Growing up in LA, we had great public libraries, but I imagine some had librarians who were a bit more excited about their work than mine. In my memory, inquiries more akin to talking to Nick Burns, the computer guy Jimmy Fallon played on SNL, than someone who was eager to share their love of books.
I’d visited that branch for close to a decade when one day, when I was about sixteen, I found myself wandering in circles. The card catalogs had moved. The library wasn’t large, but I went between rooms repeatedly, thinking I had missed them. As though massive blocks of wood were so easy to miss.
I finally asked and a finger was pointed in the direction of a waist-high table about eight feet long. On it sat a row of computers. Aesthetically, it was just awful. PCs circa 1994 were a drab Band-Aid beige. The card catalogs were a rich, honey-colored wood with brass pulls worn with age. On the computer I found what I wanted, but I missed the catalogs. Amongst those cards I’d always found what I wanted, but I’d also happen upon the unexpected. It’s the same sort of thing that I miss when shopping online, too – be it for books or clothes – a chance encounter with something you never knew you always wanted.
Searching through shelves for Rilke you might find a book of Rumi‘s poetry absently left on the ledge. Browsing for a little black dress and finding a faux fur vest with a silk peacock feather lining left when someone lazily changed their mind. The book, the coat – things unexpectedly fabulous.
I love the unexpectedly fabulous.
Card catalogs weren’t always an adventure, but they held the possibility. Even before I understood the Dewey Decimal System, I loved the clickety-clack of flipping through rows of yellowing, hand-typed index cards. Each and every one taken for granted until the day I couldn’t find them anymore.
I can almost equally divide the years of my life I’ve spent tethered to technology to those I have not. So many moments like the day the card catalogs disappeared. Days inextricably linked to the internet, like the day River Phoenix died.
It’s so easy, too easy, to romanticize the past. I believe that once upon a time things were both wonderful and awful. Things were often more complicated and far less so.
These days, I find a lot of book chatter online. People ask for recommendations or share their favorites not just on bibliophile sites like Good Reads, but on Facebook and twitter, too. A friend is starting a book club via her blog.
Last week, I found myself in a comment thread on Instagram discussing books that we adore because someone posted the cover of a novel they were reading. A discussion about a book, of bound and printed paper, photographed using a cell phone and posted on the internet. It made me ridiculously happy. Happy to see this fusion of the old and new. Of life before and after.
The unexpected fabulousness found on a random bookshelf now found in a random Instagram. The same, only different. xo a.
And now five great things someone else said about change:
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. – Lao Tzu
When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them. – Andy Warhol, Andy Warhol: In His Own Words
Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists. – Thomas L. Friedman
New and stirring things are belittled because if they are not belittled the humiliating question arises ‘Why then are you not taking part in them?’ – H.G. Wells
If you don’t change your beliefs, your life will be like this forever. Is that good news? – W. Somerset Maugham
Also, library talk reminded me of a film I saw about a year after those card catalogs disappeared, Party Girl. When I went to look for a clip, I happened to read: “On June 3, 1995, it became the first feature film to be shown in its entirety on the Internet…”
A movie about a party girl turned Dewey Decimal devotee was an internet first. Only connect…