In mid-August, I joined my fourth library system after I moved to Mobile, AL. Libraries are very important to me – not just on principle, or because I have many family members that work for libraries, but because I rely on them heavily for my reading. Until very recently I was a poor college student; now, I’m a full-time volunteer. Expendable income is not in my vocabulary. I buy very few books new, because I simply can’t afford it.
I used to think that other library systems had decent romance sections. Not great, but they had the big name authors, and every once in a while they had a favorite of mine (usually in downloadable e-book format). The library in my hometown was where I was first introduced to romance, but their Romance section trends towards Women’s Fiction and drugstore aisle books (like Luanne Rice, Debbie Macomber, Danielle Steel, Fern Michaels — none of whom are my cup of tea). But at least they had a Romance section; in London and Washington, DC, my local branches didn’t even have that. In Washington, all the mass-market paperbacks were shoved together on a single bookshelf.
Here in Mobile, I feel like I’m in heaven. My local library is the main branch, and once I found the romance novel section, I have barely ventured past it. It is far more extensive than any I’ve seen outside of a Borders or Barnes and Noble. One of the greatest pleasures I’ve had there is that of browsing.
I don’t particularly enjoy browsing at bookstores, because I know I can’t buy everything I want; I limit myself to the book I’ve been eagerly awaiting that wasn’t available at my library, and that’s it. There is very little experimentation with authors outside of my job as a reviewer – and then once I find a new author I like as a reviewer, they are rarely available at my libraries.
Mobile is different. With all the selection, I’ve stumbled upon authors I’ve reviewed and enjoyed – such as Kate Noble, Alissa Johnson, Robin Kaye, Jill Sorensen, and Grace Burrowes – but was never able to follow up on, because my budget and library availability limited me. It’s like my reading world has expanded tenfold; finally, I can follow up on a series of which I read one book, or check out the backlist of a midlist author. In the past, I had to search specific titles or authors in the web catalogues; now, I can run my finger along the spines of novels and authors I’d only ever heard of, but never had the chance to read.
For someone who reads as voraciously as I do, it’s strange that I’ve never had the opportunity to truly browse before; I read at least a book a week, if not two or three, but they are all either review books or re-reads of old favorites, many of which I bought used. I am feasting in new books after ages of a relative famine, where I would go months with the only new books I read being those I read for review.
My goal is one day to afford to buy books new, to support the authors and publishes financially more than I do now. But for now, I know I’m going to enjoy the year I’m spending in Mobile, exploring the lesser-known authors and hopefully finding a few buried treasures.
– Jane Granville