The Carnegie library in my home town was just one block down main street from our home. Our home was 500 Main Street. The Library was 314 Main. In the days when I was growing up there were two huge Colorado Blue Spruce trees in front of the building, With their closely spaced branches, they were a bit of a challenge to climb, but we could climb higher than the roof of the building. The library itself was a red brick building with a half-buried sandstone basement. In front steps led up to a pair of wooden doors with more steps going up inside of the door. There were stacks both upstairs and down. The librarian’s desk was near the middle of the upstairs room with the reference stacks behind. There are many other details which I remember, mostly about the locations of books and the temperament of the librarian. I remember that there was a limit of 10 books that could be checked out on a single library card at any given time. Sometime when I was 7 or 8 years old, we persuaded the librarian to extend that number to 12 and then to 15 books that I was allowed to check out.

Failure to return books on time resulted in fines that were assessed in pennies per day, but it was more than money. In our home, failure to return a library book on time was a sign of a serious infraction. We were expected to return our books on time and in good shape. Besides the only way to get more books was to return the ones you had. I spend most of my summers with the maximum number of books checked out on my card.

My voracious reading took a slump somewhere during my high school years. I focused on earning my pilot’s license and studied a single book in more depth than I ever had previously done. When I finished Wolfgang Langewiesce’s “Stick and Rudder,” I started over at the beginning and read more carefully than i had the first time through.

When I arrived at college I was quick to obtain a job at the college library. I was the person to open the library for business each morning. The library experienced very little business in its first hour and I was free to study and to go through the stacks in search of books that interested me. The reading for course work in college was significantly higher than it had been in high school and I was a fairly focused student, so I mostly read for the classes i was taking, but I read supplemental materials and extra books from the bibliographies for most of the classes I took.

In graduate school, I had full access to the seminary library, the library of the University of Chicago Divinity School and the Joseph Regenstein Library, home to 4.5 million volumes. And, by that time, I had begun collecting a modest library of my own. By weight, our books have been the biggest part of our household ever since.

I read almost no fiction from my second year of high school until midway through my graduate school career. That meant that I missed out on many of the novels and plays that other students read at that point in their lives. Upon graduation, I poured myself into fiction for a while, almost as if I was making up for lost time.

These days my reading interests are eclectic. I virtually always have a couple of theological books that I am reading. I belong to a book club that processes books slowly, often only a chapter a week, so while I like to keep up with that reading, the pace demands that I read other things. There is a lot of publication in my field, so there are always unread books around. Right now I have a stack of unread theological books in my office at work and another here in our home. I try to always have a volume of poetry available for reading in short bursts while I am waiting. I like to have some fiction in my life. And I enjoy stories of adventure, especially boat and canoe expeditions, stories of travels in the far north and historical books about our region.

It happens that for some reason, I finished multiple books close to each other last week. I had been reading W. H. Auden’s “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio,” a very densely-written poem that I was reading out loud because of the challenging verbiage. I was also reading “Beauty is a Verb,” an emotionally challenging collection of essays and poems by and about disabled persons. I came to the end of both volumes on the same day. The occasion prompted a shuffling of my stack of books to read. At the top of the current pile was a new volume on the death penalty that was sent to me by a colleague three or four months ago. I should read it, and I will, but I wasn’t eager to launch into something that emotionally charged after the week I’ve been through. Simon Montefiore’s “Jerusalem” has been out for nearly five years and I still haven’t cracked the cover. But somehow a 600+ page history book with more than 50 pages of footnotes seemed like a more challenging read than my mood last night. I shuffled through the pile and my eye fell on “Barren Grounds: The Story of the Tragic Moffatt Canoe Trip by Skip Pessi. I got that volume after reading a review in a magazine to which I subscribe. But that book is a sort of a response to “Death on the Barrens” another account of the same trip by George Grinnell. I really should have both perspectives and I often prefer to read books in the order that they were published.

I ended up setting aside my books and reading a couple of magazines instead last night.

I’ll take up a book today and I’ve got two going at the office, so I won’t run out of things to read. But something tells me that were I to have stayed in my home town, I wouldn’t need the 15-book limit on my library card any more. I probably could get along with four or five. On the other hand, had I stayed in that town, the tiny library wouldn’t have many volumes that I haven’t read by now.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!