Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Price We Can Pay, and the One We Can't

The minute I read about a book that interests me, usually in reviews that focus on works soon to be published, I order it. Right now I have eight forthcoming titles on order, and I've recently read four novels that just arrived on the shelves. No, I'm not wealthy, nor am I starving myself in order to buy books. I have a library card.

Unfortunately I live in a city of avid readers who know the same secret. When I reserve a book not yet published, I'm often #300 in line. Fortunately our library system has adopted the wonderful idea of first-come, first-serve with Peak Picks, a section of books that can't be reserved or renewed. Recently I looked at the Peak Pick shelf in my branch library; there was a book I had reserved months ago and wouldn't receive until after 338 other people had finished with it. Gleefully I snatched up Tayari Jones' An American Marriage and raced my way through it in a single evening. Today I'll take it back and hope for another surprise.

This is what the current President wants to weaken, by reducing federal funding for public libraries. He must know that Fire and Fury is currently on the Peak Pick shelves, and has 1400 people on the reserved list, waiting for one of the 452 copies that can be renewed. Or perhaps he's chafed by the number of readers who have checked out the 191 copies of Hillary's What Happened, which appeared on the Peak Pick shelves the same day that it showed up in bookstores. Of course this is a man who regularly rails against the free press and invented the epithet "fake news" for anything that puts him in an unfavorable light. Why would he be in favor of free libraries, those places where people go to read, among other things, newspapers?

We all provide financial support for our libraries, through taxes which are then reflected in the price of our rent, the cost of our groceries. It's a price that the city I live in has agreed is worth paying and because of that our libraries are open every single day, offering books that many of us otherwise could never afford to read. I am confident that even without federal support, my city would still have libraries. But the question is unavoidable: Can we afford a president who doesn't see the value of an electorate who reads, regardless of its income level?

I don't think we can.