Last Thursday evening, I pulled on my winter boots and parka. I had to run an errand I’d been dreading. I had to return two overdue library books.
When I got to the library, there were other people at the circulation desk, and I wanted a certain amount of privacy when my late fees would be discovered. I stalled by swinging through by the DVD section, emerging with season 5 of ER (Clooney!) some choice Meryl Streep titles. Then, I approached the circulation desk.
“I’d like to take these out, please” I said to the woman behind the desk. “I’d also like to return these,” I said, as I slipped Curtis Sittenfeld’s Sisterland and D.J. Waldie’s Holy Land out of my purse. Quietly, I added “I believe they’re a little late.”
The librarian took the books I was returning and scanned them. She looked at me over the top of her glasses, which is a really intimidating, mean thing that only people with bad vision get to do. “You know these are 26 days late, right?”
Oh, I knew. I knew. I proudly handed her a twenty. She didn’t have enough small bills to break it; we agreed I’d pay at a later date.
I’ve always played it fast and loose with borrowing books. In elementary school, “Library” was my favorite part of the week. I remember walking into the small, wood paneled room during the 2nd grade and seeing the weekly display that Mrs. Abrams arranged; I remember thinking (greedily, not dreamily): “All these books could be mine.”
Growing up, I loved books so much — all of my Ramona Quimbys and Anasatasia Krupniks are covered with food because I refused to eat dinner without a book in my lap. It didn’t seem to matter how often I’d read them; I’d start them again as soon as I’d finished the last page. So, I began habitually renewing the books I took out from the library — it just never felt like I was done with them. Even if I didn’t reread them, it comforted me to know I had the option of pulling it out of my bookcase. During the 3rd grade, I think I renewed Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl at each due date until Mrs. Abrams kindly suggested I give the other children a chance to read it. But I didn’t want the other children to have a chance! While I didn’t take it out again, I still picked it up and held it during every meeting. If I couldn’t have it, no one could.
By the time I hit the 9th grade, I felt like my love of literature so warranted free books that I totally disregarded the laws of the library. I went through a dark period during which I thought I was a beat poet; it was hard to rebel against parents who were totally supportive and didn’t enforce any sort of curfew, which meant I had to find other ways to let people know that I was cool and saw through the bullshit.
Step one was to cut thumbholes into my sweatshirt sleeves, step two was to wear a soda tab on a chain around my neck, and step three was to make sure people saw me reading Jack Kerouac. But you can’t really enjoy Kerouac’s spirit through playing by the rules, I thought. So I threw my middle fingers up, said “Fuck off, establishment!” and stole Visions of Cody from my high school library. I still have it, I think. I have yet to read it. I have no idea what it’s about. I don’t even really like Jack Kerouac that much. Is it good? Anyone know?
I’m still terrible with adhering to due dates, though I swear I’d never consider library theft again. Sometimes I don’t feel done with the books I’ve taken out, but I can mostly blame my delinquency on sloth. Even with my limited funds, I’m willing to forfeit 15 cents a day.
But it’s not just due dates that I can’t, well, do. I’m a polite, considerate person, but when it comes to respecting public property, I’m a total monster. I dog-ear books. I’ve lightly (I swear!) underlined choice sentences. I am constantly wracked with guilt: Some of my friends are librarians. A cousin of mine is the director of the American Library Association. I can't pinpoint the reason for my total disregard, exactly; maybe this is my terrible sense of Millennial entitlement in action.
Whatever the explanation, it just means I still owe $3.90 to the Brookline Public Library. Sorry about that. Sort of.