During World War I, our grandfather began a lending (rental) library during the summer months in Ocean Park, Washington. He had access to books from his grandfather J.K. Gill’s Portland bookstore, and imagined that people needed escape. Although we aren’t now facing a war, the health crisis around the world has separated us into people with differing amounts of leisure time as we are either fighting for our health, working exhaustingly to help keep others healthy or alive, or being told to stay at home. For especially the latter group, 24-hour news floods our brains and our hearts: sometimes creating obsessive following of news that prevents us from focusing on much else.
Normally when I have had gaps of free time in my life I’ve filled in the minutes with reading. These past few days I’ve had a harder time staying focused (maybe re-reading A.B. Guthrie’s The Way West isn’t the best choice for the time being?). Faced with cancelled book talks for March, and now April, I was depressed by the two boxes of books sadly sitting in a corner – books I’d so like to get into the hands of readers. And while I’ve taken so much pleasure knowing my two titles were being checked out of several libraries: those libraries are now closed, leaving readers with only virtual reading choices, or the books that sit on our own shelves.
In response, this week I set out by bike to deliver copies of My Music Man and Beyond the Ripples to the Little Libraries in our town. Somehow just doing this made me feel a bit better. After all, although like all authors I’d love to be selling my books rather than giving them away, I am fortunate to have a day job that allows me to telecommute. I am glad to find a way to support readers – perhaps some who are now unable to work. And while I did wash my hands before handling those new books, if you are worried I imagine you could wipe the books you borrow, or set them aside for a day or two. We can also travel back to the late 1800s and early 1900s during “the great book scare” when some people worried that infections and contagious diseases, such as tuberculosis and scarlet fever, could be spread through library books. The Smithsonian Magazine shares an interesting article about this (including experiments on guinea pigs), further confirming my belief that this is probably not something we need to worry about.
The Little Free Library model was started in 2009 by Todd H. Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin. Use this map to find any near you. In the time since they have begun, they have been both adored by many and criticized by a few. Some critics claim they compete with public libraries, or assert they are often in privileged white and college educated neighborhoods. However, in this time of library shut-downs due to COVID-19, it is possible that even critics may agree Little Libraries offer a renewed and useful purpose. Some communities during the past weeks have added pantry food staples – it will be interesting to see if this will be used by those in need, or mostly offered as window dressing. I am thankful for all kind spirits looking for ways to add gifts to each other during this frightening, 24-hour scary news times. And books, we know, are fabulous for offering our spirits a release. So, for today if you can: turn off the news and commit to finding a few minutes to just read.
If you live in my community, you might be able to find My Music Man and Beyond the Ripples in a Little Library near you. I’ve also cut the e-book price of Then, Now, and In-Between: Place, Memories and Loss in Oregon by almost half. And of course – check out selections by fabulous local authors living around you. Who knows, they just might add copies of their latest release to a Little Library near you. (I added a few of them with my own.) And if you happen to have something to say after reading? Authors love and need reviews. Happy reading – if only for a few minutes.
A few book ideas:
- Overdrive (audio and e-books using your library account)
- Storyline Online (listen to people like Betty White read favorite children’s books)
- Reading ideas from Reader’s Digest
- Annie Bloom’s Books, Portland (some delivery and curb pick up)
- Broadway Books, Portland (delivery and curb pick up)
- Rose City Book Pub, Portland (book and growler pick up)