Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Creepy by association: libraries and used bookstores

Imagine a little red-haired, five-year-old boy peeking through the curtain at the back of a single screen theater, hoping THIS TIME he won't get scared by the ghost in the library.

Yes, freinds, that was your humble narrator in 1984, trying to watch "Ghostbusters." Why a five year old had multiple chances to watch "Ghostbusters" in the theater is a story for another time. Today, we're talking about how creepy libraries and used bookstores are.

The modern library, with its computers and shelves of DVDs isn't as frightening as libraries of the past were. Think of the scene in "Something Wicked This Way Comes," Will and Jim hiding in the stacks as Mr. Dark torments Mr. Halloway. There is hardly a modern library with shelves to hide in like that.

Old libraries have a certain majesty modern libraries lack. It seems OK to some people to talk on their cellphones in a new library, whereas even one peep in an old library would bring a "shh" from the librarian. Silence is always creepier than sound.

Add in the poor lighting and endless dust and you have the makings of a classic horror setting.

But the creepiest thing about libraries also goes for used bookstores: You have no idea who may have had the book you want before you.

Did you get a little shiver? Did you imagine picking up a book at the library and wondering if the person who checked it out before you read while in their sick bed? Coughing and hacking, covering the pages with invisible killer germs.

Or did you think about the used bookstore? You pick up three or four books and notice they all have the same name scrawled on the inside cover. Was that person just broke an needed gas money? Or did they die and their heirs sold all their books to the store?

Used bookstores often have more books than shelf space. You see piles of books on the floor, falling over, waiting to be tripped over. A good used bookstore is often lit about as poorly as an old library and just as well-dusted.

The good news is that used bookstores, often mom-and-pop operations, aren't collapsing as rapidly as major retailers. Small businesses such as those generally operate under a cloud of dread, so they should (hopefully) weather this storm.

I challenge you to find the oldest library in your town. Go there. And support local bookstores. Pretty soon, they will be all we have left.

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