The phrase showing how excited I am about an upcoming book is usually this: “It’s on my library list.” With the advent of electronic reserves, libraries have become less about browsing shelves for interesting titles, more about placing an early dibs on titles I already expect to enjoy.
The convenience is seductive. I walk through the library doors, head straight for the reserve shelves, pick up the stack of books I’ve pre-selected for favorite authors or favorable reviews, and proceed to the electronic checkout.
I’ve known for a while that I’m losing something to this convenience – mostly a dose of serendipity, the chance to find a forgotten classic or stumble on a yet-unknown new favorite. And, this week, browsing through a bookstore, I discovered something else.
I couldn’t stay away from the hardcover copy I saw of Michael Ruhlman’s new book, "Ratio," subtitled "The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking." I’ve been a Ruhlman fan since – irony of ironies – I stumbled across his first food-related book, "The Making Of A Chef," while browsing library shelves in the 1990s. It’ll be a while before my number for Ratio comes up on my current library list (I’m No. 21 out of 82 holds) so I flipped through it for an advance look. Ruhlman is a writer first, a cook second, so it was a pleasure to sink into the narrative. But the information inside was packed too full to sink into my brain on a browse. I wanted to take notes, dog-ear pages, take the book in the kitchen with me and stain the pages with oil and flour. None of those would work for a book with a due date.
I was willing to wait as many weeks as it took for the book to appear on my library shelf, but suddenly that wasn’t the issue. Browsing made me realize I needed more than two weeks with Ratio, and it’s going on another shelf instead: My own bookshelf, at home.