The First “Un-iversary” of My Little Free Library

On July 24, 2019, with the help of my husband, I fulfilled a dream that I had had for many years. I was able to place a little free library in front of my house. It was an exciting moment, because books mean a great deal to me, and literacy means even more. By providing this service, I felt as though I was doing something very significant for my community.

For the uninitiated, little free libraries are boxes placed in communities and filled with books. You take a book, but you don’t necessarily have to return it (which is often the case in my library). You can also donate books for others to enjoy.

These libraries are great for those who don’t have the time or ability to go to a public library. They’re particularly effective in areas of high foot traffic. In my neighborhood, they seem to be used most by parents who are taking their children for a walk. It’s hard to keep children’s books in my library. And that gratifies me a great deal, because children who read become adults who read, and adults who read are more intelligent, and develop the critical thinking skills that are necessary to have a positive impact on society at large.

I don’t think I quite realized how much fun I would have in this endeavor. We have no neighbors right next door. It’s not a pop-in-and-borrow-a-cup-of-sugar kind of community. So I wasn’t expecting this magical little box to do so much to make me feel connected to the people in my area.

Now, when people see me watering the plants in the front yard, they say hello. If they are walking down the street and they see me pulling out of my driveway, they point at the library and shout a thank you. I have a log book in my library, and they leave the most gratifying notes. They talk about how much they enjoyed this or that book. They ask for books of a certain genre, and I do my best for them. They tell me about the books they’ve donated. They thank me for being an easy source of reading material for people who don’t have cars and can’t easily get to the public library. All these things bring tears to my eyes.

Unfortunately, due to this pandemic, I felt it was necessary to temporarily shut down my library. I didn’t want to. I really struggled with the concept. But in the end, I knew that doing the responsible thing takes precedence over doing what feels good.

This, for me, has been the hardest part of this pandemic. And I’ve been told by more than one passerby that it has been hard for them, too. In fact, they have begged me to reopen.

So we’ve decided to do so on a trial basis, with certain precautions. We have added a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a sign asking patrons to use it before touching anything. We’ve also removed the logbook, pens, rubber duckies, and bookmark giveaways. This breaks our hearts, but safety first.

I worry about the health of everyone in the neighborhood, but as tensions and boredom and temperatures are rising, and morale is at an all time low, I feel as though our little library is needed now more than ever. I hope that all of us have learned enough about safe behavior during this pandemic to treat the library safely and responsibly.

So there you have it. Today was supposed to be an anniversary celebration. I was thinking balloons and bookmark giveaways and cookies and a table with an even wider selection of titles. Instead, it has turned into an un-iversary, because we were closed for about 1/4th of the year, and we really can’t have a big fete.

All of this has me longing for better, healthier days. But it reminds me that it really is possible to make a difference. And that, in these chaotic, unpredictable times, is something to hold onto.

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Tsundoku

I learned a new word today, thanks to this article. Tsundoku (not the be confused with the number puzzle sudoku) is the Japanese word for the acquiring of reading materials, followed by letting them pile up and subsequently never reading them.

Now, who among us isn’t either guilty of that ourselves, or at least knows someone who is? It’s a tragedy. When I think of all the trees that have been converted into expensive paperweights in this manner, it makes me want to weep.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge proponent of reading. I absolutely love books. What I really hate is stuff. Accumulation. It’s just too much. That’s why I adore libraries. I can always lay my hands on any book I want. I just don’t have to store it myself. I can’t think of a more amazing service to provide the public.

Somewhere in Missouri are about 50 boxes of books, moldering away in a storage shed. They are my inheritance from my late sister. The one thing we had in common was a love of reading. But I don’t know what she was thinking. I couldn’t afford to ship them all from there to here if my life depended on it. And where would I put them? One of these days I’m going to have to fly out there and donate them to a library or sell them to a used book store or something. Meanwhile they just sit there, occupying space and entertaining no one. What a hassle. What a shame.

I guess you might say I suffer from Tsundoku by proxy.

pile-of-books

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Reading Your Way to Success

Recently, I blogged about the Little Free Library that I put out in front of my house. It’s been an amazing experience so far. I love seeing the books disappear. I love the positive feedback. I love knowing that people get as excited about reading as I do, and I really love making that possible for them.

The most unexpected thing about the whole experience is that I’ve been struggling to keep children’s books on the shelves. They vanish almost as quickly as I put them out there, and they rarely if ever come back. But to me, that’s good. Kids love to read books over and over and over again. The whole point of this library is to encourage reading, not for me to become the book police. It’s not about the inventory. It’s about the adventure.

Fortunately, I know how to ask for help when I’m struggling. I visited a Unitarian Universalist Church near me one Sunday, and during a period when people are allowed to make announcements, I mentioned my library and my need of children’s books.

The minute the service was over, I was approached by an elementary school teacher, and since then he has provided me with a huge box full of books, and he says there will be plenty more where that came from. Yay! Elementary classroom teachers, and their school libraries, are always rotating out their inventories. He’s now my children’s book source. He was even more enthusiastic about it when he realized my little library probably services students from his school, as we’re only about a mile and a half apart.

He and I are definitely on the same page about this: Reading is the most important skill a person can have. According to this article,

The benefits of leisure reading are enormous:

  • Readers do better in all subjects including science, math, history and civics

  • Provides higher verbal ability and better college readiness and success

  • School work is easier for readers–readers are more likely to stay in school

  • Stronger civic and cultural engagement including volunteering and voting

  • Leads to better workplace readiness and performance

  • Reading is a deep source of joy and curiosity

  • It increases our imagination, creativity, empathy and understanding

As Dana Gioia, former-Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, put it a few years ago, “If I could only know one number about a kid at 18 that would predict how successful he’d be in life, it would be his reading proficiency.”

So I’m very grateful to have found this teacher, and I’m thrilled to assist him in his goal to help children experience the joy of reading.

He heard my plea and came to my aid, so it’s only fair that I spread the word about his plea as well. His school, and all elementary schools, need volunteers who are willing to listen to children read. That sort of thing may not seem like a big deal to you or me, but lending an encouraging ear to a child can do wonders for his or her self-esteem, and it can create enthusiasm for reading.

This kind of volunteerism can be tedious, but it’s so important. You have to be willing to make it a positive, enjoyable experience, not a pressure-inducing disciplinary tool. (This could be the perfect job for a lonely, yet sharp-minded senior!)

Check out this article if you’re interested in learning more about it, and then reach out to a school near you. They sure could use your time, and the child involved would be getting the chance to read his or her way to success. What a gift!

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When Did I Stop Looking Around?

I have been missing the luxurious act of cuddling up with a good book. I think doing this is important for my mental health. So instead of waiting for an opportune time, I decided to make time. And as with potato chips, I couldn’t stop. That first day I read for about 5 straight hours. It was wonderful. (For those bibliophiles out there, I’m reading The Feather Thief, by Kirk Wallace Johnson. Highly recommended!)

It was wonderful, that is, until the eye strain kicked in. Ugh, what a miserable feeling. I finally had to stop and rest my eyes for several hours. I wouldn’t have had this problem if I had bothered to look at something in the distance every once in a while. But I was too busy book-binging to even consider that.

You’d think my eyes would be used to this brutal treatment. I’m constantly staring at a computer screen or at my phone. Looking up and away every now and again should come naturally. It used to. In fact, I started writing this blog based on the things I would see while gazing out the window at work.

When did I stop looking around? When did my world become so compact? What have I been missing, just a few yards away from the end of my nose?

More and more, we all walk past each other, our tiny little horizons barely intersecting. There’s so much out there that we no longer see. Our world has shrunk, and yet we are under the illusion that it has expanded as we zoom through cyberspace. But when’s the last time you fed a bird? How many rainbows have you missed?

Look up, dear reader, look up! (Well, finish checking out my blog first. But then, look up!)

Look up

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Book Withdrawal

Recently I stayed up until 4 am, catching up on season 2 of The Orville, eating junk food, and playing sudoku on my phone. I just didn’t feel like going to bed. And I’m a grown up, so I get to make these stupid decisions. Naturally, I regretted it when the alarm went off, but hey, that’s life.

I have many fond memories of making that same stupid decision, only the activity in question was a really good book. I haven’t read a book in a long time. Nobody told me that married life and just day-to-day life would be so busy. No regrets at all about being married, but I do miss reading books.

I long to encase myself in flannel, hunker down in a comfy bed with a warm dog, and lose myself in another place and time. And no, the book can’t be on kindle, either. No glowing screen allowed. It has to be a cozy, heavy, substantial thing of print and binding. A dog-eared, page-stained, dusty old tome. That’s what I want. Yeah.

It’s not that I’ve stopped reading entirely, of course. I spend the bulk of my day either writing this blog or reading various and sundry articles on the web. But that doesn’t feed my need.

From childhood into my late thirties, I pretty much carried a book with me wherever I went. Books were my security blankets. They were my shields against the chaos of the world. They were how I blocked out the dysfunction of my home life.

I have no idea when or how I stopped carrying a book everywhere I went. I suspect it was about the time I got a laptop. And while I do love my lappy, I sometimes wish I could go back to being that book-nosed girl that I used to be, if only for a little while.

I’d love to see some book recommendations in the comments below!

books

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Time Travel Exists

I don’t know why there is any debate on this subject. Time travel exists. Anyone who reads or even daydreams experiences it several times a day.

We go places. I have been to the middle ages. I’ve experienced foreign lands in other times. I’ve met people long gone. I have my jet pack, and have used it more than once, believe you me.

I have seen Mount Vesuvius erupt. I have been at ground zero for the first atomic bomb and for the last. I’ve witnessed the birth of Christ and the deaths of kings. I remember when dodo birds weren’t extinct. I have visited the first colony on mars.

The thing people seem to be so upset about regarding time travel is that they don’t get to bring their bodies along, and they don’t get to arrogantly meddle in time lines.

To that I say, tourists can always find something to whine about. Get over it. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

time machine

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The Curse of Summer Vacations

Holy moly, it got up to 88 degrees here the other day. If I were back in Florida, I’d be thanking my lucky stars for that nice, cool respite. Here in Seattle, the land of no air conditioners, 88 degrees is pure, unadulterated hell. It’s really hard to sleep when it’s that hot. People start getting cranky and acting crazy. Welcome to summer.

When I was a kid, I used to long for summer. I’d daydream about summer vacation while sitting at my school desk. (I daydreamed quite a bit. I was usually about a dozen lessons ahead of my classmates.) School was tedious for me. I could have moved much faster along my academic path if I didn’t have to drag all that dead weight behind me.

So summer vacation, for me, meant freedom. It was a time of lightening my load. It was my idea of Shangri-la.

I have absolutely no idea why I felt that way. The reality of summer never fit with my fantasies. I came from a hard working, very poor family. It’s not like we summered in the Hamptons or something. My mother had to work. If we went anywhere, we rarely went far, and we didn’t stay for long.

The reality of summer for me was lots and lots and lots of horrible daytime television, interspersed with the escape of library books, and naps. Blessed naps to break up the suffocating boredom. Often by the end of summer I was sleeping all day and watching TV all night.

It’s a wonder I didn’t lose my mind. Maybe I did. Because as soon as school started back up again, I would revert back to counting the days until the next summer vacation. It took me years to stop looking forward with miserable longing. Now is where it’s at, baby.

summer vacation

Are You Reading This Aloud?

Recently I stumbled upon a scholarly controversy that I didn’t even know was a thing up to that point. Apparently some researchers doubt that people used to read silently before the middle ages. Several books and articles have been written on the subject.

There seem to be two arguments for this theory. The first is a quote by St. Augustine, in which he complains about visiting Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and upon entering the room, Ambrose continued to silently read. St. Augustine makes much ado about this, and some interpret this as shock at such unusual behavior, i.e. reading silently. On the other hand, other scholars interpret this to mean that St. Augustine was shocked at Ambrose’s rudeness. I tend to agree with this interpretation, having taken the time to visit people myself, only to have them distracted by the television, the computer, the newspaper, texts, etc. It’s just plain rude to ignore a visitor. I suspect that is a timeless concept.

The other argument is that before the middle ages, the vast majority of texts were written in what’s called scriptura continua. In other words, there were no spaces between words. Talk about your compound words! Howwouldyouliketoreadanentirebookinthischallengingformat?

The argument here is that people did not read silently back then because with scriptura continua, it was impossible to do so. To this I say poppycock. Did you not just read that sentence above silently? I did. Yes, it’s a bit of a struggle. Yes, it’s slow going, but it can be done.

Another reason that I think people read silently is that I’ve read out loud to someone before, and it’s a pain in the behind. After a while, your mouth gets dry. And after that, your voice becomes strained and hoarse. And it takes effort not to reduce your reading to a boring monotone. It’s no fun to read aloud. These physiological truths would have been equally true in ancient times.

And monks, who were well known readers, sometimes took vows of silence. I don’t care how religious you are, doing nothing but your chores during times like those would have made it seem like an eternity. I bet they read, just as they wrote, silently. They were accustomed to listening to internal voices.

Also, we know that libraries existed as far back as 2600 BC. Can you imagine what an unwelcoming din there would be if people were sitting around in a library, each reading a different cuneiform tablet, aloud? Nonsense.

I’m convinced people have read silently for as long as writing has existed. On the other hand, did they read aloud more often than we do now? I’m convinced of that as well, for many reasons. But reading aloud because you want or need to is completely different than reading aloud because you’re incapable of reading silently, or because it has never occurred to you.

First of all, literacy was less common then than it is now. If you have a group of people wanting to hear the news or be entertained by a good story, and the vast majority of them can’t read, then, yes, someone read to them.

Second, books were relatively rare and expensive. Even if you have an entire household of avid readers, if there’s only one book to share between you, then, again, someone would have to do the reading, or else you had to wait your turn.

Third, lighting was at a premium. The average household was lucky to have a candle or two. So it stands to reason that one person might “hog” the light and read to others.

There is a related theory that reading alone in bed was considered highly controversial at one time. What were you reading? Erotica? Why else did you need to be lying down and alone to do it? What wicked, wicked thoughts were you having that they couldn’t be shared? Gasp! Scandalous!

Now that theory, I’ll buy. Freedom of thought goes hand in hand with reading, and such freedom always has been controversial. I bet you didn’t realize you were a revolutionary, did you?

Thanks for reading!

Ephesus_Celsus_Library_Façade
The ruins of the Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey. I’ve been there. I was in awe.

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My Voice

I had a fascinating conversation with some old friends recently. I’ve known them for 10 years in the virtual world of Second Life. We hang out a couple times a week, but in all that time I’ve never heard their actual voices. All our communication is via text.

Am I alone in this? When I read something, I “hear” what I’m reading inside my head. I’ve always done that.

But the other day, for the first time, it occurred to me that when I read what these two friends type, I have different inner voices for each of them. Based on their personalities, my mind has created a kind and gentle voice for one, and a straightforward, practical, no-nonsense voice for the other. Fascinating.

So naturally, I asked what my “voice” sounds like to them. I was really surprised by the answer. They said it doesn’t sound like my blog.

That’s intriguing. I think of this blog as me on a screen. I’ve taken pride in laying myself bare and being honest and vulnerable here. But my friends say that in my blog I sound like a strong positive woman, and when I talk to them, I’m more fragile.

Hmm… Yeah, I can see that. Since I write my entries several days in advance, I have plenty of time for multiple revisions. That means by the time my posts reach you, I’ve edited out a lot of the craziness, impulsiveness, negativity, and basic hysteria. (Yeah, I know. Hard to believe.) I think that makes the blog infinitely more readable, but perhaps it also makes it less “me”.

But when all is said and done, that’s the definition of true friendship, isn’t it? Someone who sees the unedited version of you, warts and all, and loves you anyway.

I’m a very lucky person.

voice

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The Best Book You’ve Never Read

No, this is NOT a cheap attempt to get you to buy my book, although I’d love it if you would. Actually, I do manage to raise my gaze from my navel every now and again to read the writing of others. That’s how I came across this rare treat.

The Scottish Buddhist Cookbook is by Jay Craig, a new coworker of mine. It’s quirky and irreverent and hilarious on the order of David Sedaris. You get an insight into Jay’s world. He’s bipolar, and clearly many of his life choices have been made during the manic times, but he’s all the more charming for it. His coping skills, when he chooses to employ them, are really amazing. He has a very eclectic group of friends, and he is accepting of all their eccentricities because he knows he has his fair share.

What I love most about this book, aside from the frequent laughs, is that I learned so much from it. After reading it, I could build my own bagpipe from plumbing supplies if the spirit moved me. I also learned about the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, the ultimate way to give an ex-wife closure, kilts, Huggy Jesus dolls, how NOT to break out of a mental health facility, hoarders, and, obviously, Scottish Buddhism.

Best of all, interspersed with the fascinating anecdotes is the quintessential single male’s recipe book. Easy things, mostly for crock pots, that are guaranteed to harden your arteries in no time flat. I can’t wait to try the meatloaf, the pot roast, the lasagna, and the carnitas. However, the double deep fried Scottish eggs might be slightly beyond my skill set.

Fair warning: the language can be a bit foul at times, and if you are the least bit religiously sensitive, you might want to give this book a pass. It’s not for the easily offended. Personally, I found it equal parts funny and thought provoking. I’m not sure I’d want to live full time in Jay’s world, but it’s an awfully fun place to visit!

book

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