I've recently rediscovered the joys of the New York Public Library.
I used to be an avid fan of libraries. What's not to like, after all? The library is a place you can go where you can spend as much time as you like*, relax, curl up** and read, learn about pretty much anything you like, or, for that matter, do quite the opposite with a trashy novel, and then leave with a hand clutched firmly around several books for prolonged enjoyment in the comfort of your own home - and all for free. They don't ask for so much as a penny from you.
Well, they do if you forget you have a few library books due back, which really seems quite fair enough. I've been the victim*** of a few fines myself in the past (quite a few, actually) and have always been pretty good about paying up - except this one time, about a year ago, when I didn't have enough cash. I figured I'd get it next time, and then I just never went back.
I don't know why. The library is beautiful. The flagship**** one, anyway. It's my second favourite building in the city. And it has free books in it. I love books! What was I doing?
I think I thought my fine was quite hefty, and I was really busy, so I did the logical thing and just bought books for a year instead. I have a Kindle. It's very easy for me to buy books - dangerously so - but I realised its shortcomings when I couldn't, for the life of me, get it to log onto Amazon's 3G network when I was in New Zealand. I could have done with a few library books then*****.
So recently, I rectified my lapse, and marched bolshily into the library, wallet outstretched in front of me. "I am here to pay my fine!" I bellowed. "I am not one to shirk my duty! Don't ask why it's taken me so long, because I don't know!"
The startled librarian took my card and scanned it. "That'll be $3.50," she said disinterestedly.
"Oh," I murmured. Pacified, I handed over a $5 note and received my change, then turned towards the interior of the building, where all the miniature worlds and tales and knowledge one could possibly ever want stretched out to me from where it quietly lay, between the shelves.
*Disclaimer: Within reason. They may not love it if you tried to hold a sleepover there, for example.
**Possible only in New Zealand libraries, actually, or so my experience tells me. The chairs in both London and New York libraries do not encourage curling.
***On reflection, this doesn't seem quite the correct word.
****Also not quite the right word. I may be suffering from shopping withdrawal.
*****Not that I would have taken a bunch of heavy books away with me...but you get my point.