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The best things in life are free —like libraries

I’ve been an avid reader almost all my life. Of course, that was no big deal when I was a kid since everyone was a reader of one kind or another.

TV hadn’t yet become the national drug of choice, and reading was pretty much the only game in town. Sure, there was radio, and everyone listened to it, but they read when there was no radio, and often when there was.

As for video? There was only the movies, and for that you had to go to a theater, which took time, movement and money (not to mention dressing up for the weekend evening shows).

So what did I read?

As a wee poppet I read whatever I could get my mitts on, which wasn’t much since it depended on limited availability. And when I say limited, I’m not kidding: Aside from school, the only place I could get books was the town library, and since I didn’t like children’s books, there wasn’t much there that interested me.

Still, I did a lot of reading, but instead of books, it was magazines. My family subscribed to a bunch of them — Life, Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest and Coronet, among them — and I read them all, almost always cover to cover.

By my teen years, my tastes had matured considerably once I discovered men’s magazines like True, Argosy and Saga, along with the true-crime rags that were staples of the barber shops. Maybe they weren’t enlightening, but they sure were entertaining.

I also started reading books, but still the only place to get them was the library. This meant while I had access to a lot of books, most were outside my interest or beyond my comprehension.

Keep in mind, paperbacks were available, but they were almost all mysteries (the ones with those fabulously lurid covers) and were sold mostly in drugstores. I wasn’t interested in them … except their covers, of course.

Behold, the lit maven!

As I said, I always liked reading, but early in my senior year it turned into a compulsion. I don’t know how or why it happened, nor does it matter, but suddenly I started reading obsessively … and constantly.

You name it, I read it. I went through phases: First the classics. Then the Russians. Then the French and the Brits. Next modern American authors, followed by history and biography. And let’s not forget essays, short stories, plays and whatever else I happed across.

This stood me in good stead for the rest of my life, since no matter where I’ve been, I’ve never been bored. I always have a book with me (or a bunch if I’m traveling), and if there’s nothing worthwhile going on (like in a doctor’s waiting room or during an administrator’s meeting at Old Siwash), I flip it open and pick up where I’d left off.

But while I read constantly, I didn’t do it heedlessly. And in my Golden Years I’ve become extremely fussy about what I read. Mostly it’s for amusement — my days of looking for profound messages and powerful drama are long gone. So I don’t read the classics or the stuff extolled by coffeehouse cognoscenti.

I also do not read horror. Steven King is an excellent writer, but if I want to get poop-sick scared, I need only read the headlines.

Forget true crime as well. I have read a lot of it, but after a while it became same-ole same ole: Some schmuck who’s smarter than everyone else decides to off someone for kicks and/or money, and does it. Then he gets busted, because not only is he NOT smarter than everyone else, he’s not all that smart at all.

But even though my reading’s on the light side now, I’m still particular about it. Whatever it is I’m reading — mystery, adventure, contemporary novel — has got to be well written. That’s why when I go to the library I always take out two or three books. Odds are no matter how well a book starts, it can go to Crapsville by chapter 4, in which case, I drop it and start with the second runner-up.

Or at least that’s when I do when our library’s up and running. But what to do during the quarantine? Well, that’s why I was in Bloomingdale, pulling into the Hex & Hop pub-brewery parking lot. Was I there to drown my sorrows in craft beer? Not at all. I was on strictly intellectual business — checking out the Bloomingdale Free Library.

One for the books

If you never heard of the BFL, don’t feel bad. It hasn’t been around very long, and it’s easy to miss. It’s wood, about 5 feet square and 6 feet high, both a beautiful structure and gesture, put together by the peeps at Specialty Wood Products. It has four different sections. One is for food donation; the other three are for books — children’s, juveniles’ and adults — each section clearly labeled.

The juvenile and adult sections are on the same side, so those were the ones I checked out. Most of the books there are adult genre, and from my guesstimate, I’d say there are at least 200 books.

Before I looked them over, I put in the books I’d brought. They were three mysteries, a science fiction anthology and a book I bought impulsively and mindlessly: “Dog Training the Easy Way.” Me train my dogs? You’re kidding, right? Given their vivre et laisser vivre ‘tude, and my inability to follow through on much of anything, that book was as useful to me as a copy of “Never Too Late: A Septuagenarian’s Guide to Parenting.”

But after I’d gotten rid of my books, I checked out the holdings, and I have to say I was impressed.

All in all, it’s a great little collection. It runs the gamut from biography (Winston Churchill and Gypsy Rose Lee), history (the Boer War, World War I, and Canada), mysteries, sci-fi, even foreign language (there was a Spanish-English dictionary and some teach-yourself-French books). There were some Clive Cusslers, Danielle Steeles and a bunch of Janet Evanoviches.

And inevitably, there were some self-help tomes: “When Smart People Fail,” “Stop Smoking!” and the one that should be handed out at every Pre-Cana meeting, “Wrestling with Love, The Struggle with Men and Intimacy.”

Then there was the book no home should be without: “Come with Me and Be my Life — The Complete Romantic Poetry of Peter McWilliams.” I didn’t actually read any of it, but from the title alone I’d bet rupees to raisins ole Peter McW. is at least the equal of Rod McKuen.

I snagged two books that piqued my interest. One was by Terry McMillan; the other was an anthology of short stories about murders and gambling in Las Vegas.

Just before I left, I gave all the shelves a final once-over, and when I did, I noticed some delightfully ironic pairings.

“The South Beach Diet” was next to “Perfect Alibi.”

“The Truth about Managing People” was next to “Mein Kampf.”

And the last delightful duo was “The Magic of Children” next to “Trouble Don’t Last.”

So while My Home Town’s library is closed, we need not go without reading material … or philanthropic partying either, for that matter. Take a trip to the B’dale Free Library, drop off some non-perishable food, swap some books, and then celebrate the event by getting a brewski to go.

Literacy, philanthropy and revelry — all in one fell swoop.

What more could you ask?

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