Saturday, April 5, 2008

Librarians listen

Last week I attended the Public Library Association conference in clean and serene Minneapolis. The city, brisk and sunny, was a balm to stressed nerves and overheated brain; the company of thousands of thoughtful, book-loving, community-supporting librarians was affirming and inspiring. Public librarians from across the country gathered in meeting rooms by the hundreds to listen to their peers talk about books and readers. Even on a Saturday morning at 8:30 when three of us spoke about that most maligned and misunderstood form, the memoir. Thousands laughed uproariously at the closing session as Paula Poundstone, author and big reader, made good fun of them. You don't think, in that context, that the world of books is imperiled. No, you feel certain that literature is a pillar of civilization, that reading is a profoundly pleasurable practice cherished by many, that people are hungry for news of new books and writers, for precise and penetrating reviews, for reading recommendations and fresh perspectives on the river of books that flows from publishers to book review editors to bookstores and libraries. And then you find yourself stuck at the airport, your flight delayed, CNN blaring on TVs hanging above your head, and most of your fellow travelers spending their arrested time fiddling with gadgets--cell phones, laptops, and iPods. Now maybe they're talking about a novel they just read, or reading an essay online, or listening to an audiobook. It's possible. Me? Sure, I was reading one book, with another handy.

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