One of my cousins likes to remind me of the summer I went to spend a week with them at Bud Lake and I brought with me a copy of Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates. Most kids at that age made sure not to forget their sneakers and bathing suits. Even though I knew I would be surrounded by lots of family and activity to keep me entertained, I made sure not to forget my books.
Books were my thing.
From an early age my nose was buried in a book, which explains my great love for libraries. Spending an afternoon in the young adult section of the Glen Oaks Library on a hot summer day with only the whir of the fan to keep things cool brought me great joy. I loved the quiet when you stepped inside. I loved the smell of print and paper. I loved being surrounded by books, wandering the aisles, tilting my head sideways to read the titles on the spines to see what new place I could visit next. Each book held possibility. It was insight into a world much bigger than the one I lived in.
Over time, I forsake the library in favor of bookstores.
I had my own home now and bookshelves to fill with titles that spoke to who I am. Plus my life kept getting busier and it seemed easier to buy a book then remember to return it to the library.
And then came digital.
Now it was easier to download an ebook from Amazon to my iPad so download I did. However, with no physical book to remind me of what I was reading, I would often forget it was buried in there in my Kindle App. And when I did remember I was likely to get distracted by my email or Facebook before I even got to the novel.
With so much digital content to consume I felt like I was reading more than ever but little of it gave me the same pleasure I had from opening the pages of a physical book and none of it was fiction.
I missed it.
I missed the joy of getting lost in good story. I missed that easy access to the oxytocin that is released when we are exposed to good story. Plus reading fiction has always inspired me. It inspires me to write but also to do. It helps me to understand other viewpoints and the human psyche. I create more when I read other people’s creations.
So I marched myself to the Riverside Branch of the New York Public Library, a building I passed all the time without going in.
Admittedly this branch has none of the charm of the grand building on 42nd Street that houses the main branch and none of the sentimentality I would feel walking into the one on Union Turnpike on which I was weaned and has since been renovated. But a library it is. And like gyms, the big prerequisite is that it be in walking distance for it to get used.
I browsed the aisles and checked out a book.
The one I chose was by Elisabeth Egan and entitled A Window Opens, and just like that one did. Since then I have read more fiction in the last five months than I had in the previous year. Not only am I once again in love with the experience of reading from a physical book, but the fact that I am on a deadline in the form of a due date to return it, keeps me reading more.
I’ve learned that the library has gone digital.
The library now allows you to reserve books online that will be delivered to your location and they notify you via email when the book is in. They will also remind you when it’s due. And if you are someone who prefers digital over print books, the New York Public Library now has an app that allows you to borrow digital copies from it’s entire collection. In marketing we call that the omnichannel experience, the idea of a seamless experience online and off line.
I still buy books and will always support other writers.
A store bought copy of Outrageous Openness and Change Me Prayers, by Tosha Silver sits on my nightstand. I still read digitally, recently finishing the manuscript for my friend Agapi Stassinopoulos’ forthcoming book.
But mostly I go to the library.