I really love the word neighbourhood. We moved here from the city and I’ve always wanted to live in a small, right-knit community where you knew everyone around you and shared food, conversation, child-in-the-lane watching duties, whatever was needed. It seemed like a naïve fantasy, and maybe it still is. But our little ‘hood? It’s pretty darn good.
This weekend we attended an alley party that had two purposes: to welcome a new couple into the community and to inaugurate a public bookshelf. I’ve posted about the old bookshelf that has stood in our alley for about a year (here’s a haiku about it). Well, this weekend, a brand new, freshly painted (and winged) bookshelf was erected between two neighbouring houses. We all brought books to fill it. We coveted some of the other books that were brought. And that’s the thing about this idea: it’s free, it’s friendly and it encourages reading. (Or at least book-coveting, which, as I well know, does not always lead to book-reading.) How can this not be a grand endeavour?
Public bookshelves have been around for a while. There are a lot of them in Germany and some of the designs are stunning. Here’s a great story about NYC phone booths being repurposed as bookshelves. Our neighbourhood’s project started with the Back Alley Book Club, which had set up the original bookshelf. It wasn’t wearing well in the winter weather and a better design was needed. A cupboard, some table legs, a few coats of paint and a pair of wings later, and…
One of the things I love about this idea is how (and what) it inspires. It breeds sharing, community, love, understanding, knowledge, compassion, literacy…and trust. Trust that no one will vandalize or steal the bookshelf. The understanding that the people who put it there are reaching out to, well, anyone. Hey you–want a book? Take one. Got a book you don’t want? Leave it here. Trust that if you take a book, you become part of the project. The flow of books coming and going day to day, week to week, is a divine mystery. Every time I walk down the alley, the contents of the shelf could be different.
And not only did we celebrate the new bookshelf–we celebrated being neighbours and newcomers and parents and onlookers. We ate salads created from our own gardens and meat cooked over a low fire. We helped the children find all the raspberries in the raspberry patch–even the pesky hidden ones (and in Little e’s case, the very-far-from-ripe ones). We danced.
I wish I had more time to read. I just finished Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (Go and get her books–now. She is awesomeness). After the glow of finishing a great book, I felt a different kind of glow–the kind that comes with a sense of accomplishment. Like childbirth or the SATs. It’s been that long since I finished a book. Yeesh, that’s depressing. But the bookshelf we raised our glasses to the other day makes me hopeful. Maybe it’s foolish hope, but that’s one of the marks of a fool, surely.
Tonight Little e and I walked up to the bookshelf before her bedtime. I found Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic (see aforementioned coveting) and she selected a 2008 issue of The New Yorker. I’d say we both have excellent taste in free literature.
Do you have a public bookshelf in your ‘hood?