Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Book Reveals Its Past

Today began with an unusual sight at 8 a.m.: Me getting up before 11, continuing from yesterday when I had to get up at 7 a.m. in order to get to a required CPR certification course by 9. Now that I've got the certification, I can schedule my job interview and soon begin work.

But there was something more unusual than that, at least to this still-new Las Vegas resident, though it's pretty much an average day in Las Vegas. After Dad and I went to Dunkin' Donuts to get three Everything bagels (for him, me, and Mom) and one blueberry bagel (for Meridith), we went to the Smith's that's in the same shopping center as the Chinese counter service restaurant we like, and Las Vegas Athletic Club, to get cream cheese, cereal (which turned out to be Honey Nut Chex), and a few other things. In the bottled juice aisle, where gallons of water are at the end of the aisle facing the pharmacy, I saw a thin older guy who had the hair, the sideburns, the exact glasses, the boot-cut jeans, and the boots. With him was a woman who had the blazing red hair, the hat, the sunglasses, the white outfit. If you merely glanced, you could have sworn that Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret were shopping together. I don't know if he was an impersonator. I didn't ask. I only gawked. I don't know if they were here for the National Finals Rodeo, which started on December 5 at the Thomas & Mack Center, ends on December 15, and has engulfed the entire city, with country music acts and comedians come to perform, casinos offering all kinds of deals for cowboys and other rodeo attendees. It's one of our biggest events of the year because of how much money it brings into the city.

Being that they were getting a few groceries, I also thought that they might live here. Where else would a guy who looks like Elvis get steady work? But imagine that: A thin Elvis and Ann-Margret living together in their later years. There's a story somewhere in there.

After a bagel lunch at home, and a long day out that included the library (I prefer going on Sundays. It's my temple), Target, Walmart, the 99 Cents Only store, and Church's Chicken to pick up dinner, we finally got home, where I could finish The Library Card by Jerry Spinelli, who became one of my favorite authors after I finished his Loser earlier today. I want to read everything else he's written, including Maniac Magee. About 10 minutes ago, I went to the bathroom on the far right end of the house, which belongs to me and Meridith, to put a new pack of wipes in the Huggies wipes container that ran out of Huggies wipes long ago, so we use it for the wipes we currently buy. The Library Card was stretched out like a pooped bird on the counter, since I was reading a bit more of it before I put in the new pack of wipes, and when I picked it up to put my bookmark back in, a piece of paper fell fast to the white tile floor. I picked it up, and found that The Library Card was giving its history to me.

It was a square piece of paper from one of the computer systems used to check out books at the Whitney branch. You place each book on the counter surface which sends the barcode into the computer and the book title appears on the screen. When you're done, you press "Sign Out" on the screen and a list of the items you checked out prints out. This particular square was from June 28, 2012 (Thursday) at 1:12 p.m., and lists this book, and "One juvenile paperback" and another "One juvenile paperback" as having been checked out, making for three books checked out. ("One juvenile paperback," in this case, is what appears when a book is too light on the counter surface to be read by the computer and appear as its title.)

These slips give no indication of how many books someone has checked out on their card. On my inches-long slip, it doesn't say that I have 50 items checked out (49 books and one three-disc Johnny Carson DVD set), nor does this square slip say how many books this kid has checked out. All that's clear is that these three books were due on July 19. I won't ever know what those other two juvenile paperbacks were, but I hope they were also Jerry Spinelli novels. Whether that kid went to the library only once a week or went twice a week or however many times, I hope he or she is still going there, still taking advantage of all the books that are offered, hopefully becoming a writer in the process. Whenever I see kids at the library, I always wonder who among them might become a writer and what they will offer the world in their words. I can't wait to read them, from whoever might write them.

I believe every book on the shelves at my library has history. While I can't possibly know every single piece of it, save for the cosmetic history sometimes (such as the cigarette smoke smell in the large-print Robyn Carr novels), I'm happy to have gotten a little extra from this Jerry Spinelli novel, to see where it's been, and to send it back out into the world next Sunday with my greatest hope that others pick it up and deeply immerse themselves in it as I have.

Books here have history. I've got to get used to that. Not even Subways are for Sleeping by Edmund G. Love, the only book I bought from the Los Angeles County library system because it had been with me for so long and I love it that much, had that kind of history, despite having been in that system for a few decades. I'm always tickled whenever I get a book on hold from the Boulder City library because of how much history is in that building. They're not afraid of taking care of old books over there and they're given the best of care there. Last Sunday, I picked up The Betsy by Harold Robbins (I want to read all his novels, after reading Sin City, which was written in the late Robbins' style by Junius Podrug, while waiting and waiting and waiting to move here back in April), which came from Boulder City, and the age is there. It's bulky, as would be expected from Robbins; it's a little loose, but it's still sturdy and dependable. All these years and the book has not fallen apart. They're not allowed to over there. They're always useful and they will always have a home there. This library even still has its library catalog with the cards!

I'm tempted to put this square slip back somewhere deep in the book for someone else to discover its history. Since it came from the Whitney branch, it'll be shelved right where it came from and I don't think the slip will drop out of it. But what happens with the next person? Will they put the slip back in or tear it up and throw it out? I was thinking of doing the same, but what good would that do? It only denies this book its history. It's 14 years old, and its pages are slightly yellowed, but aging pages do not prove the usefulness of a book. To me, its usefulness is measured by how much it has traveled, the little creases, the bent pages someone made to mark where they were, even the minor accidental stains. A book well-used is an important book.

Just now, I thought I had lost that square slip of paper, forgetting that I had already placed it back inside the book for someone else to discover, to see this book's history. I shook the pages and nothing fluttered out. I flipped through each page and found it cozily wedged in between pages 66 and 67. I can't put my own slip of paper in there because it's way too long. I don't think all the other books I checked out are important in this case anyway. But I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to cut out the listing on my slip for The Library Card, and place it somewhere else in the book. I want the next person to know that it has also lived on here in December. I want to place it between pages 20 and 21, since that's one of my favorite passages, but that's too early in it, and there wouldn't be enough weight on it from other pages. Wedging it in between pages 112 and 113 would be best, since it's when Sonseray, the homeless boy, walks into a library for the first time.

To me, books are sacred, and so are their journeys. When I send this one back out, it'll be loaded with its history. It has lived, future reader. And from that, it has strength enough to live for you. By reading it, you'll replenish its strength to be ready for the next reader, and so on. That's the kind of "chain" anything I can get behind.