Nearly thirty years later, I found myself in a marble corridor of the New York Public Library, pressing a buzzer to get into the rare books collection. I moved to New York when I was twenty-one, just after graduating from college, where I had spent countless hours in libraries. As a student, I had installed myself for long days of study at an oak desk piled high with books of poetry, novels,, and critical texts, my pages of handwritten notes illuminated by a window set with stained glass. The library had been a place for studying, but it had also been a place for everything else: seeing friends, watching strangers, flirting and falling in love. Life happened in the library.
I didn't go to libraries so much anymore. I'd become a journalist, so rather than immersing myself in books I tended to consult them fleetingly, then shelve them. I read much less for pleasure than I liked, and my grasp on literature -- the field in which I'd sought to distinguish myself at seventeen -- grew a little shakier every year, like a foreign language I didn't have sufficient opportunity to speak.
A much-younger colleague looked at me a little pityingly yesterday when she asked if I had any special plans for this weekend, and I said I didn't. Of course, I wanted to say 'You don't understand! I LOVE when that happens!' Of course, I didn't.
Of course, I also didn't tell her that while I was eating lunch at my desk today I clicked over to the library's ebook collection (it's a little more hot-or-miss than impulse buying on Amazon, but not as expensive... ) and there this was. I'm about 82nd in line for it at the library, and I think it was brand new on Overdrive and no one had seen it there yet. Special plans for the weekend? Of course. :)
Middlemarch was one book I had never stopped reading, despite all the distractions of a busy working life. ... The novel opened up to me further every time I went back to it; and by my early forties it had come to have yet another resonance. In a far from singular crisis, I had recently become consumed by a sense of doors closing behind me, alternative lives unlived: work I might have done, places I might have moved to, men I might have married, children I might have borne. In this light, I book that seemed to be all about the hopes and desires of youth now seemed to offer a melancholy dissection of the resignations that attend middle age, the paths untrodden and the choices unmade.
So why was I back in the library? It was, I suppose, in a bid to become less melancholy, a little less resigned. ...I was growing restless, and I felt ready to turn my deep attention to something that mattered to me. ... I wanted to go back to being a reader.