, and it is something I enjoy taking my family to. Taking the six of us can be pricey, but I did not think anything of it when I had a job. It was a treat. It was a passion. The moviegoing experience is one I enjoy, and I think it can add something to a movie. When I resigned, though, it was harder to justify seeing movies at the theater like we once did. Sure, we still saw Marvel movies at the movie theater, but not some other titles (Jumanji, Ready Player One, Solo) we might have before I resigned. We saw more movies on $5 Tuesdays at Marcus Theaters, but even then it’s a minimum $30 purchase. (With no food or drink purchase.) The library has a lot of movies available, and movie night at our house is often something we checked out at the library. Like Jumanji or Ready Player One. Both enjoyable movies for my family, but also movies I’m glad I did not spend the money on for my family to see at the movie theater.
Then there is just walking up and down the aisles randomly looking at titles. One book I pulled this past year was The Tao of Bill Murray. Story after story after story about Bill Murray. A book I may not have spent money on if at the bookstore, but at the library? Checked it out and enjoyed reading it in a day.
Of course, there are those books you check out, read, and are glad you never spent the money on them! (No need to call those out here.)
Back to Liam. 138 (or so) books he has read this year. One. Three. Eight! I’m guessing over 75% of those books are from the library. This past week, he has been reading Go Big by Dude Perfect’s Cory Cotton. I’m not sure how many times he has paused reading so he could tell me something he just read that piqued his interest. I love it.
How many books and movies have my family enjoyed this past year? Too many to count at this point. What’s the cost? It’s free. (Well, I do have $0.50 in late fees right now!)
The public library may seem like an obvious thing to some of you. To me, it was not. This past year, it has been something I’ve thanked God consistently for a variety of reasons. And this blog post only scratches the surface with all the public library provides. What a blessing to our communities. I am grateful for public libraries.
Top Pulls from the OPL in 2018 (so far)
- We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Silence by Shusaku Endo
- David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)
- The Lost World of the Flood by John Walton & Tremper Longman
- Maus (Vol 1 & 2) by Art Spiegelman
- The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
- Five by Endo by Shusaku Endo
- The Flash (Vol 1-6) by Joshua Williamson
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami