One of my favorite places in town doesn't have a collection of beautiful flowers. It doesn't have a breathtaking vista or a soothing waterfall. What it has is books. Lots and lots of books.
It's the Allen County Public Library, and if you don't realize what a gem we have in the library system, well, shame on you. I've lived in places with libraries that have a couple thousand books, not the 3 million or so in the library's collection. (Think about that number for a minute — 3 million! The library's Cheryl Ferverda says there's about 4 million items in the library system, with the remaining 1 million being videos, music, etc.) Wow. You could never read all the books in the library in your lifetime. Heck, it would take a thousand lifetimes to read all those books.
In fact, the library was one of the things that drew me to Fort Wayne when I came here to interview for my first job here at The Journal Gazette. My soon-to-be coworkers took me downtown for lunch and then we stopped by the library on the way back to the newspaper building. To say I was impressed was an understatement.
But I digress.
I love reading because it transports me to another world. Even if I just have a few minutes, I can pick up a book and I'm soon immersed in 1916 London in a book by mystery writer Charles Todd or to the DiscWorld of Terry Pratchett or even the Land of Oz (I have most of the books in the Oz series, including some really rare ones I read again every now and then).
I read mostly mysteries, probably because I like the resolutions. So much in our lives doesn't have a neat and tidy resolution, so when I read a mystery with the solution all figured out by the end and the bad guys punished, I'm happy. My favorite mystery writers include John D. MacDonald (the Travis McGee series), Walter Mosley (I love his character Easy Rawlins and his take on life in 1950s and 1960s Los Angeles), Janet Evanovich (I'm currently listening to her Stephanie Plum books on tape) and the Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen. I also enjoy the comical, even farcical, books by Carl Hiassen, the more ridiculous the better.
What's great about our library having 3 million books is that I can always find something new and interesting to read. The Main library's expansion gave me room to wander and find new books, and I never come away disappointed. (Well, almost never — there have been a few books I stopped reading after a few chapters, usually because of bad writing. To avoid that, I look at the first page, a page in the middle, and a page towards the end of the book to see if the writing holds together. You'd be surprised at how bad the writing is sometimes that still somehow finds a publisher!)
I suppose it only makes sense that because I'm a writer, I'd love books. And it's true that in order to be a good writer, you have to be a reader. I credit my mom with my love of books. She read to us from the cradle on up, and she never took away the flashlight I'd use to read under the covers at night. My dad made up his own childhood stories, The Brushpile stories, which he'd write out and mail to us. I wish I still had those.
Now I get to pass that love of reading on to my children. My son loves to be read to, but he has an irrational dislike of the library, because you don't get to keep the books. He only likes to buy books so he'll have them forever. Interesting.
So, at the end of each day, after the children have been tucked into their beds, I pick up my latest library book and read a few pages, trying to remember the thread of the plot from the night before. For a few precious moments, I'm lost again in another world, a world where loose ends are tied, laundry is already done and no one, apparently, ever goes to the bathroom. The minutiae of life are ignored in the realm of fiction, which makes fiction a perfect escape from the mundane-ness of my "real" life.
Maybe at some point in my life, I'll write a book of my own. I just need to find the time. And the plot. And the characters. Well, maybe not. I should leave that to the professionals.