It's Saturday morning, and I'm standing under a thick, damp sky waiting for the doors to open. If only it was something as practical as, say, a Macy's shoe sale. But here I am, alone, waiting for the doors to open – to the library.
Librarius nerdus. I am a library nerd.
I'm at one library or another three or maybe four times a month. I always need a novel or biography on my nightstand. I'm always checking out a guidebook for travel planning. And I usually have a pet project I need to research.
It's a disjointed mix, a kind of Dewey Decimal System gone awry: "The Dogs of Babel," "Fodor's Argentina," and "How to Faux Paint Your House."
After years of shelf-trolling, I know my nearby Long Island libraries well: The Freeport, N.Y., library has a good selection of Prohibition-era history. Mineola has a sun deck and fireplace. I can tell you that the folks who patronize my hometown library in Rockville Centre are a pretty erudite lot. Anytime a book's reviewed on NPR, it's gone faster than you can say "seven days only."
East Meadow is the holy temple of tomes. Area librarians aspire to East Meadow the way art curators aspire to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In the shopping bag of overdue books I'm carrying is a book of my own, which contains a fat list of book recommendations. It replaced a folder of torn-out book reviews that grew unwieldy over the years.
At home, I have another important list that details every book I've read since 1980. Only "To Kill a Mockingbird" is on it twice.
The list started out in ink and transitioned to a Royal manual typewriter, an IBM Selectric, and, ultimately, a Dell PC. If my house ever catches on fire, this document is coming with me.
From time to time, I read the list the way others might read a diary. David Sedaris's "Me Talk Pretty One Day" had me giggling so hard on the train once, tears rolled from my eyes and I laugh-snorted a commuter out of a nap.
On an airplane flight, I had to put down "The Hemingway Book Club of Kosov" every few pages. Different tears this time.
When it comes to fastidious record keeping, I've got company. The Internet is filled with websites dedicated to personal reading lists. Some are excruciatingly detailed spreadsheets with author, date, summary, and number of pages. Like they say, if only this effort could be harnessed for societal good.
The last time I was at the library, I hoisted a pile of books onto the checkout counter and pulled out my card. It was bent and misshapen. The lamination was peeling off and the bar code eroding.
I handed it to the librarian, not the least bit ashamed. After all, I am a library junkie among people who understand these things.
"Time for a new card," the librarian said flatly.
I nodded, slightly disappointed that she didn't see the wear and tear as a token of devotion.
But I'm not yet quite ready to replace that much-used library card. Like an overstamped passport, it has taken me to some great places.