Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Libraries are like Toys
I'm sitting in a worn leather chair, holding a well-read copy of Treasure Island, in a quiet, lively room. The lingering smells of old pages, coffee, and a hint of cigar smoke rest on the outdated chairs, sofas, and end tables. Books of all thickness are scattered about, some in piles and others attempt neat arrangements on shelves that cover most of the wall space. Where there are no books, I admire the paintings and illustrations of names I both recognize and can not pronounce. I read the room like a map and always find places yet undiscovered. Conversations drift in and out as my industrious friends flip pages and consult encyclopedias. There is a calm frenzy to consume the limitless literary delicacies.
Dreaming? Most certainly. And, enter my frustration with the way things are.
I recently found myself in the middle of a delightful conversation with a friend about her hopes to become a writer, when I realized something.
It was advice C.S. Lewis gave about writing. He said something like, 'In order to be a good writer, you must be a good reader.' You must read good writing, in order to recognize good writing. Of course this makes mountains of sense, but less than molehills are made of this philosophy.
See, I don't think very many people would disagree with Lewis. I think we are really good at talking about the importance of brilliant literature and dreadful at follow-through. Case in point: libraries.
Right now, I'm a boarder in a city suburb, so I've toured many new homes. It seems that the trend is to have an office/library somewhere in the front of the house. This gives the house a sophisticated and important air (nevermind the television shrine above the fireplace in the living room) that communicates status, knowledge, and an arrival of sorts.
What I find so interesting (and I see the same tendency in myself) is that these spaces are so rarely used! We collect the titles like Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice, arrange them artistically, and there the story ends. We move on to more exciting ways to develop our intellect through "Dancing with the Stars" and "Iron Man" and "Grand Theft: Auto."
It's as though we've finally collected every beanie baby and now it's time to move to the next trend - webkins anyone? Everyone (sometimes ashamedly) has the color-coded bins full of toys with no functionality or value except as an antiquated status statement. So, why treat the brilliance of literature like outdated toys?
Because we are still children. We are still attracted to what glitters and distracted by what makes the loudest noise.
My sad confession is that I make decisions opposite my aesthetic dream every day. I consciously decide the mind-numbing activity over the engaging. I also realize my dream is a romantic notion, but I know there are others who respond to the brilliance of fiction and the Truth hidden in history.
I just hope libraries - in their genuine function - never go out of style, because what is found there is far more valuable than trendy toys.