I spent a happy couple of hours in the Mount Pleasant library today. Not for research, and not looking for any specific book. Just to browse. About my favorite thing to do if I can’t be on the beach reading. And I came out with my arms piled full of books by Colson Whitehead, Margot Livesey, Penelope Lively, and Patricia Highsmith, among others. No new books – I’m on a waitlist for a few of those. Instead, in my stack are some I’ve been meaning to read, and some I didn’t realize I wanted to read until I saw them.
The library in Mount Pleasant is small and not particularly well stocked, but that’s OK. There is a much larger library in downtown Charleston, of course, and they have a better selection, but the library in Mt P is less than ½ mile from where I’m living. And Mt P can get the book from downtown, so I usually only have to wait a few days.
I have always been in love with libraries. When I was a kid, library time was magical and treasured. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I got my first card (my mother doesn’t either) but I know I was young. Young enough that I had to prove I could read before they’d let me have one. And I remember walking out of the library in Anderson, SC with as many books as they’d let me check out. Depending on who the librarian was that day, I might only be allowed to check out the number deemed appropriate for a kid my age, or I might get away with checking out a few extra if some soft-hearted book-lover sat at the desk. And most all of the librarians back then were soft-hearted book-lovers.
Once upon a time I could rely on librarians to make book recommendations and steer me to information on pretty much any topic I was researching. While I’m sure many people who work in libraries can and do still do this, I was shocked by my experience today at the information desk. I was looking for The Talented Mr. Ripley. I’ve never read it and have been meaning to, so I decided now was the time. But I couldn’t find it on the shelves, so I went and asked for help. When I gave the girl behind the desk the title of the book, she said, “Well, that’s a movie. So you might look in the movie section.” I assured her it was a book first. “It was?” she said. Then I had to spell Highsmith twice before she found it in the computer.
While I know Ripley is an old book and this girl was only 25 or so, I was still shocked she’d never heard of Patricia Highsmith or the book. It makes me sad. I miss the lovely women (and they were always women) who knew where every book was shelved, and knew who wrote every one of those books.
Still, well-read librarians or not, I love the library, and have ever since I had to prove I could read. And I love having a stack of books waiting for me. Hm, which one to read first?