Library-induced realism

The library had, for the thousandth time, performed its mundane magic trick: It had vaulted me into the future — the prosaic, dog-eared, heaped-by-the-bedside future — that this book and I would, however promising our first encounter, inevitably have ended up having anyway. The initial flush of book-lust promises: This book will change everything; this will be the one that finally gets you into epic poetry; this will teach you how to meditate. The library says: This book will contain a stranger’s ancient receipt and will be out of your life in three weeks. […]

And in dispelling my fantasies of permanence, the library does more than save me the cost of a paperback — it provides me with a template for navigating the great sea of longing and disappointment that is life. […]

Library-induced realism is a great thing, one that can do much to increase your happiness. Because the world in which you are perpetually under the impression that the next book purchase, the next apartment, the next significant other will be the one that finally delivers the goods is not a life of happiness. It is a life of perpetual dissatisfaction, a life of thin and sugary highs followed by long and unenlightening lows. The library is, with its careworn and temporary offerings, as lovely and as poignant a reminder of our actual human condition as the tides or a forest in fall. To quote Penelope Fitzgerald (whose books are well worth owning): “Our lives are only lent to us.”

Library Books: A Small Antidote to a Life of Perpetual Dissatisfaction, Ben Dolnick, The New York Times, December 8th 2020.

By Martine

Screenwriter / scénariste-conceptrice

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