Dispatches | July 26, 2007

Nothing says intimidating quite like the public library–at least to me. Although I’ve always regarded the library as a safe haven in which I can get lost in a thousand different worlds while exploring the rows of books, there’s just something about the library that makes me feel inadequate. Maybe it’s the silence; maybe it’s the fact that the books outnumber me; or maybe it’s that I will never be able to conquer them all.

When I was a child, I would visit the library often and obsess over every book in the children’s section, determined to read as many as possible. The summer made this goal less daunting, at least, because I had more time to read. As I spent countless hours in the children’s nook, I would watch the adults on the other side of the library comb the rows and rows of their neatly shelved books. Although at the time I feared crossing the boundary to the adult section, I assured myself that one day I would be just like them. Unlike them, though, I vowed to leave no book on those neat shelves untouched.

However, my public library at home is no match for the Daniel Boone Regional Library in Columbia. Every time I step into it and see the thousands of books on every shelf, I become a child again, overwhelmed by the towering shelves of books in front of me, knowing I will never have time to absorb all their information. Not even summer-reading time can save me now.

I’ve always thought of bookstores in the same light as libraries—still just as intriguing and intimidating—but I found myself disappointed in many of them this summer. In an effort to sell with the season, many stores have displayed summer-reading suggestions. Each time I saw one of these displays, I eagerly approached it, expecting to see popular classics from William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Maya Angelou or other acclaimed authors. Yet every time I was dishearteningly met with the latest shipment of romance novels. I would never deny or ridicule a guilty pleasure (I admit to being one of those who spent last weekend doing little more than reading the last book in the Harry Potter series), but I anticipated something more challenging from bookstores—they should better promote excellence in literature.

Perhaps I’m still hanging on to my childhood notion that summer opens up more reading opportunities. I’ve heard many people, myself included, claim they don’t have time to read anymore, which might explain the popularity of the abridged classics John recently blogged about. But it still seems to me that summer is an ideal time to catch up on some great reads. Instead of daydreaming about lying out on a beach or poolside with a romance novel or iPod, why not make a dent in the list of literary classics you’ve yet to read? Aside from being a little heavier and taking up a bit more room in your suitcase, thicker books travel just as well as their abridged counterparts or magazines. And if 8.5 million people can find time to lock themselves in their rooms for a weekend and devour the 759 pages of the last book in the Harry Potter series, then I think I (as well as millions of others) can find the time to read more than fluff.

If I keep that thought in mind, maybe I’ll be ready to finally take on the public library.