In a March 31 L.A. Times Op-Ed piece (“Marijuana’s Essential, So Why Not Books?”), the author asks, “Why should it be easier to buy marijuana than a good book at a store in Los Angeles during the coronavirus shutdown?
“Mayor Eric Garcetti and Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home edicts allow dispensaries to stay open but force bookshops to shutter indefinitely.”
I used to be a frequent “shopper” at the Palisades Library, so when I made my last trip there on Friday, March 13, I borrowed two books. I would have gone to the little bookstore that is in the back, which I also frequent, but it had already closed for the day.
I had recently discovered a new author, Scottish crime writer Peter May, and had already read the three books of his at the library, so I ordered two additional ones online.
Little did I know all public libraries would close the next day—leaving me and Ruby (the homeless woman that lives in the library foyer and has resisted all attempts to get her housing—she has mental issues) out in the cold.
Ruby was left without a restroom, a computer, or a place to charge a phone.
I was left with two books and, just like toilet paper, the shortage has been an issue. I read slowly, allotting only a few pages a night.
Then a notice came that people could not return books to the library because the book slot was locked.
Last week, I received a call from the library that the books I had ordered were at the library. Alas, there was no way to retrieve them.
When I was growing up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, I discovered books. They were my salvation. I could go to places I had never been, meet people I would otherwise never know and escape the poverty and sickness around me.
Since there were no libraries in the small town of Mission, my mom sent away to the South Dakota State Library, and books would regularly arrive in the mail.
A few people could afford the paperback books (25 cents) through the weekly reader form that came once a month to my classroom. Our family couldn’t afford these paperbacks; I had four siblings and my dad’s teacher salary basically covered necessities—food, rent and clothing. There were no extras.
When my parents went to summer school in Aberdeen, South Dakota, the town had a public library and a book mobile. You could actually go, look at the book and take it home and return it and do it again. The hot summers in small apartments were spent in a yard or a park with a book.
Ironically, when I moved to New York City after college, my first job was at Scribner’s bookstore and even though I could barely make my rent and had just enough money for subway tokens, I didn’t have enough money for medical care, insurance, or clothes. Yet I felt rich. I lived with the heroine in so many novels that my life seemed full of endless possibilities.
Today, with the coronavirus, I keenly feel the loss of hardcover books. My husband suggested ordering from Amazon. I’ve always resisted buying books from that company because it undermined Village Books and Barnes and Nobel and hundreds of other independent book stores.
Finally, I succumbed and ordered my first book, but I didn’t have to, because in the L.A. Times story, I was reminded that Diesel Books in the Brentwood Country Mart is still open, and I learned they have an ad hoc form of curbside pickup, leaving books in bags with names.
What a wonderful option—I can get books to hold and read! The author said that employees are still recommending books by phone, and wrote:
“As are bread and milk, gas and aspirin, alcohol and marijuana, books should be available, with safety precautions in place at the usual places we buy them in our neighborhoods.”