Alan Rhodes

Medicine Chest of the Soul

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The title above is taken from the inscription over the doorway of the library of ancient Thebes. I love books and am jealous of people like Thomas Jefferson, who had 6,487 volumes in his personal library. My own collection falls short of that by approximately 6,400 books, so it’s fortunate we have a dozen libraries in the Whatcom County Library System. I’m in the downtown Bellingham library so often that some people think I work there. Next Monday begins National Library Week—bibliophile High Holy Days for me. I recently spent an afternoon roaming around the library, checking out the activity and talking to patrons.

Walking in I encounter a guy named Harold who’s struggling with a heavy carton of books. He deposits it in the donations corner and says he has 17 more in the car. Books that are in excellent condition will appear at bargain prices at one of the library’s book sales. The rest go to the free books room downstairs. I ask Harold why he’s giving away his books. “I’m moving to Florida,” he says. “Last winter put me over the edge.”

From here I head to the aforementioned free books room. There are shelves and cartloads of them, all for the taking. A lot of new donations have just arrived and the place is hopping. I find a copy of Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers to replace my edition that’s been self-destructing for the past few decades.

I’m next door to the children’s section so I stroll in and strike up a conversation with two enthusiastic readers, Tatum, age 7, and Lukas, age 4. I ask Tatum what I should read and she recommends the Elephant and Piggie series. Lukas gives a thumbs-up to the entire genre of books about trucks. He informs me he loves the library because they have a hundred books.

Back upstairs I go to the desk and ask a young librarian named Abby about Margaret Atwood’s new novel The Testaments. Abby consults her computer, discovering that the book hasn’t been released yet. She promptly orders it and puts my name down for notification when it arrives. How’s that for service! When I tell her it’s a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale (or what I call Mike Pence’s America) we compare notes on the addictive creepiness of the Hulu television series.

I next go over to pick up a DVD from the “Hold” shelves, a copy of Samuel Fuller’s 1953 classic film noir Pickup on South Street. I love this moody genre and have found all the best ones in the DVD section, everything from Double Indemnity to The Third Man.

Over in the New Books section I chat with book browsers, including a woman named Debbie Jarry, a history aficionado who buys a lot of books, but comes here for lighter stuff she doesn’t want to keep. I’m tempted to pick up a few new books myself, but already have a dozen half-read books sitting around the house.

Plopping down at a table I start talking to a heavily bearded fellow across from me. I ask him what he uses the library for and he answers, “To read, to get warm, and to get away from the Drop-In Center.” He has been homeless and during his time on the streets the library has been a haven. “The librarians are wonderful,” he tells me. “They treat everyone with respect.”

I leave him to his book, Shogun, James Clavell’s 998-page novel of Japan, and go relax in a comfortable chair in the periodical section and peruse The New York Times. I hate reading anything on a computer screen, so it’s nice to sit here with the actual newspaper without having to buy it at $3 a pop.

One thing that amazes me about the library is it’s not just a place to check out books. It’s a dynamic community center, offering such things as English language classes, adult education materials for teachers and students, computer access, free legal advice, tech support coaching, a home repair workshop, Tai Chi classes, craft and weaving workshops, book discussion groups, teenage game nights, and I could go on. I love this place.

Later, on my way out, I recall what one of my favorite writers had to say on the subject of libraries. Kurt Vonnegut pretty much summed up my feelings when he said, “The America that I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”

Alan Rhodes can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Past Columns
The Lilliputian Gazette

November 20, 2019

Election Elucidations

October 15, 2019

Buying Sedro-Woolley

September 4, 2019

Rescued by Rachmaninoff

July 17, 2019

Hurrahs and Harangues

May 8, 2019

Ranting and Raving

March 6, 2019

Bellingham 2050

February 13, 2019

Looking Backward

January 2, 2019

Joy to the World

December 19, 2018

A Second Spring

October 3, 2018

Dog Days Deliberations

September 12, 2018

Mr. Cranky’s Files

July 11, 2018

Can We Talk?

June 20, 2018

Midnight Musings

May 16, 2018

April Fools

April 4, 2018

Rollo and Me

March 7, 2018

Egregious linguistic offenses

February 14, 2018

Events
Today
Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Coffee Brewing Class

2:00pm|Camber Coffee

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Splitboard 101

6:00pm|REI

Sparkling Wines

6:30pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Celtic Christmas Concert

6:30pm|Anacortes Transit Shed Events Center

Marina Albero Trio

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

O Christmas Tea

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Tomorrow
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

Holiday Favorites

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

The Naughty List Market and Cabaret

2:00pm|Broadway Hall

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Songs of Peace with Kulshan Youth Choir

5:30pm|First Congregational Church

Bellwether Premiere Wine Social

5:30pm|Lighthouse Grill

Holiday Party

6:00pm|Camber Coffee

DSA Movie Night

6:00pm|Academic West

Winter Pop-Up with Taylor Shellfish

6:00pm|Aslan Depot

Peaceful Poetry Reading

6:30pm|Village Books

Shrek the Musical

7:00pm|Burlington-Edison High School

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Storm Music Extravaganza

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Treasure Island

7:00pm|Sehome High School Theater

Peace, Love, and Ukuleles

7:00pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Avalanche Awareness

7:00pm|Backcountry Essentials

History Holiday

7:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Good, Bad, Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Friday
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

The Naughty List Market and Cabaret

2:00pm|Broadway Hall

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Treasure Island

7:00pm|Sehome High School Theater

Shrek the Musical

7:00pm|Burlington-Edison High School

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Connelly Creek Nature Area

Toys for Tots

10:00am

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am| Sunset Square

Holiday Tea

11:00am|Willowbrook Manor

Holiday Craft Bazaar

3:30pm|Lynden Library

Drayton Harbor Shellebration

4:00pm|G Street Plaza

Gingerbread House Making

4:30pm|Ferndale Library

Christmas on the Docks

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Photos and Stories with James K. Papp

5:00pm|Gallery Pegasus

Wonderland Walk

5:00pm|Washington Park

Valley Made Holiday Market

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Kids Night Out @ Western

6:00pm|Western Washington University

Lost Feast

7:00pm|Village Books

Honk! The Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Darkness and Light

7:30pm|St. James Presbyterian Church

Narnia the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Christmastime is Here with Skagit Symphony

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Tarnation and Holiday Games

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

see our complete calendar »