…On Dispelling a (Gertrude) Steinesque Fear & Playing the Roving Library Critic

“Her bookish life commenced at this time. She read anything that was printed that came her way and a great deal came her way…From her eight year, when she absorbed Shakespeare…[she] used to worry lest in a few years more she would have read everything and there would be nothing unread to read…

– Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of  Alice B. Toklas ’33 (p. 74)

Gertrude Stein is an undeniable iconoclast in literary history – and arguably, Stein’s experimental “novels” (if one could call her prose poetry such) are unrivaled.

But Stein’s fear of reading all the books in the world is a bibliophile’s nightmare…that will never happen (unless the firemen from Fahrenheit 451 step out of pages and into reality).

The number of books printed in English alone would take more than a lifetime to read, since Anglophone publish a thousand new books every year. Reuters reported in 2006 that British had surpassed the US as the top publisher for the second time in history). Adding foreign languages – from French to ancient calligraphy – and two lifetimes would still not be enough time to read every crisp or musty page. And I would hope the musty pages are limited to rarities housed in library archives and university stacks.

To me, libraries, above all else, are getaway spots for globe-trotters on a budget – simply, turning a few pages can take me further into a Jetson-like future or to a time where jazz giants wander in and out of  Minton’s Playhouse. So, a new library opening will obviously draw my attention quicker than the latest Hollyweird fiasco.

While strolling down Ga. Avenue last week, I stumbled across a glasshouse shaped like a cheesecake. On closer inspection, I discovered that the glasshouse cheesecake was the renovated Watha T. Daniel-Shaw (WTD) Library.

The flashback of the sardine-sized trailer of the interim library made me laugh. Yet, months later and another summer gone by, the brand new Watha stood before me.

Like any true bibliophile, I was awed.  My wallet and flat feet were also glad: No more catching the Metro or trekking by foot to the MLK Library in Chinatown – Hotcha!

However, going inside made me downgrade my the awe of Watha’s slick exterior and its convenience.

The spick-and-span newness of the library could not hide its non-existent space. Cramp shelves crowding into the computer lab for adults, a small selection of DVDs, and even smaller collection of books make Watha a mini-library that cannot be mistaken for MLK. That’s why requesting a hold will become a daily habit for me.

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