Librarian might be out as career-elective. I forgot that the majority of American libraries are incredibly depressing. I left my neighborhood library yesterday afternoon, wanting both to organize an immediate book drive to supplement their sad little shelves and to never step foot in there ever again.
I can, of course, work my way to the top and revitalize the institution (new computers! Magazines that don’t smell like urine! Bestsellers from the last five years!) but that seems like so much work. Especially when all I really wanted was to crawl between the welcoming stacks and occassionally read aloud to some five year olds.
The problem with picking something to do is, yes, you want it to be something you like but you also don’t want your “career” to actually destroy the thing you used to enjoy in your spare time. Like cooking. I could be a restaurant manager, I’d be an amazing restaurant manager, but then would I shudder at the thought of ever eating in a restaurant again? Knowing full well what’s going on back there? If I go to cooking school, would I soon turn up my nose at things I still love, like the Nachos Bel Grande from Taco Bell? I don’t want to get to the point where I feel like all I can eat is fresh pecorino cheese and a few salted olives, everything else is sub par GET IT OUT OF MY SIGHT.
I’d be so irritating, beyond insufferable. I’d have Ina Garten’s pantry without her superb Hampton gays.
I used to worry about that when it came to writing my book- would writing my book destroy my love of reading? Especially when I discovered I actually needed to stop reading fiction while writing, lest I subconsciously mimic the novelist’s style, a bad habit of mine. I finished my book two weeks ago with a lump in my throat, carefully weighing the borrowed novel in my hand, suddenly free to read again and racked with doubt. What if I can’t read it? What if I can’t climb inside this book like I used to? What if I just stay outside of it, critical and self-effacing? I couldn’t imagine a life without books and a life with only the books I’d written myself seemed just so small and awful.
The answer is- yes, I can read again but something has changed and, actually, it was my trip to the library yesterday that shone a light on my new relationship with books. I had already picked two books, one on copyrights and one on St. Croix where I’m heading in a few weeks, and now wavered over the fiction shelves. I must’ve looked crazy. I picked up one of Alice Munro’s books and put it back, walked away and walked back about a dozen times, completely unsure of whether or not I should get it. Has there ever been so much indecision over a free library book?
Still, I wanted it but couldn’t make myself take it home. Alice Munro is too good. I’d read her selection of short stories and feel inferior, feel my own little novel shrink back and whimper, “Don’t look at me, I’m hideous.” And it wasn’t just the “literature.” I actually did the same thing with a Nora Roberts paperback. I’m serious when I say I picked it up and put it down about five times. I looked like I had OCD, I need to touch this old, worn romance novel a dozen times before I leave this dirty library. The old man in the Large Print section looked at me with pity, like I’d just wandered away from my asylum or something. Poor dear.
And yet… yet, I read the borrowed novel, the one already in my house. And I enjoyed it, was able to lose myself in it completely, just like always. So the indecision at the library was completely unsettling. I don’t know what it means. Does it mean I can only read things that just show up in my house? That people shove into my hands or drop into my mail box? Will I ever be able to buy or borrow a book on my own accord? It’s times like these that I really wish I could just call old Nora up and ask her. “Is this normal? What do I do? How do I get past this?”
Until then, if someone would like to send me a book to read, I am all for it. And if you happen to see a person at your neighbor bookstore in a heated argument with herself as she picks up books and puts them down and picks them up again, muttering to herself and looking insane, do not be afraid of her. Go up to her and politely ask her if you could read the book she’s just written herself. It’ll make a world of difference, I promise.