Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The library

I work in an institution of higher learning, swayed continuously by the rhythms of the university year, buffeted by the energy--and ennui--of batches of students who seem to get younger every year. I love it. I love interview faculty about non-Newtonian fluids or generational succession within companies or the holy text of Islam or labor laws in Gold Rush California. I continually want to be a physicist or historian or political scientist or microbiologist.

But I hadn't explored the library until last week, in the quiet before the first week of school. I had forgotten what it was like, hurrying up those cement stairs crisscrossed in the depths of a big building full of books. The musty chill and the clang of the industrial door as it opens into a huge expanse of shelves high above the ground floor. That frisson of excitement.

It feels dangerous, illicit somehow, and I always jump when I hear the clang of a stairwell door across the floor. Then footsteps getting closer, stopping, turning, closer again, and my heart starts beating faster. I never see my fellow bookworms in those warrens of shelves, maybe just wandering, like me, with a finger out to move across the spines. But my invisible compatriots always make me want to hurry, like a kid taking a flying leap onto her bed at night so nothing can grasp at her ankles.

I didn't expect to find—there in the TXs—anything but Physical Properties of Plant and Animal Materials and Rheology and Texture in Food Quality and Objective Methods in Food Quality Assessment. Food broken down from sustenance into small bits of data.

But I found a gold mine: cookbooks and commentary and culinary history and two of my favorite opinionated women...

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