We take things for granted. And we shouldn’t. The pandemic is teaching us that, that change and impermanence are the order of the day. From bakeries to barber shops, from cruiseliners to national parks, the Princess Theatre, the Oilers—so much now is closed to us…until further notice. There’s much to miss.
One of the places that’s now shuttered is the EPL. And for those of us who are bookworms, apt to stop into one branch or another of the Edmonton Public Library sometimes weekly, that closure hurts.
Which may make this the perfect time to celebrate libraries. And books, bookstores, reading. It’s certainly an ideal moment to remind you that your own church library remains open, though “business hours” are much reduced: you can browse and borrow whenever Southminster-Steinhauer United Church is open, and, for now, that’s from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Libraries, Heather Klimchuk declared in an opinion piece in last August 14th’s Edmonton Journal, “continue to be the heart of every community….” According to the former cabinet minister and MLA for Edmonton-Glenora, “Libraries are the community touchstone where you will always feel welcome….” Even in this digital age—and here she quoted the EPL’s CEO, Pilar Martinez—“‘libraries are thriving like never before as community hubs that provide learning, literacy, and access to information for everyone.’”
Exactly two weeks earlier, The Globe and Mail published Angela Jouris Saxe’s “First Person” essay, “For the love of books”. She told of her “love and appreciation for libraries,” and just “how wonderful it is to be surrounded by books.” Libraries, she affirmed, provide us “with an opportunity to engage with the past, the present, and the future; all that is required is a modicum of curiosity. Libraries are vibrant and fluid places that help us to adjust to the world….”
Earlier, in the October 29, 2018, Toronto Star, bestselling author Neil Pasricha lauded bookshops, but what he had to say about them applies in spades to libraries: “They are chock full of two-inch thick compressed volumes of the best thinking from the best brains in the history of the universe.” What’s more, they’re “all thoughtfully laid out on…shelves in front of you.
“…[Books] provide a huge amount of incongruent ideas,” he continued, “that stir together in your brain in unique ways, so lightning-bolt ideas flash and process. …books help us develop empathy, compassion, and understanding for each other. …The Annual Review of Psychology published a groundbreaking report in 2011 that stated books are medicine. Books are medicine! They create empathy and intimacy and happiness. Turns out our brain’s mirror neurons fire when we read about new experiences, because we feel like we’re there.”
This solemnization, this endorsement of books and reading is widespread: “We’re constantly bombarded with tiny bits of information that are fleeting, ephemeral, occasionally inaccurate, easily forgotten,” New York Times book editor Pamela Paul told the Columbia Journalism Review late in 2018. “I think books are like an antidote to that. …They offer a long view. They offer historical perspective. They offer a broader context.”
Indeed, they can be for us influential. In the book he co-authored with his father Tony Campolo, Why I Left, Why I Stayed, Bart Campolo referenced the 19th-century nonconformist pastor Edwin Paxton Hood, who warned, “‘Be as careful of the books you read as of the company you keep; for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as the later.’”
The author of over 30 books, theologian Frederick Buechner, in his Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABCs of Faith, also finds books affecting: “…it is an honour just to have them on your shelves. Something of what they contain gets into the air you breathe. They are…prepared to give you all they’ve got at a moment’s notice, but are in no special hurry about it…. …They are giving you time to find your way to them. Maybe they are giving you time…just to find your way.”
In, of all places, the “acknowledgments” page in his new-this-year book, Saving God from Religion: A Minister’s Search for Faith in a Skeptical Age, United Church of Christ minister Robin Meyers vouches, “…there is no artifact as beautiful as a book, nor a blessing as powerful or irreplaceable as reading.”
Maybe it’s like this, this being from a letter to the editor in the January 21, 2019, edition of The Globe: the writer, a Walter Peace of Burlington, Ontario, remembers a book review which the paper had published a decade earlier under the heading, “Saving the souls of books”: “‘Every book, every volume has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it, and the soul of those who read it and lived it and dreamed it.’”
So maybe now especially, when we’re self-distancing and self-isolating, and maybe all alone and lonely; when we’re unable to get away, as on a holiday [Neil Pasricha: “Books are my favourite vacations”]; maybe this is the perfect time to stop in to, and get to know your own church’s library.
After all, a library offers—this is Pasricha, some more—“a safe escape from our sometimes overwhelming now, into a different path, a different mind, and a somewhat tangental narrative of life, that we get to simply slip into for a while.” See for yourself.