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Time to Post Again: Edith Wharton, Library Fines, and the Compelling Urgency of Metaphors

March 23, 2012
Red White & Blue

I'm looking so patriotic today! This mug is from the Cat in the Hat ride at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.

It’s been a long while, and it’s time to bring my blog out of hibernation. In some ways I feel that my blog–its name, its content, its posts–represents a sweet and innocent version of me that got lost somewhere between the Bronx and Manhattan. But days in New York City–especially now that it is spring–are comprised of so many moments, like the many facets of a diamond. So many moments that it’s difficult to look at any one too closely, or to imagine that, apart from its neighbors, it would be worth anything at all.

Wait, no scratch that. It makes sense in the context of the whole diamond metaphor but not in the context of what I’m trying to mean. Each moment actually is sparkling, but also too easy to forget. I sort of got carried away in it the way that Edith Wharton does. I’m reading The Age of Innocence right now, which is as engrossing as The House of Mirth–a quick read, in other words. But if you read it quickly you miss out on the incredible attention to detail in her language. You could spend 15 minutes just on one paragraph, and I think, if I were an English teacher, I would assign my students to do a close reading of one paragraph in each chapter. But sometimes, honestly, she gets so carried away that you have no idea what she means. 

Now that I paid off my New York Public Library fines in January (after accumulating through several months, they totaled $66 and change), I resolved to make full use of the Mid-Manhattan branch on Fifth Avenue, a brief jaunt through Bryant Park from my office. The Mid-Manhattan branch is large and they have under-utilized self-checkout kiosks which eliminate the need to ever wait in line to check out. It struck me as dirty and depressing (“dingy,” Edith Wharton would call it), when I first ventured inside, but they have some interesting book displays (I’ve been checking Oprah’s shelf and the Classics upstairs) to choose from if you are browsing.

Otherwise, their pick-up-your-own-hold system is efficient as long as you know to head straight to the back room. Plus, you can renew books via the iPhone app, a feature that I am taking full advantage of in order to avoid writing another $66 check. A few months back, I heard that the NYPL plans to close the Mid-Manhattan branch entirely, sell the property (including office space above the lending library), and convert the huge historic building across the street into the lending library. What a brilliant plan! And, with my donation of $66 this calendar year, I can proudly say that I am one of the sponsors of the million-dollar project. Perhaps they will dedicate a shelf (or the return counter) to me when the new library opens.

Here’s to spring!

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