I’d Rather Be Reading
A love letter to libraries.
Illustration by Tim Foley
I’m writing this from the new home of the Highland Public Library, where the sound of children engaged in an activity hums quietly in the background. It’s just the right amount of white noise writers like, and less distracting than the hubbub of a café.
In the last couple of years, I’ve spent many contented hours writing in local libraries. Elting Library in New Paltz is the one I frequent most since it’s closest to my home. Sometimes it’s just me and my laptop, but it’s so much better when my writing buddies join me. Among us are journalists on assignment, a middle-grade author, an aspiring biographer, and a graduate student. The change of scenery from makeshift home offices to public worktable keeps us from slacking off. We’re less likely to fall into the black hole of Facebook, answer endless e-mails, or obsess over the latest political tempest.
I’ve recently discovered two more writing havens that have become favorites, because sometimes I need a change of scenery from the usual change of scenery. The Stone Ridge Library’s elegantly decorated reading rooms make me feel like a proper 19th-century scribe. And the Gardiner Library has super-comfy high-legged chairs that reach a spacious counter looking out over the rail trail. It’s perfect for those moments when you need to stare out the window as you compose your next great lines.
If I weren’t a writer and artist, I would have become a librarian. The once-a-week visit I was allowed to the school library for a fresh stack of books alleviated the abject boredom of my childhood. Few things thrill me more than nerding out on research in grand repositories like the Vassar Library, where my book, The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life, took shape. While I’m lucky to live in an area with scenic mountains, woodland trails, bodies of water, and other natural wonders, I feel even more fortunate to have access to two huge library systems — Mid-Hudson and Ramapo. Almost any book, audiobook, or film my heart desires is available on request.
In an increasingly digital age, it’s a delicious twist of fate that libraries have become ever more vibrant and relevant to communities. They serve as cultural hubs for concerts, lectures, book clubs, game nights, and children’s activities. The much-touted death of books and reading has become something of a cliché. But in the case of Hudson Valley libraries, it’s apparently untrue, since a number of local branches have expanded into larger quarters or have been modernized in the last decade or so.
So all of you outdoorsy types, enjoy your spring-through-fall weekend hiking, biking, swimming, and climbing adventures. Chances are I won’t be joining you because that’s when I scour the amazing library book fairs in the region for cast-off fine editions. Not surprisingly, I’m curating a library of my own. I love the indoor and (some of the) outdoor pleasures of this part of the world, but for the most part, I’d rather be reading.
Nava Atlas is the author of many books on vegan and vegetarian cooking as well as women’s issues. She’s a longtime resident of the Hudson Valley.
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