imagine a bookstore where everything's free
It'd never work, sure, but what if it already has?
You ever have that feeling of reading a book when you’re tired but the book is so good that you keep reading and finally, there in the hazy periphery, you see a half-nude page aka the end of a chapter or even just some stars or a line to indicate a section break, so you say to yourself “I’m going to stop reading once I’m there,” but then you just keep reading like you whizz right past it because you’re so into whatever it is you’re reading that you forget you were supposed to stop?
I love that feeling.
I’ve been having that feeling lately with this book called Who Will Run The Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore.
It’s a physical book, which means all the text is printed out onto these pieces of paper and then those papers are all folded, hamburger style, then bound together and put inside a thicker, more robust paper that feels sturdy, like armor for the book itself.
I never get this feeling reading books on my kindle or articles online. Or maybe I do but it doesn’t feel romantic. Efficient, sure, a little cheap, but not romantic.
This is how things are in the land of the digital, our home away from and also within home. We live here now, this bastion of the infinite scroll where, remember, it’s not a marathon, it’s a sprint, but you’ll hafta keep running it your whole life.
Doesn’t even matter what you’re scrolling through - the article becomes the feed becomes the text becomes the email becomes the article - the point is simply to scroll, scroll, scroll. That’s how the astronauts at NASA designed it, and they worked hard and Google and Facebook gave them money and coffee too, so yea it makes sense that we can’t stop scrolling and reading and scrolling.
But to keep reading a book? That’s a goddamn miracle. To cruise past the point you planned on stopping and to just…keep…reading? Even getting to that stopping point is impressive, because why would you? All around you is the most realistic, addictive MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) ever made. Create your identity, accrue social capital and money too, make jobs find love go on a hike, feeding it all back into the game that you can play anywhere there’s wifi, across devices, through time, infinite horrors and delights, there’s even nudies on the screens big and small and yet, somehow someway, the book proves victorious?
PITCH: A superhero movie about a lil book named Paperback Jack who somehow defeats the empires of google and facebook and those other fuckers. Oh and he’s a bit of a putz so we’d often see his butt aka Paperback Jack’s Ol’ Buttcrack (this would be merch sold at mcdonalds happy meals).
Back to the frog book
Anyway, back to my copy of Who Will Run The Frog Hospital. It’s not actually mine, you see. It’s from the library, which is a place that stores a ton of books and magazines and even movies.
You can walk in and take literally anything you like. Well, not so fast - there is a catch. You need to first get a free card from the front desk which they’ll give to anyone with an ID.
Oh, also you hafta bring back what you took before a certain date. Unless you want to keep it longer. In that case, you just renew it.
Or don’t - you can keep it anyways, though the library will hafta charge you a few dimes or dollars because you kept it past the date they asked for it back. But even with that, you can just wait for a ‘late fees forgiveness day’ where all your debts are forgiven. Fun fact: Jesus, a library freak, loved this idea so much he put it in his big book of ideas called the Bible.
You probably think I’m talking about a fairytale or a classic pixar film or perhaps even a place maybe in Europe but no, I am in fact saying that under your very nose are libraries aplenty.
Imagine if someone pitched the idea of a library today. Much like a chicken, it would never fly.
You wanna spend our tax monkeys on what?? Can’t schools just do that why don’t the schools just do that? There’s no budget we need to give another five trillion to the war efforts did you see we shot down those Chinese balloons recently. Can you shoot down a balloon with a book??
I mean. Maybe, could be fun.
Many of my earliest memories in America take place in a library. A lil scamp of a seven-year-old boy, I’d sprint through the downstairs children’s section of the Sharon Public library in Massachusetts, grabbing as many books as possible. I’d stack them all on top of one of the leathery padded bright orange chairs. Higher and higher, like I was playing a game of solo reverse Jenga.
I remember so distinctly the anxiety I’d feel whenever I’d walk in: “there’s too many books here, I can’t possibly read them all.”
Thinking about how I’d probably never be able to consume all the world’s knowledge would fill me with an existential fomo panic that I still feel to this day. I didn’t wanna miss out on any of it, so I would bring home 20-30 books each time we’d go. Big ass picture books about dinosaurs or whales, all those wayside school is falling down chaos math books, goosebumps books of course, etc.
Did I read them all when we got home? Fuck no. Who's got time to read all the books, especially with every weekend fully booked up (TGIF on Fridays w Boy Meets World and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, One Saturday Morning cartoons including most importantly Recess, lunch and a nap, SNICK (Rugrats, All That,Kenan n Kel, Are you Afraid of the Dark), and Sunday spent eating and thinking about how yes, I was afraid of the dark.
But reading them all wasn’t the point. It was enough just to know that I’d brought them home w me, that I’d leafed through them enough to know of their existence.
Libraries remained a constant through all of life’s ups downs and all arounds, or as they are more colloquially called, puberty.
In college, they were my favorite place, especially the 24/7 library where I spent many a night pretending to work. I loved the feeling of being around so many other people, all doing their own thing, tryna figure something out but mostly just gChatting. It was nice.
And the goofs we’d have. One night my friend Quinn and I wrote a strongly worded treatise on how to update the keyboard. For example - there is an @ symbol, sure. But why no On symbol? Why is @ better than On?
These temples of books were all across the country, I soon learned. Los Angeles, especially! The LAPL system has 86 branches in total! Including that most classic badass - the Central Library downtown! And that doesn’t include all the ones in Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and all the other incorporated cities that you think are part of LA but aren’t really.
Nowadays, I spend 3-4 days a week working in libraries. They’re like coffee shops with tons of books except you don’t need to buy anything to be there. It’s all free. This is not marketed enough.
You do have to bring coffee or buy it elsewhere but come on. Still.
Whenever I’m working and need a break - about every seven or eight minutes - I’ll walk through the stacks and grab random books. Here’s one about cooking Jewish food like your bubby did. There’s a thick-ass tome about the history of ‘debt.’ And over here is a script for Five Easy Pieces, a movie I haven't seen but I know is Important and Good!
So I grab them all and bring them back to my computer, just like I did as a wee lad. It’s still comforting, knowing that I’m surrounded by all that knowledge I’ll never have the time to take in. At least I’m trying, my mind says, as I scroll online about what Elon Muskers is gonna do with his billions today.
And now, the full circle
I thought I’d experienced all the splendors of these book emporiums had to offer, but no. There was one more level to this, a part of the library I’d not dared to enter as an adult on my own. The chilren’s section.
Adults and kids alike will kick your ass if you go in there as ‘that weird guy hanging out in the children’s area without a child.’
But then, my son Wilder was born. And about a month ago - he’s almost two now - I started taking out huge stacks to bring home for us all to read.
I carry the books into the house like a giant stack of pancakes taller than my head, and Wilder goes nuts.
We read like eight books yesterday. After every one, I’d scream Neeeeeeeext and then he’d scream Neeeeeext and it was heaven.
This morning he and Lauren read books and after every one he would still scream Neeeeext, and then Lauren would sorta-scream Neeeeext (she’s not a big fan of screaming). And then I’d scream Neeeext from out here in the kitchen, and finally, Robert would bark “Neeeeext.” Heaven’s heaven.
It’s time for a rebrand
After working with a team of hotshot top notch best of the creme of the crop, I’m excited to announce a full rebrand of the library, or should I say…
That’s right. It’s got free right in the name, to help remind you - everything is free.
Here’s the new tagline:
It’s like a coffee shop where you don’t have to buy anything. Take as much shit as you want we don’t care.
Now THAT would sell. Or not.
Tell a friend
Listen to me: there’s someone in your life who needs to read this piece. They want you to send it to them. It’s key to keeping your relationship alive. So what are ya waiting for:
Everything is free here too, but…
Much like I’m sure libraries work, Both Are True is free for all AND supported largely by a select group of generous, incredibly good looking patrons who pay a monthly or yearly fee as a way of saying “this. I support this.”
If you start going to the library, you’re gonna save some money and if you save some money and don’t need it for anything else maybe you can become a paid subscriber?
Or a free one if you’re not already I don’t know.
Let’s meet in the community room
K let’s talk librarfrees. Do y’all have a favorite one you still go to? Did you go to one as a kid? What’s the craziest thing that ever happened to you in a library (I did sex in one but I didn’t wanna write that above cuz my parents would read it but I doubt they read this part who knows tho).
ALSO: What do you think of the ON symbol? Does it have legs or massive legs?
Libraries are so important to me. As a recluse, sad immigrant who barely spoke English in sixth grade, my school library was my safe space where I could learn english at my own pace (i would pick up easy books, write down words I didnt understand, and look them up later). In college, since I was a commuter, i had some loooong stretches of time waiting between work and classes sometimes (i also worked on campus). I would hole with my ipod mini (lol) on the fifth floor that had absolutely NO SIGNAL and be there for hrs. i had my favorite spot, which gave me prime views of my campus.
As an adult, a library helped me get a job. I had just moved up to the bay area and we had no internet at home, but I landed an interview. I called our local library frantically asking them to please help me because i was not about to rely on a hotspot for an interview! my local library is tiny, so they lent me their meeting room and made sure no one would interrupt me for the whole hour.
As a librarian I salute this. Libraries (especially public ones) are AMAZING and it's particularly AMAZING that they still exist!