Thursday, October 8, 2009

Our Town

I got my library card this week. Wrote my name on it with my very best penmanship.

“You may only check out one book the first time,” the librarian informed me.

That’s like hearing you may only trick or treat at one house. Like getting paid for just the first hour of babysitting. What’s the fun in checking out only one book?

“We find that the majority of unreturned books are from first-time patrons.”

This librarian doesn’t make the rules, I know. It’s not personal.

I climbed the stairs to the second floor thinking I would find a quick read—something to check out this morning, read this afternoon, return tomorrow. I’m a good girl, I am, but I need to leave the library with an armload of books.

Really? Only one?

I browsed up and down aisles, rejecting a thick history of Oregon writers and editors, and a Kingsolver essay collection I’ve not yet read. Too thick to read in an afternoon. I wasn’t concerned with finding a good book for the day’s reading so much as I was with earning the right to check out loads of books in the future.

There, on the bottom shelf stood a humble hardback copy of Thornton Wilder’s most famous drama. A three-act play should be easy to read in a couple of hours and return the next day. Perfect. I’d seen the play years ago, as a child or perhaps a young teen. I remembered a few details about Grover’s Corners: George and Emily’s romance, the stage manager speaking straight to the audience, and the poignant birthday scene in Act III. Twice last summer the play came up in conversation with friends, and I’d been thinking I should read it. Yes, this would do nicely. I walked back down the stairs to check out my single book from the Newberg Public Library.

Once home, I read the play quickly, hungrily. I wondered at the timelessness invoked by the stage manager’s lines skipping from present to past tense in the first act, the way the sparse staging contributes to the play’s movement through time. At the third act I had to take my glasses off to read, because I was weeping.

The next morning, I returned the book. Now I can check out as many books as I like, whole armloads. I can read up on Oregon history and get audio books to keep me company when I’m seeing about all the pesky little things that must be done around the place before winter. I really should look through the fiction section, read some novels, but all I want now is to hold that slim book in my hands. I don’t want an armload of books. I want to read Our Town again, and I want to find a DVD of a stage production. Like Emily—like the saints and the poets, maybe—I want to go back for just an hour or a day. I want to take my time and look carefully, so that I may truly see.

Wilder, Thornton. Our Town: A Play in Three Acts. New York: Coward McCann, Inc., 1938.


  1. I saw a production of Our Town a few years ago and remember being surprised by it. I had only ever heard of it as being the perennial production of high schools and I thought it couldn't possibly be any good. I was wrong. Not only was it mature and moving, but it pushed the boundaries of what's possible in narrative. I'm envious you read it. I'd like to see the play again. And again.

  2. I went back today and re-checked out the play, along with a DVD of the performance starring William Holden. I will probably write one of my MFA critical reviews on the play.

  3. “You may only check out one book the first time,”
    said the librarian in Your Town. Wow! Things are different in Oregon. Just for the fun of it, I checked my reading record at my local library. I borrowed 3 books on my first visit, and I don't recall any rule about a limit.

  4. Lydia,

    I went back to the library yesterday and left with a comfortable armload, so my brief probationary period is over. I've got a couple of Lewis and Clark things and the Oregon writer and editor volume I'd seen on the shelf my first visit to the library. My other library disappointment is that they start charging after 10 ILLs in a year's time. In Texas I did 2-3 ILLs a month. I think my reading strategy has to change to one of discovery and exploration rather than my former habit of knowing what I want to read before I start seeking it.

  5. I'm damp-eyed now, but it's because of memory buttons your post pushed. The public library in Tampa, Florida is the one place my mother would leave my brothers and me alone while she shopped. I still remember sitting cross-legged on the libary floor, loving the smell of the books, the whoosh-sound of air-conditioning, and the quiet. Libraries are still a favorite safe harbor for me. Thanks for opening an old file drawer for me. . .