Notes from Candice Ransom

Miss the Library? Not So Much.

I could stand almost everything about this pandemic except the public library closing. The library is essential! We bought property to build our house based on proximity to the library. I stopped on my way back from exercise class four and five times a week. Some library systems let people know in advance of closing, so patrons could grab books and DVDs. Not ours. When the doors slammed shut without warning, I was left with a novel called Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts and a John Wayne DVD, “The Sea Chase.”

Even though I could barely concentrate to read (it took me three weeks to get through Tuesday Mooney, hardly War and Peace), I missed the ritual of browsing the shelves, picking up my holds, leafing through magazines, chatting to the librarians. The library was part of my routine. Each time I drove by the empty parking lot, I looked away, as if passing a funeral home.

Then I began looking around my own house. My private library spills over into every room, but the the dining room (and I’ve been eyeing it for bookcase space). Besides my enormous collection of vintage and classic children’s books, my collection on children’s literature, my natural history collection, my husband’s astrophysics collection, my fairy tale and folktale collection, I have fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, fantasy, cookbooks (never opened), biographies, books about art, cats, cars, and books about books.

I’d been in the habit of ordering new books from Amazon, buying new books from our local Barnes and Noble, and checking out new books from the library to the point where I seldom read anything in my collection because new library books had to be returned in two weeks. Often when dusting my shelves, I’d pull out titles at random, sit cross-legged on the floor and wonder why I hadn’t read such-and-such yet, or re-read a book I loved.

With no library or B&N, I figured I’d order a million books from Amazon to survive these arid months. Surprisingly, I’ve only ordered one new book.

Instead, I’ve been prowling my bookcases, finding treasures everywhere. I loved Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ memoir Cross Creek, why hadn’t I yet read her biography? I’m reading the biography now, while revisiting Cross Creek and The Yearling. I understand how Depression-era Florida affected her writing, and that her characters are composites of real people.

As much as I love nature writing, I’d forgotten Edith Holden’s lovely illustrated journals. How did she come to do this work? From Advanced Book Exchange, I ordered her biography (okay, that’s two books). Edith Holden’s journals led me to A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter. I have Stratton-Porter’s biography, too.

Since I’m taking a nature journaling course through Cornell, I want to know more about birds. A new stack contains two books about Roger Tory Peterson, an older edition of his famous field guide, and the true story of a terminally-ill woman who traveled the world alone in search of 8,000 species of birds.

I haven’t skipped over children’s books. Years ago, I read the first book about the Penderwick family, maybe the second, but not the other three titles. I’m reading the series from start to finish, sandwiched between Polly Horvath middle-grade novels I’ve missed.

Do I pine for the library? Not as much. When it reopens, most likely under stringent conditions, I won’t be in such a hurry to return. I have my own library to feed my soul.  Plus my well-loved books are prettier than any pile of slick bestsellers.

8 thoughts on “Miss the Library? Not So Much.”

  1. I love this. I’m now doing yoga on zoom in my writing room, which can be distracting looking at books I might be reading instead of doing down dog. But, like you, I’m also coming home to books ignored while I tended to those I must return. Coming to Gene Stratton-Porter, Marjorie Rawlings, and Jeanne Birdsall is about the best news I’ve heard in a while, so thank you! And for the gorgeous photos. (I have been looking, during yoga, at The Yearling which I haven’t read in decades and was so important to Katherine Paterson. You’ve encouraged me.)

    • I’ve been taking Jazzercise online, our old classes with our familiar instructors, which has been a lifesaver for me. And I too work out in my home office. I find myself staring at the framed 1931 Nature and 1940 Child Life magazines on the wall, and then at my classic and vintage children’s books. We need our yoga and aerobics, definitely, but we also need to walk back through the books we loved, or haven’t yet read but have anyway. I’m hoping when this Situation is over (probably not for a long time), my restless brain won’t clamor for “more, more, more” and I’ll be satisfied with what I have.

  2. In the past two years, I substantially downsized my personal library (which had already been downsized prior to moving from Louisiana to Virginia). Many of my books found a new home at the lovely Black Swan Books in Staunton, where I have also had many wonderful conversations with “Pete” at the front desk. It’s also the shop that was to have been one of the 2020 launch sites for the lovely anthology I am included in — all of that now in limbo. With approximately 900 volumes remaining, I have more than enough to entertain me for years to come. I am grateful that my emotional state during this pandemic has actually allowed me to read/focus extremely well. I hope that others follow suit and enjoy the hidden delights of their own home libraries.

    • I didn’t know there was a Black Swan bookstore in Staunton. Is it vintage and antique books? I’ve been to the Black Swan in Richmond, where I’ve dropped substantial sums. You are one of the lucky ones who has been able to concentrate and read as before. Many, many of us have lost that ability. I’m slowly coming back and part of the problem is realizing the stores, library, Amazon, etc. kept me in a restless state. We can only read so much at a time and there are too many books, like everything else, to choose from. Maybe we’ll become used to not having so many possessions, or at least think twice before we pick up things we “must” have.

    • Actually I miss shopping too. I would give anything to be back in London at Cath Kidston’s (bags, totes, cute sweaters and dresses to match!), museum gift shops, and Waterstone’s bookstore, where you can spend all day. I know my sister misses shopping–TJ Maxx is her home planet.

  3. By the looks of things you have a wonderful collection of books on hand.
    Here’s an admittance – one of my friends has a massive art book collection, which I occasionally browse. My friend has very kindly let me borrow her books time and again. Even ‘that one book’ that I’m repeatedly drawn to – “Tokyo on Foot” by Florent Chavouet.

    • I probably have a thousand books. Some of my shelves are “double-stacked,” books in front and behind. You should treat yourself to a copy of “Tokyo on Foot” or a new art book. Love the felt project on your website. There’s something comforting about working with felt shapes. Must remind me of the flannel board in Vacation Bible School in the summer. I always wanted to own one. Take care, Melissa.


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