My Love Affair in Glorious Black & White: Why Amazon Rules

Or, why Amazon loves the Chicago Public Library.

Memory of  life before reading is a blank. Zip-zero-zilch. Given that I didn't have the language--how could I put into words a memory?

What is it like to not be able to read? I have no memory of my life before literacy. None. Words have always danced before my eyes for as long as I can remember, creating a virtual world within my imagination far predating  the visual feasts like visits to The Art Institute of Chicago (and its ilk). Being read to still is a fuzzy but fond memory I hold fast to.

Words did get me in trouble in school. Not because I used the naughty ones; hardly given my instilled, don't rock the boat, "good girl" persona in elementary school. Words tripped me up because I did not use them. During one of those years I was supposed to keep a list of books I read. I did for a while, till I stopped getting bored by the drill. Brought up on charges before the teacher, I was interrogated as to why I hadn't been reading. The proof was in my list. It was empty.

My mother blubbered something about but she always has her nose in a book. Then explained a fact of life in words I'll paraphrase. It's full of bullshit, so just keep the stupid list.

I knew what I read. The list was silly. Or so I thought. Funny thing is I keep a list now, for my reference though.

When I first moved to Lima, Peru in 1972, I became desperate for words in English. Though I'd remembered to bring my favorite shampoo to the country I'd live in, I'd not thought (or known to think) of bringing books in English--a deficit that was ameliorated when I realized I could read the 1940s Encyclopedia in the house. And re-read, yes really, the St. James version of the Bible.

In Asuncion, Paraguay I joined a book club solely for the collection of shared library of books it had collected. I remember the day I read Ghost Story by Peter Straub. When my husband came home from work, I mumbled for him to find his own dinner tonight. I was busy reading and couldn't put it down.  Thankfully our two-year-old loved for me just to sit in her room while she played on her own.

A few years later I was busted by my nursing baby son in Rowayton, Connecticut. Thinking he wouldn't mind if I held him in one hand to feed him while I devoured a paperback book in the other, I found him gently pushing the book away to make eye contact. I claim that his love of reading sprang from my milk.

My love affair continues to today. Sadly is thwarted by the very real cutbacks in the Chicago Public Library's budget. On a recent visit to the main library, the Harold Washington branch, I went in search of 6 books I'd seen on their web site as available.

First, to the 8th Floor. Nothing. Perusing the stacks--so many books, so little time--none of the Library of Congress numbers I'd faithfully jotted down were to be found. To the 7th floor, I did not find my prey either. Don't even say ask why I didn't put these on hold. I'm at my limit, according to the library. Three requests--no more.  As is my husband's library card. Six books? I can easily wait six months for one book that is listed as "in transit" on my card.

At the end of the search, I was told--by the librarian--we are so backed up (to get books back on the shelves). There are hundreds (thousands?) just sitting in the Purgatory of the 3rd floor she said. Book Limbo, a sin of the first order. Then she defensively apologized, as in--it's not OUR fault. Well, whose fault is it?

So that is why Amazon (should) love the Chicago Public Library. The tax-funded (but not well) library tempts us with offerings, then doesn't get them out where we can get them. What's a reader to do? Remind me again politicians how much you support public education?

Wandering out of the library level by level, I saw lanyard wearing staff rearranging books. Staging areas it said. Rows of books on shelves, on wheeled trays...being sorted before my eyes. Downstairs in the Popular Library I was taken aback by the four wheeled shelves of books on tape, DVDs, etc. Just sitting there. Waiting. Meanwhile. A staff member sits at a computer waiting for questions. Best practice usage of staff? Probably not.

With the one book in hand I'd found on the shelves and seeing a line of 5 patrons, I went to check out at the new checkout counter. You do it yourself. Love these, least I do when they work. This one didn't work. Library card scanned. Scanned book, an error message came up. "See the Librarian". Ah, okay. I get in line. One of two staff say, "if you use the self-checkout you will be out in a minute." I explain, I tried and the error message. She says, "Well! If you'd called us over right then..."

How to make friends of my fellow Chicagoans, pull the librarian over to the self-checkout.

Maybe I fell down Alice's rabbit hole coming down the escalator?

So to those people who plead that those whipper-snapper kids don't read, stop and ask yourself. Could it be because they too can't find the book in the library? On Kindle, yes. At CPL no.

Coming home, I went online to Amazon and bought what I wanted. Absurd to have to do this for 10 year old plus books, but somehow my public library doesn't do its job anymore.

What a pity. For America. But is just like the library I visited in Guayaquil, Ecuador in 1989.

 

 

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    Candace Drimmer

    I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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