Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Library: there for you and me

That's one of the things I love the most about the library. Some visits make it harder to love than others, but still, I enjoy it. I enjoy seeing the recent immigrant adults learning English from the books in the children's room. I enjoy seeing the teenage girls check out armloads of Gossip Girl books. I like the nostalgia of the mom trying to explain to her six-year-old that there is NO WAY he's going to be able to read all of those books in a month and he has to put some back.

Free For All by Don Borchert is an insider's look at the drama that parades by the checkout desk daily. Borchert works in a branch library in the Los Angeles system, located near a public school, and he sees it all. The older woman who confesses, one day, that she loves to bake but has no audience, and wonders if she might bring her treats in for the staff. The woman who returns every year with a new last name, takes out a new card and racks up hundreds in fines, and uses the library as a babysitting service. The flying saucer man. The pervert who chats up the preteen girls doing their homework. The Great Korean Mom Fight in the parking lot.

Not all of the stories in the book are happy, of course. But it's a funny book, and uplifting in a weird way. Borchert is a very empathetic writer, especially when he's talking about some of his nuttier patrons. The book makes you glad that the library is there for people who may have no one or nothing else. It's one of the few places you can go that's not home or work where you're not expected to buy something. It's there whenever you have a question about anything in life, from: "what type of taillights does my 1992 Lincoln Mercury take?" to "why is everyone tossing my resume in the trash bin?" to "do bluebells grow well in this climate?" It cares not one whit whether you're the type to pose about ten of these questions a week, or if this is the first and last time you'll ask.

Borchert feels this way too, and though he never comes out and says it, that sentiment imbues every sentence of the book. In an era where so many people desperately cling to jobs they despise because, hey, at least they have one, it's nice to read a book by someone who genuinely loves and believes in what he does.

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