I probably should say this first: I love the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library and am counting the days until we can gather again to wander through its shelves or perhaps participate once again in the “Sip & Spell” spelling bee for adults.
With that said, I must admit that I have come to love the library’s service — a creative response to the pandemic — in which its staff members drop off books you have placed on your “hold” list right on your doorstep. It’s not a complete substitute for going to the building, but it’s pretty darn close. (The only time I’ve been to the building in the last year was to donate blood, and it was nice to step inside again.)
Maybe I’m not the only library patron who does this, but I’m trying to figure out ways to game the process in which you place holds on books. My primary motivation is a fear that I’ll be left with nothing new to read and will have to reach into one of the many many boxes of unread books that are perched precariously in my disastrously overstuffed garage. And I don’t want to wait for months, forlornly checking the library website each week to track my very slow progress on the hold list for Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land.” (OK, it’s 768 pages, so I fully understand if you need extra time to read that book.)
Here’s how my system works, more or less: Like many of you, I have a list of the books I want to read. I make a rough guess as to the popularity of each of those books and put holds first on those books I think will be less popular. So, to cite a recent example, I put a hold on Margaret MacMillan’s “War: How Conflict Shaped Us,” thinking that its subject matter might keep some readers away. (The book is a downer, but it’s also shockingly compelling and covers a lot of ground for a one-volume treatment of such a big subject; I recommend it.)
So “War” comes to my doorstep; it’s a miracle!
But then I start to worry; what if I finish “War” before any of my other holds come around? Don’t make me go into the garage! So I start to add to my holds, gambling that the books will come to my doorstop in a nicely spaced order.
Which, of course, they do not. Anna Wiener’s “Uncanny Valley” arrives at about the same time as Lydia Millet’s terrifying (but often quite funny) novel “A Children’s Bible.” (I want to write more about “Uncanny Valley,” Wiener’s memoir of her time at Silicon Valley startups, but all I have to say, really, about “A Children’s Bible” is that you should read it.)
Then, in short order, my doorstep is graced with Les and Tamara Payne’s magisterial biography of Malcolm X, “The Dead are Arising.” Then comes “Interior Chinatown,” Charles Yu’s provocative and funny National Book Award winner, written partially in the form of a screenplay; I don’t recall putting that on the hold list, but I’m glad I did. And then comes James McBride’s “Deacon King Kong,” which I have yet to pull out of the protective plastic bag in which library books are delivered to your door. (These bags, by the way, are way too useful to throw away.)
With the exception of “Deacon King Kong,” which I haven’t started yet, I’m reading all these books. I will finish them. I will return them, although some might not get back by their due dates. I’m sorry about that — especially since I understand how my tardiness in returning these books might be playing havoc with your own library strategy.
But look at it this way: You’re keeping me out of the garage. Really, somebody could get killed out there.