Sunday, March 17, 2013

In praise of public libraries

So, I'm a small government guy; the government that governs the least, governs best...or something like that.  But I have to say one of the services provided by government that is greatly under appreciated by many is the public library system.  I'm a voracious reader, consuming books by the gross and the Missus is probably even more so.  She is the only person I know who can watch TV, have her laptop open and a game of mahjong going on it and have a book open in her hand while she reads it!

I frequently see a book reviewed in the newspaper (did I mention that we subscribe to two newspapers also?) that appeals to me and instead of buying it I request it from our local library systems.  Yes, I said systems.  We have a city library system and a county library system!  Double the chances to get the book!  This doesn't help the author of the book sell copies but it helps me read it because I couldn't afford to buy them all.  We even get electronic 'books' for our Nook readers.  I must say I enjoy a book printed on paper but the Nook is convenient for reading while eating except when I spill food or drink on the Nook.

I like to browse the new book section at the library and check some books out that look interesting.  I've found some great authors that way and wait eagerly for each new book that the author publishes.  The library helps me when I stumble on an author that has been publishing for decades; I can request the books going back to the beginning.  Recently I went on a Neville Shute kick and read every book he had published from first to last.  What a great author and storyteller!

I have also read a book on a subject that then leads me to find books that feature a person or events discussed in the first.  Three examples:  I pulled a book off of the shelf at the library about East Prussia.  East Prussia?  How could that be interesting?  It was fascinating and told the tale of a region and a society that no longer exists and was brutally destroyed by the invading Soviet army in 1945.  In the narrative it mentioned a woman, a member of the landed gentry, who fled the Soviets on her horse and made an epic 400 mile ride in winter, through fighting, air attacks, brigands, chaos and anarchy to end up in western Germany and to survive while losing everything she owned.  She wrote her own book of growing up in East Prussia and her war experiences which I read and found equally fascinating.   Another book about a Dutch Jew and his family who fled the German invasion of Holland in 1940 and escaped to the Dutch East Indies only to be captured by the Japanese and put to work on the death railway and the bridge over the river Kwai led me to another book written by the woman he later married and her parallel story of a Dutch Jew evading the Germans and surviving until the end of the war while her family was taken to concentration camps and killed.  Last example:  The recent biography of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) "Hero" which I requested from the library mentioned a fiction book of the same period called "Greenmantle" and referred to it as the arch typical book of derring-do and secret spy adventures.  I was curious and requested it from the library.  I'm reading it now, and it is a cracking good adventure tale, written in the '20s and is a great find.

Support your public library and read!  The world is open to you through its books.

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