Bad News from the Library

Some days it doesn’t pay to open your mailbox. Yesterday was one of those days. We have this really great library system here in El Paso County, and every so often they do a mass mailing in which they keep us patrons informed about what’s been going on, what’s new, and what we can expect down the road. Yesterday I opened my mailbox to find one of these inside, and then today my morning paper was late so I decided to catch up on library news during breakfast. As a result, I’ve been depressed all day.

The library’s not on fire or anything. It’s just that they devoted a good deal of this issue to bragging about what a good job they do (checkouts per employee and so on) compared with similar-sized library systems. Unfortunately, they decided to include a certain statistic. According to someone or other, the average American household contains only 40 books. Forty. A four with only one solitary zero behind it. I guess I’m not that shocked, but I’m certainly dismayed.

When I find myself in a house I’ve never been in before, for a party or whatever, the first thing I look for is the books. You can tell a lot about people by what sorts of books they own. People who own a lot of books are people I know I can talk to.

There’s this really funny German film, called Rossini after the restaurant in which most of the action takes place. Briefly, it’s about a bunch of movie people who all want to turn a certain book into a movie. The book is a retelling of the Lorelei story, and the conceit is that it has been read by every woman in the world. Unfortunately, the writer is not the slightest bit interested in having his novel verfilmt, which is a delicious German construction that means, approximately, ‘ruined by being turned into a movie.’ There is a scene that shows the writer in his study. He is seated at his desk. Behind him is a wall, every single square inch of which is covered in books. It’s a beautiful piece of visual characterization; this is a man whose life is devoted to literature. It sets us up perfectly for a later scene in which Rossini’s passionate Italian waitress tries to seduce him, and the pathetic schmuck has to explain to her that real life is something that he just doesn’t do.

I’m not quite that bad. In fact, since I built the last set of shelves there’s actually a goodly amount of free shelf space in the house. Several yards of it. Makes me kind of nervous, actually.

Forty?

Another tidbit of information they included was the total number of books in the PPLD system, which is 1,100,000. That’s approximately two books per county resident, though they don’t point that out. In fact, one gets the impression they’re rather proud of being in the seven digits. To me, it explains why they so often can’t fulfill some of my more obscure (and sometimes not-so-obscure) requests. Oberlin College, my alma mater, has well over one million books for only 2600 students. Call it, conservatively, 400 books per student. Oy, did I used to get lost in those stacks.

Forty?

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