Tuesday, April 13, 2004

On Books, Nuns, and Unholy Runs

I am an information junkie. I cruise the bookstores for my fix.

Two weeks ago, it was Joseph Beth in Lyndhurst. Sunday found me at Barnes and Noble. Today the Borders here in Cleveland Heights seduced my checkbook from my wallet. I buy books like I buy shoes: way too often.

Normal reading addicts have library cards. I'm not allowed. They are way too expensive.
You see, I'm not good at borrowing things, because I forget to return them. My library bill for late fees and missing books became so outrageous that I had to tear up the card. It's much cheaper to just buy my literature.

My bad library habits have been fostered over many years. Not long ago I came across a copy of "The Little Prince" by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, the inside cover bearing the stamp of my high school alma-mater,Notre Dame Academy, on the card pocket. The book was required reading for my 11th grade English class, and it's rediscovery conjured up a nearly forgotten adolescent memory that still makes me chuckle.

One winter morning, toward the end of homeroom period, the school librarian stuck her head in the doorway of our classroom and began to read names off of her list of overdue book offenders. Just as the bell rang to signal the end of the homeroom period, Sister Aimee called out , "Miles, ...MaryBeth? Where's that Miles?" While the sister had her head turned to the left, I made a dash for the door on her right. I didn't know where the book was and I had no money. I didn't feel like dealing with any of the dished-out nun-guilt that would certainly be delivered to my reluctant conscience.

Uh oh! Those eagle eyes spotted me! I started to run. To my amazement, that little 80 year old nun in her flowing black skirts and fluttering veil gave chase! It was like a scene from a lame Disney movie. As I tore down the hallway in my black and white saddle shoes, Sister Aimee was gaining on me. Soon the corridor filled with hundreds of uniformed girls, and the single-minded sister got lost in the confusion of plaid skirts and navy blue blazers. I made a sharp left into a stairwell. Phew!! My unholy bolt to obscurity was a success!
I'd ditched her.

I had to pay for the missing book in June. It turned up in July under my bed. I would purchase many more library books in a similar fashion as the years went by.

At Max Hayes High School, where I teach, the library is rarely used for reading or research. There is such a dearth of books that it's shelves display knick-knacks to disguise the emptiness. Students will come in to use the internet or make copies on the xerox machine. In fact, it's not even called a library any more, it was renamed the Media Center. Things certainly have changed.

I find that rather sad...and somewhat disturbing. We want our kids to pass the reading proficiency tests, yet how are we going to encourage them to read when we have no books?

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