Recently I realized that most readers might not understand my plight, as in, why am I so excited about libraries?
My first real job was in Japan and my office was in the same building as Kinokyniya (Key-no-koo-knee-ya), which had every book in English I could ask for.
Now, this was before Kindles and smartphones. I was a new graduate with loans to pay and an apartment the size of a toothbrush. Thus began my long journey to libraries with English books.
I’ll always be proud of myself for finding and cycling to the only library in the city with English books and figuring out how to get a card to check out books. Granted I owe much to the woman behind the counter, who guessed why I was there.
When I moved to a different part of the city, I also changed jobs. As a university lecturer, I could borrow from the school’s selection.
Once, having checked out a brand new title that I had asked the library to buy, I promptly knocked over a French press full of hot coffee on it. The next day, full of shame, I returned to the library with the book and a giant wad of Japanese banknotes.
Please note, my Japanese was limited: one coffee please, thank you, sorry, excuse me, and my train station name (Kanzakigawa). I held up the book, I held up the money and I tried to hand both over to the confused student volunteer.
There’s some truth to the stereotype that the Japanese freeze up when speaking to foreigners. He dashed away from the counter, returning with a more senior librarian. What follows really is a scene from a comedy with me pointing and shrugging, bowing, and waving the money.
The senior librarian understood, took the money, made some notes. After he pointed and shrugged, I eventually understood that either: I could keep the book, or that I should take it away since they would never keep it in the library after being so horribly destroyed.
I learned my lesson to keep the coffee far from the books. After Japan came Turkey, then the UAE. Searching out libraries became my main comfort, the place of refuge I could leave all my qualms with the local culture at the door—oh the irony—and escape to different worlds. Hence my desperate need for libraries.
Now in the UK, I’m overwhelmed with the number of libraries available to me. And I couldn’t be happier.
P.S. Reader, I still have that book. The coffee stains have faded and the pages have flattened over the years, but the memories are as fresh as yesterday!
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