Wednesday! Library day! A habit of mine since a few years ago when my Wednesday mornings were clear several semesters in a row. I used to stroll there after breakfast, enjoying a tall cup of coffee (black and sweet) and a scone. After I became a commuting student I had to drive to the library, but the Wednesday habit has stuck.
I came into the library through the rear entrance, which I like to do because that means I pass through the art gallery. This month's showing is of drawings of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in town (picture taken by me in December 2010), accompanied by butterflies. Selma is (supposedly) the butterfly capital of Alabama, so during the summer the entire downtown was decorated with little butterfly statues, hand-painted by school children. (Picture taken by me, July 2010) One of the portraits was of the Golden Gate Bridge, which amused me: somewhere in Selma High School there exists a raging little nonconformist with a good eye for bridges. I went into the bookstore to see if there were any good nonfiction discards, and somehow spent several minutes in there without realizing my former history professor was in there with me. This is the guy who made me cynical about Hell, a man whose history lectures I dreamt of attending when I was out of class. I seriously had a dream in my sophomore semester at community college about sneaking into his classes so I could hear him lecture. He's an old Marine and something of a Mark Twain figure -- he's got this crotchety old voice and a biting wit, so he's fun to listen to.
I saw him come out a few minutes later, and we greeted one another before going our separate ways. I went upstairs to fetch a Catholic bible (which includes Jewish texts discarded by the Protestants) and found another book of interest. After visiting my usual haunts -- history, science, philosophy, poetry -- I went downstairs with an armload of books and spoke to him after checking out.
He was sitting reading a newspaper and his eyes drifted to my books, like every good scholar's eyes should, and then he made a funny expression. I often try to engage people by letting them see the books I read: it's a slightly subtle way of arranging interesting conversations. I'd put a history book on top of my stack, so I didn't know why he made a face. I looked down to see --- oh. The Catholic Church and the Bible. Oops. Did I mention this professor is an Objectivist with a fondness for Ayn Rand?
I felt embarrassed -- judged. Here we were, two intellectuals, two scholars, two students of the human condition whose eyes were open to the vanities of politics, tradition, and religion -- and here I was giving ear to an organization which at times has exemplified the worst of those three. I was so self-conscious that I actually waited for him to be distracted, then arranged the books so another book was on top. There! My sin was hidden.
Then I felt even sillier, because I can and should read what I want to without thought to how others will perceive it. If he wants to judge my reading choices, that's none of my concern. No one should be afraid of anyone else's opinions. I came away from the incident feeling more embarrassed about my trying to hide the book than getting caught with it -- I know, after all, that my interest in Catholicism is purely academic. Given my anti-authoritarian streak, I wouldn't look to see me taking the Eucharist or referring to Rome as the Holy Mother Church anytime soon. I've noticed I sometimes seek the approval of professors I admire, especially in regard to writing good papers and reading books that shake things up, and this may be childish on some level. I'm not sure, but I think the fact I that I was immediately conscious of acting childish today may be a good sign.
Anyway! My library loot:
Last week I picked up:
- Evolution: Society, Science, and the Universe, an anthology of essays by various authors, including Stephen Jay Gould, Jared Diamond, and Freeman Dyson. Evolution is used in its most broad change: change in systems over time.
- How to Read and Why, Harold Bloom. Haven't gotten far into this yet, but its focus is on reading literature as a means of cultivating ourselves as people.
This week I added:
- The Catholic Church and the Bible, Peter M.J. Stravinskas
- The First Salute, Barbara W. Tuchman
- The New English Bible: The Apocrypha, Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press.
- The Accidental Time Machine, Joe Haldeman
I've been trying to check out a Haldeman book for weeks now, but every time I go into the library I forget his name and wind up wandering the aisles muttering "Handler? DeHandle? Handleton?" and disturbing other patrons. I remembered him this week, though! Pity my library doesn't have The Forever War.
You can expect a review of Isaac Asimov's The Stars like Dust either tonight or tomorrow, and I'll also be finishing Disaster 1906: The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. The great quake struck on Wednesday, 18 April, so reading it this week seemed appropriate.