What can I tell you?….. I’ve been living here in theHamptonsfor the past
eight years. Does that make me a Hamptonite? Over those years I have, bit
by bit, let go of my former life inNew York City, the museums, the theatre,
the ballet – too expensive now. I stay in touch with friends of course, but
many of them come out here to visit as often as I go intoManhattanand
I am ancient, decrepit, falling apart but still working (part time) in a local
library. Lord knows how long they’ll keep me. In this computerized world,
I’m at a distinct disadvantage. My only asset as a library clerk is that I still
read books. It’s been a life-long habit. Not necessarily literature, although
once in a while I dip back in there, but mostly I read for fun, whatever
captures my attention, new or old: Italian Commissarios, introspective
novels on the intricacies of male/female relationships, gory Scandinavian
thrillers. I’m undisciplined and I like it that way.
Of course libraries are an utterly different kind of animal than the shy places
I first encountered as a child growing up inEngland. My parents were
traveling actors and when I would come home from my boarding school for
the holidays, it was usually to an unfamiliar provincial town, where one of
the few constants I could count on was that there would be a library. As
my parents were usually fully occupied with work, nightly performances of
the current play and daily rehearsals for the next week’s production, I had a
lot of time to myself.
The library, hushed yet brimming with the life that was most real to me was a place of worship, who knows perhaps – devil worship. To be honest, reading was and still is, an addiction. If the latest book in a series that I was hooked on was not available in the library, I had a sneaky way around the problem. I would find the chain store: Boots (each town would always have a Boots and they still do). At that time they were basically chemists but like our pharmacies they carried miscellaneous items, including current books; children’s as well as adults. I would casually wander around the aisles, picking up items here and there trying to look like a potential buyer, if a diminutive one, then, when I thought no-one was looking, I would
zero in on the book I was thirsting for, and flip open the front page. Within minutes, I was dead to the world. In those days I read fast and I could finish the book sometimes in as little as two visits. I once read Enid Blyton’s “The Five Go Adventuring Again” at a single sitting, or rather, a single standing. During my repeated visits, no clerk ever said to me “Little girl what do you think you’re doing? Put down that book”. Odd, since I grew up in a Ronald Reagan authoritarian world. Perhaps they saw that I was careful to page through the books with clean hands or maybe they were parents themselves who were happy to see a child reading….. anything. In spite of the many other modern entertainments: DVDs, video games etc., I see that parents still feel that way.
Which brings me to libraries as they are today. They are rather jolly places to work in, a far cry from the hushed and hallowed halls, sedate repositories of the accumulated wisdom of our great thinkers. Grand city libraries may aspire to that but our local libraries strive for a more common denominator. We welcome one and all, the more the merrier. It’s all about statistics. Libraries have to justify their existence these days, like everyone else. We have programs to teach everything from Tai Chi to Ma Jong, and how to
negotiate EBay, Facebook and Twitter. Children are greeted at the front desk with high-fives and a “What’s up dude?” Loud, lively evaluations are sought on the latest best-sellers and DVD releases, for which there is frantic competition. The pace is hectic, especially in the summer. It’s fun but exhausting.
However, I do feel sad when I see old favorite reads being discarded to make