Harold Washington Public Library, Chicago.
One of my favorite things to do, and surely something I have missed doing so freely since COVID is to wander a library without any intention other than to browse the titles on the shelves and see what sticks out.
I particularly love doing this at large city libraries such as Chicago’s Harold Washinton, or at any university library where the collections are just astounding. I have been doing this for over 20 years now. When visiting a new city, I love to hop into the main library and have a look. Fairly recently, Cleveland’s downtown library stuck out for having an incredible map room on an upper floor, with windows overlooking the city, with rows and rows of drawers full of maps and a map librarian on staff. A dream for a map obsessed freak like me. I mention this map room because it was completely unexpected, and thats what I seem to find every time I go to the library, any library; something unexpected and interesting. This is why I love them. It's because of the public Library in Hayden, Idaho - that I came to know and love Nina Simone. It's because of Oakland's public library that I was able to immerse myself in every Evan S. Connell book I could get my hands on. And if it weren't for Bennet Martin Library here in Lincoln, who knows what would have become of me. It's endless! Being able to 'take a chance' on something without having to spend money you dont have is, well - literally priceless!
Just wandering a section, books towering up above my head, brings an enormous sense of comfort to me. All the ideas and creations and observations contained within, surrounding and awaiting a curious hand. It all started when I was killing time in Chicago before work on a winter's day, and decided to stop into the library. There I found a collection of letters by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which touched me deeply. Returning to that section the next week, I was able to find a whole myriad of ‘b-sides’ so to speak of major writers, and near there - tons of forgotten plays. Reading plays has got to be one of the more fun, and oft not thought of ways to read. Diving into that, reading playwrights I had never heard of, going down a rabbit hole to find people I ended up loving like Karel Capek and so many others that I can’t recall now, but who I enjoyed thoroughly.
So when I'm not sure what to do with myself with some free time on my hands, I like to hop on the bike and cruise down to the library. Yesterday I was roaming the stacks in Criss Library at the University of Omaha and was drawn to a large tome somewhat mysteriously. The book was a translation of a seventeenth century Chinese book on painting. The Tao of Painting. My hand was drawn to it as if controlled by some unseen force. I didn’t think much about it but just an hour later, taking this book into my life drawing class, my instructor saw the book and immediately found himself drawn to it. He asked if he could look at it while I drew. The model in class also was drawn over to it, who paged through it with much interest in the short time between sits. Then I remembered both of the clerks in the library were interested in it as well, when I brought the giant green thing up for checkout. Could it be that there is a type of energy that exists in this book? It was odd how quickly and immediately I knew I wanted to touch this book, and read it and thumb through it. There is nothing spectacular about it on the surface as you can see, but inside the book is full of beautiful illustrations in pen, and fold out paintings that are just incredible. This book, and this example of stumbling into it by chance is what I’m trying to focus on here: the unexpected lovely things we can find if we just let ourselves wander with curiosity.