I want a book.
Okay, truthfully, I want many books. Anyone who Reads (capital R necessary) never wants just one. For this exercise, I’m going to pick one. Maybe I’ve had my eye on it since I saw its author talk about its release on Twitter. Maybe I watched a movie or television adaptation and I want to learn more about the source. Maybe there’s a TV show coming out and I want to reread the source. Maybe I was just skimming along and the summary grabbed me. The source is different, the intensity of the want may vary, but the yearning is always the same.
I want a book, and I almost never have the means to buy it or borrow it immediately. Money for book buying doesn’t really exist. I live in the second-largest population center in the state, but its population is sparse and on the older, whiter side of things. I want queer literature. I want SFFH. I want authors of color. They want mysteries.
If the book isn’t in the library, I put it in the requests area and hope for the best. I’m not terrible at requesting books the library is inclined to get, but there are still several covers that have been there for months and will probably be there for months more, if not longer. I will look at them and pine every now and then, but I try to keep my expectations realistic.
When the book is in the library—more importantly for an agoraphobic person who can’t drive, when it’s in ebook form—that’s when the game begins.
Sometimes, the book is only in audiobook form, or the ebook has a wait while the audiobook doesn’t. That’s when I really start to ask: how much do I want this book? I read fast when text is involved, in little pockets of my day. Short audiobooks are doable, if challenging. My day is text and children, and those are two spheres that don’t allow for leisurely listening when I need to pay close attention. Long audiobooks…all other hobbies and non-essential tasks have go by the wayside for the better part of a month.
Often, when there is an ebook, there’s a wait. A week or two isn’t bad.
A month, or more…
My hometown was small enough that I didn’t realize libraries could have multiple branches in a single city when I was a kid. Said town was big enough that the one library it did have was large, considering, but a place like the New York Public Library would have blown my tiny child mind. As I grew older and visited branches in the larger city to the north, the idea was fuzzy, but it was there. You could live in a place, have a library close to you, and have other libraries in the same town if you wanted a change of pace.
The state as a whole has an interlibrary loan system. This, again, was something I knew academically because of signs in the library. It was rare that I would search a book on the computer’s card catalog, find it was only in a tiny library most of a day’s drive away, and still want it. How many books were worth bothering people for? The wait wasn’t what bothered me—back in the days before Twitter and Netflix, my attention span was much better—but the idea of making librarians work harder to get a book to me. The one time I spilled milk on a library book, I was mortified and upset for weeks.
Thanks to my mom, who still lives there, I know my hometown library system still doesn’t have an ebook system. The economics of such are complicated, and a smaller place probably can’t justify the cost or the headaches. I moved north with my sister, and my library possibilities expanded dramatically.
But with more options came more hunger.
I watched a lot of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown months after his death. Getting perspective on little-seen places around the world with a great narration and amazing-looking food…what’s not to love? People shortly after his death talked about his voice in particular, in conjunction with his writing, and I figured I would check out Kitchen Confidential and see how it worked for me.
The library had Kitchen Confidential in its ebook circulation. It also had a newer book, with a shorter wait. I put both in my holds and went back to watching Netflix.
Weeks passed. I started a reread of the Wheel of Time series, since my hold for Eye of the World came in. The 10-year anniversary of Twilight’s release happened—the movie, I believe—so I had my mom bring my copy to me. I was plotting a story for NaNoWriMo, my long-awaited hold for Sharp Objects came in…
…and that was when the library gave me two Anthony Bourdain books to read, within a week of each other.
I made some decent progress on the newer one. It wasn’t bad. Not super into the fat-shaming elements, but there were gems that rang the same bells for me that the show did. But the yearning had receded, and the second book checking out killed it altogether. I returned them both, unfinished.
To put effective holds in the library, you need to know two things well: the library, and yourself. But “the library”, in this instance, isn’t a building or the people who staff it; it’s an app created by people who have never been to your physical library locations, and it’s the people who check out all the books.
There is no way to know the library because you have to know each specific individual in line in front of you. What are their tastes? Their reading style, their speed? The max time to have a book is universal, and people can’t renew, but counting the people in front of you and counting the max possible time will do you no good. Sometimes, if the demand is high, the library will purchase more copies, the one time the staff really comes into play. Most times, people read faster or return things partially read or unread. I can receive a hold tomorrow, or I can receive it in three weeks.
I do know myself, however, and I know three things: I am reasonably patient, and I am broke, but I am also very busy. If I get too much at once, I have to carve time in my day for the books. Feeling resentful that I can’t fit everything I do in my day kills the passion, the fire. I have a hard time getting past first chapters at the best of times.
Believe it or not, though, this is improvement. It used to be I would get books, realize I wasn’t in the place to read them, and beat myself up for it. You have this opportunity now, and you’re wasting it. You’re a terrible reader, a terrible writer (for a writer reads constantly when they’re not writing, didn’t you know), and you’re letting your fellow writers down. You’re letting your library down. You’re letting yourself down.
Now, it’s “ugh, will I ever be better at placing holds”, but relative resignation and quick return. It isn’t despair; half my loans do get finished. It’s the idea that a book to be read takes up space in the back of my head that I always desperately need, and maybe the person behind me in line could use the book more than I could.
Very occasionally, when I have the resources, I’ll buy a book. Usually it’s an ebook, because it’s simpler to carry around a library in a small device than it is to cart around the four books I’m reading at once, but sometimes it’s paper. Sometimes, I get the book exactly when I need it, and it’s devoured within hours or days. Sometimes, when that happens, I love the book. There is no purer bliss, no greater satisfaction than that.
More often, when a book is purchased, it sits around for a long time. I almost always get to them eventually. My patience is infinite when I can plan times to try a book, set it aside if I’m not quite in the mood for it, and plan to try it again. Most of my paper books don’t even live with me; I have little room, so they sit in a bookcase at my mom’s. It’s an interstate library of my very own, for the moment. Knowing my Kindle library or my old room at home have experiences tucked away for later isn’t quite the joy that the right book at the right time is, but it’s occasionally flashes of warmth.
Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy good book timing. And isn’t that the same thing, in the end?
In the meantime—and for always, I hope, even if I have the money for a larger personal collection—I have the library. Getting a book on hold at the right time isn’t quite as easy as buying a book when you have the money, but it is sublime and worth every single hold returned unread.
Maybe, in a couple months, Anthony Bourdain will make his way back onto my holds. In the meantime, I have Sharp Objects to read.