Library Fines

The book-mobile came to our elementary school every Thursday afternoon, beginning my love affair with books– especially the free variety from libraries. We waited, my brothers and I, until 3 when it rolled into the parking lot, and we climbed on books, scouring the few shelves that the bus held. This, I believed– this rolling-meth-lab-turned-book-van– constituted the entire library. Many years would pass before I realized the library had more than four shelves, stocked with copies of Goosebumps and the Magic Tree House Series.

My mother perhaps did not fully understand the concept of libraries or checking out books from them. I really do not know why she continued for months to check out fifteen books at a time, returning maybe only two of that number. She collected fines like most people collect state quarters or Beanie Babies or the teeth from their enemies (if they happen to be ancient war lords). She continued until the library rejected her when next she tried to check out the latest offering from James Patterson.

She resorted to creating library cards for her three sons and using those instead to continue this open theft of library books. I am sure there is a copy of Dinosaurs Before Dark with a library sticker crammed into my bookcase; despite our accessory to this large-scale heist, she was the mastermind. At one point, I believe the librarians posted a wanted poster with her image, demanding several hundreds of dollars in fines lest she be caught on the premises.

The true Wild West character of the County Library. She still avoids the library, as far as I know. Years later, I re-applied for a new card so I could check out books uninhibited by her dark reputation. And it’s not that she amassed fines in malice, like a rebel against the library system. She simply loved books so much, she needed to keep them.

Perhaps she believed stories were permanent, and if she relinquished a book, the characters and tales would somehow dissipate. She kept the books as if to check that the words never faded. I too, at times, feel the need to hold onto stories, hoping their contents never fade from my mind or from existence.

We tell stories to explain who we are, just as I tell this one to better make sense of my mother’s book-related criminality. My mother probably never nurtured such absurd notions about books, that they were semi-permanent. And she never really stole the books, but she did take an awfully long time to return them. But in a story, it helps to link actions to causes. We need reasons for doing things. We tell stories to make points, whether they be true or not.

We need stories to make some sort of sense because people rarely do.


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