Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, February 11, 2007


The Promise of a Good Book

For those pursuing a simplified lifestyle, books and libraries are immediate friends. A list below of good books on simplicity, books that changed the world, the treasure that is the library, subversive literature placement, and pro-library propaganda:


Raised at the Library

Mom and I both love a bargain, so Saturdays often find us at a consignment store or factory outlet, sometimes armed with a list but more often discovering, when we get there, items that we “need”. In the summer, tag sales are added to the mix. I will always enjoy a bargain, but lately have become more aware of how often the need to spend is created versus actual. Gavin, a seasoned shopper at 5, is usually with Mom and me on these consumer quests, but he has his limits. His presence precludes reaching a fever pitch in our mini shopping frenzies. Still, something felt a bit amiss on some Saturdays of late. Shopping is far less important to me than it once was, and yet it has remained the most likely activity for many weekends.

Only recently did I think back on my own childhood Saturdays. What did Saturdays with Mom mean when I was a kid? The library, most often. We were raised strictly but the library meant freedom. We were set loose inside; no book was off limits. This was a safe place, a hallowed place, a place full of possibility. My sense memories of the library are immediate: the crackling sound of plastic book jackets, the distinctive smells of new (inky) and older (musty) books, the soft, carpeted footfalls that came and went past my chosen aisle.

The books I read there and the books I took home were too numerous to count. I remember the satisfaction with which we emerged, arms piled high with our choices. Our tastes were eclectic, and this was encouraged. I remember the usual kid’s reading fare, but I also remember books on medical anomalies, making money, and beauty secrets. We devoured our books in time for the due date, and returned the old pile eager to devour more.

Driving by our local library has felt like driving by an estranged friend’s house. With full-time work and our entrenched Saturday shopping habit, I’d framed the place as unattainable. The library’s hours are limited, and the few evenings it stays open late never seem to mix well with work and Day Care fatigue. It’s hard to go home and then venture back out, so on our rare evening visits we arrive hungry and keep the visit short.

Given the sacred place of the library in my own childhood, I’m surprised it took this long for Mom, Gavin, and me to plan a Saturday afternoon at the library. Gavin ran right for the kids’ wing, and Mom and I plopped down on the cushioned bench nearby. He chose book after book, a stereotypical boy in his creepy and crawly selections. My mom read several stories in an animated voice of professional stage caliber. Gavin took short literature recesses to dive into the playhouse jammed with stuffed animals.

I wandered off and came back with three selections: essays on country life, a book on the writing life, and another book on finding your calling. Even that short browse recaptured the feeling of freedom and possibility. I felt like a child again as I displayed my selections and Mom murmured enthusiasm and approval. I found two favorite books for Gavin: Diary of a Worm, and Shel Silverstein’s classic Where the Sidewalk Ends. He added The House that Drac Built , a delightfully scary picture book that taught me what a manticore was (half lion, half scorpion with a human head), to our growing pile.

This past Saturday felt like a full circle, and I am hoping there will be many more of these happy outings. I was raised at the library, and I am grateful that my mom saw the importance of this place. I am even more grateful that we found our way back.

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At 2/15/2007 7:59 AM, Blogger Elderwoman said...

The 'Living Simply' book list does, as you say, have some very good books on it. There's an even more comprehensive list on the Simple Living Network site, which is broken down into categories. That is useful, as some simplicity books stress the frugality aspect, some the inner peace aspect and others the ecological aspect. People who are looking to simplify their lives are often approaching the issue from a variety of different places. That's why in my own book, ' The Lilypad List: 7 steps to the simple life' (which incidentally is also on the Simple Living Network list though not on the one you mentioned, probably as it was published later) I start with the reader and help her or him to tease out these different strands and motivations.
By the way, a lot of people forget that even if their own library does not stock the book they are looking for it is often possible to get it brought in on inter-library loan for just a small fee. I do that a lot. It beats buying books!
Marian Van Eyk McCain,


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