Author: Aimee LaBrie
I’ve had a library card ever since I was in kindergarten. My mom has always been a reader-of-novels and she passed this love on to me, starting with the Little House on the Prairie series. I can still remember the feeling I used to get when I would leave the library with half a dozen books in my backpack—giddy with the possibilities each book offered. Even if I didn’t read all of the books I borrowed (and I seldom did), I liked having all those choices—an adventure story about mice, a story about a misunderstood doll, a detective story where the kids were smarter than the adults. As an adult, I still feel the same way about reading and about the library; almost like I’m getting away with something when I go inside and emerge with a stack of books; it seems too good to be true.
Here at Penn, you might think that the libraries on campus are very academic-focused, and it’s true that they have hundreds of scholarly texts and journals and numerous online resources. But they also have an excellent fiction section, a new books collection on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich library, and a substantial DVD collection that I’ve borrowed from numerous times (I just rented Philadelphia Story starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn a few weeks ago. Have you seen that film lately? If not, get it).
In addition, if the library doesn’t have the book you want, they will get it for you. For instance, I recently visited Gettysburg for the first time in my life, and someone mentioned the book Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tony Horwitz. When I got back to work that Monday, I found that though the library didn’t have the book available, they could secure it for me through inter-library loan. In two days time, I had the book in my hot little hands, borrowed directly from the Dartmouth Library. It was like magic. (Book synopsis: Civil War re-enactors are alive and kicking all throughout the South. For a fictionalized account of this crowd, I highly recommend Civilwarland in Bad Decline by George Saunders. It’s dark and twisty and very funny).
About a week ago, I read a New York Times review of the recently published crime novel, A Death in Summer and thought how nice it would be to check it out from the library that very same day, though it seemed unlikely that the VPD Library would have it, since it was pretty much right off the presses. I walked straight toward the new fiction, and voile! There it was on the top shelf of the collection, as if waiting for me. Again, magic. I devoured the book over the weekend. It’s written by Benjamin Black, the pseudonym for Booker Prize winning writer, John Banville. You can read a review of the book here or learn more about Banville’s alter ego in the most recent issue of The New Yorker (book synposis: a rich man appears to have committed suicide. But did he??? His strange death is investigated by an alcoholic medical examiner and a detective who, along the way, encounter seduction, betrayal, a corrupt organization for boys, martinis, hundreds of cigarettes, and ponies. Thumbs up).
I don’t know what’s next on my reading list, but I am certain that when I do decide, I’ll only have to go a little ways down Locust Walk and into the library. It still feels exciting to me, to know that I can enter the library with nothing, and leave with my arms full of possibilities.
Just an aside, I have physical proof of how much my mom loves reading. This is a quilt that she recently made called “Book Brain.” If you look closely (by clicking on the photograph), you’ll see that the whole quilt is filled with hand-written quotes from her favorite books. She dedicated the quilt to me.