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I Miss Going to the Library

            I used to go to the library at least once a week, to browse the videos, or check out new books, or pick up a few crossword puzzles from the research librarian’s desk. There was usually a book or two that had to go back to the library, or a book someone told me I had to read, and, once there, I could always find something on the recommended-book cart, or in the seasonal display where they set out books on different themes, like biographies of athletes for the Olympics, or scary stories for Halloween, or beach reads for the summer, or political thrillers for election day.

            But I haven’t been to the library since the world shut down in March. Sometime early in the summer, I think, my local library began to allow pick up and drop off of books: you could order a book online and they’d call when it was ready and schedule a time for you to pick it up. But I haven’t done that. At first I didn’t need any books, because I still had a pile of paperbacks that I had, coincidentally, ordered right before the shutdown (there was a mysteries series I was binging and I couldn’t find the earliest books in our local library system). But when those books ran out, I still didn’t think of browsing for library books online.

            I can’t seem to browse for fiction online. Non-fiction is easier, because I either know which author I want to read, or I’m looking for research books on a specific topic and my expectations for great art or entertainment are limited, especially because I read non-fiction a few pages at a time rather than in a binge, the way I tend to read fiction.

“Is fiction another word for chicken?”

            The other reason I didn’t go looking for books at the library is because I’ve been re-reading a lot of the books on my shelves for a while now, in an attempt to see which ones I don’t really need anymore, so that I can make room for new books. A project I thought would take a few months has turned into years, because to do the project justice, of course, I’ve had to re-read each book from beginning to end before deciding to let it go.

            Most of the fiction in my life lately comes in the form of movies and television, and that’s been fine, but at some point, I really will need my local library to open back up. I’ll need to wander past the shelves of books and let a cover catch my eye, or trigger my memory of an author I read years ago and lost track of. I’ll need to see a pile of books waiting to be shelved and remember a book I’ve long wanted to read and never got around to. I’ll need to see cover art to give me a hint about what kind of book the author, or her publisher, thinks she’s written. Is it a cozy mystery? An intellectual tome? A romance? A fantasy? Or maybe I’ll just be in a blue mood, and any book with a blue cover will suddenly glow at me and call out for my attention (I’ve found some really good surprises that way over the years, and a lot of crap too. It’s not a perfect system).

“Can I eat your book now?”

            There’s something to be said for having a book with a time limit. A two-week book has to be read right away, even if you have a lot of work to do, which gives the reading more urgency and importance. A pile of three- or four-week books feels like a luxury at first, but then starts to cause anxiety and turns into an emergency by the end of the second week of leisurely meandering through the first book on the pile.

            I wonder, now that I think of it, if it’s only my local library that’s still closed. Maybe in other parts of the country, or other parts of Long Island, they left their libraries open the whole time, or opened them sooner than in my town. I think bookstores must have reopened by now, but I rarely go, because a new hard-cover book is way too expensive for me, unless I’m absolutely sure I will love it.

            Luckily, the dogs haven’t been lacking for “reading” material. They get their stories by sniffing the grass in the backyard, and that local library never closed, even in the early days of the Covid shutdown when people were afraid to go outside. The girls have never had to wear a mask that could block their ability to sniff, and they’ve never had to avoid familiar places in order to practice social distancing. Their lives have been pretty idyllic, actually. The only activity that’s been delayed, for them, is a yearly visit to the vet.

“When I say run, we run!”

            It’s probably a good thing for me that the library is still closed, though. The temptation to wander, and touch all of the books, would be too strong. I would forget about Covid and meander too close to someone without a mask, or, even more dangerous, I’d find a pile of books and fall into a wormhole and forget to come back out in time to teach my students, or walk the dogs. And I know two dogs who just wouldn’t stand for that. They don’t understand why I can’t sniff the grass for stories the way they do, and I have to say, it’s one of the many disappointments of being born human.

“Being a dog IS better, Mommy.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

88 responses »

  1. Such great pictures of the girls. They look pretty spiffy, freshly groomed and cute bows on their ears.
    Like so many, I gave up the library years ago in favor of Amazon Kindle books, one of which I get to choose for free every month. I know that on-line reading isn’t for everyone, though. There’s definitely something to be said for holding a real printed book in your hands and turning the pages, and using a real book mark. *sigh*

    Reply
  2. Hi, Rachel:
    I miss the libraries, too, and also the old BookMobiles. Thank you also, for sharing “Yeshiva Girl,” which I’ll have to find on GoodReads! Take care,
    Shira

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  3. Kindle Unlimited changed forever my reading habits. Could never go back.

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  4. My library is thankfully open. Masks and temperature checks are required. I rely on the library to read my favorite newspapers. You really capture the fun of finding books at the library!

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  5. I miss my library too. I got an email saying a book I requested before March was ready for pick up and had to schedule a visit. I called twice with no answer then forgot. They only keep books for 7 days then you have to request it again. Anyway, I love to reread books I own and try to look for parts I missed the first time. Just like rewatching movies.

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  6. I think most libraries are like yours. Our tiny system is not open yet but if we request a book when it is available we get an email. We drive to the branch and call inside. They bring the book out and put it on a table. Then we get out of the car and get the book. Very sterile.

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  7. Yes, our dogs get plenty of reading material. We call them p-mails. Our libraries have reopened. The number of visitors is limited and you can stay a maximum of 30 minutes.

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  8. I don’t know about Ellie and Cricket, but Adi finds the post rain “library” very noseworthy in that she’ll barely lift her nose off the ground as she searches for familiar smell “titles.”

    Thank you for sharing your feelings about the Covid library experience. I could never bring myself to look online and reserve for pick up either. I love the treasure hunt of browsing for books in person. I just learned our rural library reopened this past week. My girls are clamoring to go. They are book lovers as well and have missed toting home a pile of new reads. I’ll be honest I dread the changes we’ll encounter in our typically warm, homey library, especially the absence of beloved staff members who have either retired or resigned during the shutdown.

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  9. I miss my library, too. I miss the smell of the books, the sound of newspaper pages turning, and the easy comeraderie with other readers. I’m grateful for Kindle Cloud reader, because I’m still getting library books that way. But I miss the comfort of a real book in my hands.

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  10. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    My library has been open, but she delivers my books when I get home too late. I’m sad you haven’t been able to go.

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  11. My library has been open for drive up pick up for a while, and the main branch is open for browsing by appointment. I don’t think you really have to worry about getting this virus from a book, but they’re all left to air out for days before being reshelved anyway. I’ve ordered way too many books since this nonsense (and yes, I think it’s nonsense at this point) started. (There’s no such thing as too many books, by the way) I think if I didn’t have so many books here, I would have gone out of my mind about two weeks into this.

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  12. I miss the library, too. I have to see a book in person to know whether I want to read it or not. It’s more of a feeling, I think. Our local library finally opened 2 days a week for a few hours but it’s pointless to try to get in. Love the photo of the girls!

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  13. When our library and bookstores opened for in-person use, albeit with the all too familiar COVID protocols, it was a very welcome feeling, restrictions and all. My husband was REALLY ready for some new books. REALLY READY!

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  14. Open over here thankfully! Been down many times to touch base with bookish humanity!

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  15. The pandemic has shown us who and what we really miss. The girls look lovely but I have to ask how long do those bows last?

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  16. At the start of the year, I made a resolution to use my local library again as I’d got into the bad habit of buying books on my Kindle. I loved that browsing among the shelves – the joy of finding something you’re desperate to read – and the pleasure amplified because you can’t find everything and you need to return those books. Then the lockdown happened… I have been borrowing ebooks from my local library because I’d rather support local services than line Jeff Bezos’ pockets but I can’t wait to go back to borrowing in person.

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  17. At least the girls haven’t lost their stories… Lovely photos of them!

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  18. When the libraries first shut down here, I did what you did too. I started to read books I had purchased and were just left on the shelf,lol. I am so glad that I did too, because I have quiet a few books that I really actually wanted to read. But you always have to get THAT book back to the Library.

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  19. I haven’t been either. I have been reading on my Kindle but there is something about having the book in your hand.

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  20. We joined our local library on arrival here in 2017 and have never been in it since. From what I can remember about the one in the town when we were on the boat, half of the library was sectioned off for computers, half of what was left was for DVD rentals, and the remainder for books, half of that for children.

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  21. I miss going to the library, as well. I have been reading their ebooks. I like ebooks, don’t get me wrong, but love the touch, scent, visual, and the way the physical books affect my senses.

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  22. Sniffing the grass for its story… such a great observation! I too am a life long library lover. I always think I will find all of the answers to my life‘s questions there. And if I can’t, I ask the reference librarians. They’re always game. Since March I too, have found myself revisiting books I’ve read before. It’s surprising how much I missed the first time around, and I get to enjoy them all over again in a new way. Loved your post!

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  23. I have to so agree with the comment by pensivity101. Libraries here in the UK seem to be less and less about the books and more about technology. Depressing or what. No one has even set fire to our libraries – we’ve done it ourselves.

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  24. Saturday I had a very eventful time. I had managed to request two book on line. Then I put on a mask and stood outside a window on the outside of the library and a gloved, masked librarian handed me my books. It felt like a drug deal!

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  25. Hi Rachel, our libraries are open here in Williamsburg, VA, but when you go in they check your temperature (a big tall thing you stand in front of) and, of course, you have to wear a mask. They’ve rearranged the way we do everything – contact-less checkouts (it’s kinda cool, you put your books in a stack and a monitor thingy ‘reads it’), plus our holds (what I use all the time) are stacked along on a huge wall, serve your self style. I’ve checked out many online books, but there’s something about looking at the covers and finding new authors in the library that I missed so much when our libraries were closed. Now, even during 20 minute visits, it’s been fun to get back into library book grooves! (Oh, and all books are ‘quarantined’ for 4 days before they go back onto the shelves…) Hope your libraries will open again, soon!

    Blessings – Virginia : )

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  26. “The temptation to wander, and touch all of the books, would be too strong.”… agreed!

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  27. I’ve love libraries, so much so I lived in them practically. I would rather go to the library than anywhere else. I miss mine, I miss their little shop of used and donated books for $1. I’ve snagged some incredible cookbooks and cheap fiction reads, hey I can risk a dollar and toss it back in the donation slot. I can get my books through kindle online, but I miss walking in and letting time stand still while I browse and get lost in discovery and exploration. When I was little and late from school, my mother phoned the bookstore owner, or the librarian to find me and send me home. Yes, this is a big hurt during this covid time.
    Thanks for the post.

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  28. I love the library too, but have real problems taking books back. I want to keep them all. I tend to go to the local charity shops for a lot of my books and have had some real gems from there – and I can keep them. I’ve been very profligate over the last couple of weeks and have bought and paid full price for four hardback books. It’s outrageous and I do feel only marginally guilty – they are books after all so worth it.

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  30. I miss our library (also in LI) and have resorted to ordering used books online. I look at this as something positive, though. It’s helping a small business. I used to exchange books with a friend and I am sad we haven’t been able to get together. Thank you for distinguishing reading fiction and non-fiction. I read the same way. Reading non-fiction a few pages (or a chapter) at a time, helps me absorb the information. Sometimes I read fiction twice — once for the story because I can’t put it down and then for style.

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    • When I re-read fiction it’s usually because I want to be back in that other world. That’s part of what makes series so wonderful: you get to go back to that world at a different moment in time.

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  31. We love our local library in New Jersey. Lots to read and fantastic programs for kids. One of the things that kept my kids and us sane in this covid times are books and the programs run through zoom past summer. We are always engaged with one or other activity. We would be lost without ours. They are opening doors one day a week starting from october and I am doing my happy dance.

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  32. You sound so much like my very good friend… she loves to read and get new books all the time from thrift stores, antique shops, and such… she was glad she had a large supply of unread ones when COVID hit so she has been able to keep reading all though it. She was glad she can go back out and get more now. I gave her some of mine too she hadn’t read yet and she is into those now. I hope you keep finding ways to read and hopefully things where you are may be starting to reopen?

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    • Thank God there is always something to read! I was one of those kids reading cereal boxes every morning at breakfast.

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      • I hear you I was a huge reader as a kid… always a book in my hand. After graduate school and I got married I don’t have as much time to read and I now can’t ever decide what I want to read so I don’t get to it often… but my friend is always encouraging me to.

      • I think that’s why people started writing flash fiction (and non-fiction): both readers and writers found themselves with very short windows of time. Poetry can also fit in the interstices of life very well, and children’s books, some of which are more profound than most books written for grown ups. Good luck with your search!

  33. Me too my friend. I did monthly writer’s workshops and poetry reading at the nearby libraries. I miss taking the grandchildren to the library on a rainy day.

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  34. Charlee: “Hmm, our Dada is currently reading something really big on his reader.”
    Chaplin: “I heard him tell Mama it’s a book called ‘Infinite Jest’.”
    Charlee: “See, infinite.That’s really really big.”
    Chaplin: “He told Mama the reader estimates he’ll be finished with it by about November 25th.”
    Lulu: “That’s not exactly infinite. But I guess it’s a pretty long time to spend on one book.”

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  35. I miss the libraery too, and I haven’t gotten into ordering books online and picking up from the library. It strangely feels like more work.

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  37. I miss the library too. I’ve been a member of one library or another for over 20 years and I still can’t get over the thrill of being able to read books FOR FREE. I miss that.

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  38. Gorgeous dogs! It’s such a shame not to be able to wonder through the shelves and browse libraries at leisure these days.

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  39. Me and my kids terribly miss our library visits too..
    Good post nice pics too..👌
    Anu

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  40. I work in the library (media center) at an elementary school, and we have about 1/3 of our kids in the building. We’re keeping a tight control on things–as in they only come in as an entire class, we sanitize after every class leaves, and I quarantine returned books three days– but we’re making it work. The kids are starved for books, although a lot of my best readers are doing virtual classes and can’t check out yet. We are at least underway.

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  41. I really miss going to the libraries in London to have a quiet and relaxed workspace. These days I am forced to write from home like so many of us, and I find it very difficult with the constant distractions. My routine has always been one of going out to work for the day and then going for a jog afterwards. Finally, when I return home I then shower and treat the rest of the night as my comfy time to unwind. Without these rituals and routines in place I find my temptation to procrastinate has drastically increased.

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  42. Santa Barbara has curbside pick up and drop, so no wandering but yes, books. And we do most of our reading on the kindles.

    Reply

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