In writing about what I learned from COVID-19 earlier this week, I somehow forgot to note that I’ve been living without a (physical) library. When contemplating moving to a small town or to an overseas location without a public library (or one without many books in English), I’ve sometimes wondered how I’d get by without the two or three books I borrow each week from public libraries and universities.
For someone who appreciates books so much, and hopes to sell some writing of his own one day, I sometimes feel a little guilty about how little I actually spend on books. I do subscribe to quite a few magazines and I’ve built up a collection of old favourites in print over the years. But most of my leisure reading comes from the library.
For a while, I was able to delay having to do much about finding new reading material thanks to having borrowed a few especially thick books from the library just before it closed, and being a way behind in reading my magazines. I bought more time by re-reading The Lord of the Rings, which is now nearly done.
In between I’ve gotten through a few inexpensive electronic novels and novellas written by little-known authors whose work I’ve come across in the fiction magazines that I read. I’ve also gotten through a couple of non-fiction books on my reading list that were available through the university’s on-line library but not in its print collection. I’ve previously tended to read books of this sort only while I am travelling without access to a library, and even then I usually take a printed old favourite or two with me.
I’ve largely enjoyed the ones that I’ve read, and I’ve long promised myself that I’d read more of those little-known authors. Like most people, however, I do prefer to read in print, and public libraries make doing this a lot cheaper than it would be otherwise. Without them I’d probably read a lot fewer books than I do, and certainly in much less variety, since browsing the library shelves allows me to try out unfamiliar writers without having to pay twenty or thirty dollars for a printed book. (I’m also a bit unsure what I’d do with the book afterwards having decided I didn’t like it.)
Reading little-known authors helps in that respect because they often sell electronic books for an amount I’m willing to part with in order to try out an interesting-sounding book or follow up on the writer of a short story or magazine article that I enjoyed. And I’ve found I’m likely to enjoy those authors as much as I’m likely to enjoy the award-winning best-selling finest-writers-in-English that I read about on the backs of books in bookshops.
Perhaps I forgot to write about book-reading in my previous entry because I already do this sort of thing when I’m travelling, or because I was still partway through The Lord of the Rings, and I didn’t perceive much new to be going on. But it’s comforting both to know that I have options when the library isn’t there, and to have a better appreciation of what the library does for me.