Not only have I been known to occasionally air my views on books, literary fiction or otherwise, I tend to read a lot of them. And cereal boxes, and signs, and magazines, and… This all goes toward saying, as a (somewhat) indiscriminate reader, I’m an excellent public library patron — I can always find more reading material than I need, and can use ILL for anything more academic that my local library doesn’t carry. Reading a lot of different things also went a long way towards making me a fairly decent librarian, since people tended to come in asking for a lot of different things.
I appear also to be raising a new indiscriminate reader (which has led to some embarrassing situations in supermarket checkout lines with Cosmo prominently displayed, let me tell you). I think that this is a Good Thing. It also makes libraries a fairly easy sell; like Ryan Deschamps’ son, mine goes to the library weekly. He grabs greedy stacks of books, and knows that this is where we go to find things out. He meets his information needs there (lately: lions, the human digestive system, flags of the world) while also getting his Junie B. Jones and 101 Dalmations fix.
It baffles me to see articles like David Isaacson’s “Don’t Just Read — Read Good Books” in the December American Libraries (p43). Which I’d point to for you, but ebrary isn’t so friendly that way; it also tries to copy/paste across two columns, so any typos in the following quote are solely mine:
But I question the argument that libraries should go out of their way to acquire romance novels, thrillers, and other literature whose primary purpose is escape and titillation….I do care that patrons are readers rather than nonreaders. But why set our goals so low? Literacy is better than illiteracy, but discriminating readers are ever so much better than undiscriminating ones.
(Isaacson would probably get along great with Sheila Kohler…) But anyway, better than? Oy. First, let’s work on the obvious lesson: attack behavior, not people, folks. But beyond that, how does one learn what “good” literature is other than by having a broad basis for comparison? I’m perfectly aware that some books are more well-written than others, some are more evocative of their times than others, some appear at the right time to influence minds and public discussion. But dragging out the tired old argument against genre fiction, some of which, by the way, offers a framework for some of the most imaginative writing going, attacks both public libraries and the people that they serve — the people who offer a reason for libraries to exist in the first place. By encouraging my son to read broadly — and to enjoy literature whose “primary purpose is escape and titillation” (there’s really no other excuse for Junie B.), I’m also encouraging him to become a lifelong library user, and to learn that books are where you turn for both information and entertainment. With any luck, he’ll keep it up into adulthood, maybe even reading a thriller or two — or Harry Potter! — along the way.
I just renewed my nonresident public library card for $205. $205! you say — well, let’s do the math. I spend $14.99/month for my two-at-a-time Netflix subscription, watching around 10 DVDs/month at ~$1.50 each. I visit the library weekly and check out around 20 items each time, costing me about $.20/each. (This doesn’t account for children’s programs, summer reading prizes, and other benefits.) That’s a pretty good ROI, not to mention that I’m pretty happy with that $205 going to fund a public service for everyone else.
On a related note, my book club just read The Book That Changed My Life. It’s the sort of thing I probably would have leafed through but never finished otherwise; a number of the authors, most writers themselves, seemed too self-aware, as if it were an interview question they’d answered one too many times. Quite a few of them (I’m sure to Isaacson’s delight) identified one classic or another as inspiring them to become a writer.
The book that changed my life, back in the dismal mid-80s? Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, which I still re-read every few years. Yes, genre fiction. And they’re making a movie!