Somebody once said that if you don't read you can't write.
It might have been Stephen King. Or maybe it was the first Mesopotamian consultant originally assigned the task of coming up with cuneiform (the one they fired). Whoever it was, I'm not sure if he was referring to literacy in general (walk before you run) or if he was suggesting that you have to stay current with market trends and expand your horizons if you expect to produce a competitive novel. The latter idea sounds like more work, so it's probably what he meant.
To that end, I have a billion scraps of paper bearing titles or the names of authors that I assume I can't live without reading sooner or later. It would cost a small fortune to purchase all these books, many of which (especially those by Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, or Pamela Anderson Lee) I find that I hate passionately.
That is why, in theory, I love going to the library.
Sadly, I am a mommy. That means reality is never that simple.
"Library days" begin for me at the crack of dawn. I get up early and put Lillian's clothes on. Then I try to find her library books. Then I try to find the scraps of paper containing my must-reads and discover that Lillian has taken her clothes off. I put her clothes back on, continue to look unsuccessfully for the scraps, discover that I am still missing that classic children's book "Clifford the Damn Red Dog", and emerge from under the couch with book in hand to the sound of breaking glass and a surprised child holding the remains of some family heirloom or another. I clean up great-great-grandmother's wedding china, or whatever irreplaceable trinket has been left within reach most recently, put clothes BACK ON THE BABY, find ONE SCRAP OF PAPER with the words, "lose farm, move to Bay Area - angry grapes? Authors name sounds like 'beer stein'" on it and find that we have missed lunch and I must get started on cooking dinner.
There was actually one day last month where I managed to get Lillian clothed, get our books and get out the door before sunset. On the way through the front yard to get to the car, Lillian became distracted by the garden hose. Sighing, I went to put the books in the car while she filled up first her little plastic wheelbarrow, and then the water fountain.
Ready to put her in her car seat, I turned around to call to her.
Lillian looked up from the water fountain and took a step backwards to extricate herself from the garden hose. Being two (or perhaps being biologically related to me), she forgot completely about her toy wheelbarrow, which just happened to be one step behind her. And full of fresh, cold water.
Down she sat in it, saturating her diaper and pants.
Out flailed the little arms and legs in shock. Out tumbled the baby, tipping the wheelbarrow with her. Out poured the mini-wheelbarrow full of water, all over Lillian, completely saturating the rest of her clothes.
Back into the house to get her dressed all over again.
By the time I finally get my naked (again) baby and most of our (now) overdue library books down to the library, I usually find that because it is a small branch, everyone in Ripon has already been there that day and all that is left on the shelves are fifteen copies of Jude Devereaux romances and two more copies of "Clifford the Damn Red Dog".
Now to Lillian, this is a fine turn of events. As far as she is concerned, any book written before "Clifford" was just practice and anything written afterwards was just a waste of time. So we usually check out another copy of "Clifford" for her and ol' Jude's "Heaving Bosoms of Lust" and the sequel, "Cooper's Droop of Passion" for me. At least we both already know how we will feel about our selections.
Having a small branch library isn't a problem with the smallest amount of foresight. All I have to do is hop onto the county library system website and I can request whatever I like to be sent here. They'll even email me when it's in. But, as I said before, that would require foresight.
Typically, I end up walking out of the library with Clifford and Jude under one arm and an empty glass bottle in the other. I put one of my scraps of paper with a title or author on it into the bottle and then throw it as far as I can. It is my hope that it will wash ashore at the Stockton main branch library, but I'll settle for the broken glass tacking my note between the wheel treads of a passing SUV and being carried to Manteca, where if I am lucky, someone will find "Please send the farming book about angry grapes to Ripon" and hand it to a librarian.
So far my system doesn't seem to work as well as requesting the book via the library website, but that's okay. Getting Lillian ready to go to the library doesn't give me much time to read books anymore.
Comments and titles of books about angry fruit to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin in the Saturday, September 25, 2004 issue.