"A bag for $3," said the sign. The local library was having a book sale. For a mere three bucks, you were entitled to fill up a paper bag with as many books as you could squeeze in.
"Would you like a bag?" the librarian asked.
"No, thank you," I said with admirable restraint. "I'm just looking."
I had promised myself long ago that the only books I would purchase from then on would be reference-type books, those I would have cause to look at over and over again.
My shelves were already overflowing, with additional books crammed horizontally into every last vestige of available space. Some of them had been opened only once or twice. So when I found myself with a free hour between appointments on a cold, wet, snowy day, and saw the sign on the library door, I did the right thing: "Do not go in there," I told myself sternly.
"Maybe just one book?" myself asked.
"No," I said.
"How about just to look, out of curiosity, to skim the titles?" myself begged. "Just to come in from the snow."
"Well, maybe, but only for a minute or two," I reluctantly agreed, rubbing my frozen hands together.
There were hundreds of books crowded on shelves, stacked on the floor, jammed into bags – all of them exerting a powerful magnetic force on the bibliophile in me.
At first, I managed to comply with my own rules, picking up one book after another, looking it over longingly and obediently putting it back.
But soon some of the books surpassed the "just look" category. There was an old, leather-bound volume of O. Henry's essays. This would legitimately count as a reference book, I told myself. I could repeatedly study the author's masterful twist endings.
Then I discovered "Amy Vanderbilt's New Complete Book of Etiquette" (copyright 1952). How could I leave that behind? One never knew when those pointers on "gracious living" would come in handy. No doubt this tantalizing tome was justified as a reference book, too.
"That's it!" I told myself. "Take the two and go."
"But each book, if purchased separately, costs $1," myself argued. "Much more than if you fill an entire bag for $3. It's uneconomical in the full scheme of things."
"Go!" I said.
On the way out, clutching my precious new acquisitions, I took one last look over my shoulder. The title of a small paperback book caught my eye: "The Physics of Baseball," by Robert K. Adair.
My friend Phil was visiting from the Midwest. He was a devoted baseball fan – and a science teacher. This book was perfect for him. I could give it to Phil at the airport, as a small farewell gift to say, "I'm happy you came. I'm sorry you have to leave again".
Then, on a lower shelf, almost obscured by a large encyclopedia, was a blue and black-covered book with a familiar title: "The Body Has a Head," by Gustav Eckstein.
I recalled my delight when a college professor had read one of its chapters out loud to our class. We all laughed uproariously at the author's witty and thought-provoking elucidation of human physiology. Gary would love it! I often think fondly of Gary, a biomedical engineer buddy of mine. But with our respective busy schedules, we hadn't been in touch for a much-too-long time. Here was a chance to reconnect; I would mail him the book.
"It's OK," I told myself with a big smile, juggling my growing collection of volumes. "They're not for me." And with that excellent excuse, I happily continued rummaging around the literary treasure trove.
There was a book about dance for my cousin in California. And a "how to" on hard-to-grow plants – the perfect thank-you gift for another friend, Dorothy, to whom I was grateful for reviving a wilted African violet of mine.
And so it went – each new "find" eliciting special thoughts of a specific friend or relative who would most certainly enjoy the particular book I held in my hand.
Finally, I had to ask the librarian for a bag after all.
There are many ways for friends to "connect," to say a long-distance "I'm thinking of you." And a book, I have found, makes a fine messenger. It doubles the joy as you picture your friend receiving the book and turning its pages, just as you have done in happy anticipation of his or her pleasure.
The moral of this story might have been: Remain steadfast. Obey the rules you have set. And if you can't resist temptation, stay out in the snow.
But on occasion rules we set for ourselves must be modified: Give in to enticement once in awhile. Sometimes succumbing is a superior choice – when a bag for three bucks becomes a bond between buddies.