Looking back on my childhood, I realized my dad began training me, early on, to be the type of person he wanted me to be, which was suspiciously close to the person he already was. We had weekly room inspections where I was awarded my allowance if my room was neatly organized with everything in its place, and I carefully recorded said allowance and any of my expenses in a tiny notepad he’d given me for that purpose. Although I somewhat begrudgingly accepted these rules as a child, I recognize that my dad was successful. There’s a saying in Korean that habits you form at three follow you until you’re eighty, and to this day I find comfort in spending ten minutes organizing my room before bed, and I still obsessively track my spending and find joy in my own frugality.
One of our other, less restrictive rituals was going to the public library on Saturday mornings. One of my earliest memories of the library is my mother, in her limited English, earnestly asking a librarian to find me a copy of A Christmas Carol. My mom always encouraged me to read classics.
As I grew older, I found myself seeking out the library less and less. It became a place to study with friends, to browse my laptop, or to pop in if I was in the area, but it was no longer somewhere to simply spend time. I still found time to read regularly, but I usually bought crisp new editions from the chain bookstore at the mall. And with the advent of my beloved Kindle, I stopped interacting with physical books, preferring the convenience and simplicity of my Kindle.
But recently, I’ve returned to my old friend, the library. Dishearteningly, I found that the majority of library patrons (at least at my local branch) were there to browse the Internet (endlessly scrolling Facebook from the looks of it), silently contemplate their smartphones, or browse magazines beneath protective plastic covers. While there’s nothing wrong with this, to me the library has always been a place inherently, by definition, for books, and a place I’ve recently begun to properly appreciate again.
My reading habits have changed as I’ve begun to visit the library again. For one thing, I’m more likely to pick up an unfamiliar book simply by being attracted to its cover. As convenient as it is to download e-books off Amazon, there’s a smaller likelihood of me discovering something new. The organic feeling of pulling something new off a bookshelf out of curiosity is gone. On Amazon or at the bookstore, investing in a book comes with a loss of money, and I am always acutely aware of other ways to spend my time. When I’m online, I tend to open other tabs, reply messages, and play music, and bookstores nowadays are filled with plenty of distractions: journals, candles, headphones, desk toys, and other miscellaneous crap.
But at the library, time stands still. Libraries generally look the same to me now than they did then. And, in some ways, I prefer libraries that haven’t been renovated recently and have speckled fuzzy carpets, books with yellowed pages, and uncomfortable plastic chairs. Because while the outdated decor is unattractive, it reminds me that libraries have been a constant throughout my life, and the yellowed pages show me that a book has been read and loved. And for some reason, I find it much more easier to focus on a book for long periods of time in one of those plastic chairs than somewhere else. There’s something sacred to me about a place dedicated specifically to reading.