In February I wrote about libraries — the public ones of my past — and I promised to visit the ones in my city and in the places I travel. In March I wrote about independent bookstores — their uniqueness — and I promised to frequent them more often.
Last Saturday I visited the main branch of Knoxville’s public library.
When I found a parking spot within half block I knew I was meant to be there. The large windows, the curving stairway, the bricks and the wood beckoned me to wander around, even stay for a while. I checked my book wish list on my phone and located three among the stacks. In the video section I found a movie that had recently been recommended to me. In my wanderings I roamed all three floors before checking out at the front desk.
So many new things — 3 books, 1 movie, a new restaurant — in only one Saturday hour.
This weekend I was in Chattanooga for a family event on Sunday. Monday was all mine so I set out to find the public library and four independent bookstores I had found online. The library was two short blocks from my hotel — all steel and glass and concrete. Water falling over steel books near the front door, with benches nearby, cooled the summer morning. Inside, the library was under renovation — mostly the ceilings and lights. When it’s finished, I was told, it wouldn’t look much different. Metal shelves, white walls, bright lights, concrete floors, with a few modern chairs here and there created a style I call “industrial sterility.” Nothing urged me to find a book, or to sit and stay for a bit. Frankly, I was disappointed in how I felt in that book space.
I ventured on in search of the independent book stores, with a plan to support them, even though my purchases would be small. The first, Starline Books, was closed, though I saw a cool sign through the metal grating: Come and Be Literated. I would have loved to experience being “literated” in their store, had it not been locked up tight.
The second store, Winder Binder, was also closed. The third store, The Book Rack, was not to be found at its designated location. The fourth, Abba’s House and Café, was part of a mega church outside the main city. The tiny shop had more gifts than books, but I found some items for friends. They offered specialty coffees, but I was hoping for a pastry. When I told the clerk how I happened to be there, she directed me to their neighborhood library, just a few blocks away.
The Northgate Library is a low round building nestled among trees and rocks and shrubs. Like the Chattanooga Public Library, Northgate was also a distinct geometric shape — but with a difference. The curved walls and peaked ceiling, punctuated with skylights, surrounded me and invited me to stay. I found a magazine and sat down to read for a few minutes.
Rows upon rows of metal bookshelves are inevitable in any library. The walls and ceilings and space that enclose the bookshelves make the difference in whether I want to stay or go. Every library, in its own way, should make me want to be there. Without that, there are much easier ways for me to discover books I want to read. — to become literated.
I encourage you to create your own literary adventures during your travels. Searching for libraries and independent bookstores is a wonderful way to wander around a new place.
Until next Tuesday . . .