The campus bookstore underwent a facelift not too long ago, including a cafe at one end of the ground floor and a bank of upholstered chairs and tables by the front windows at the other end. The addition of the reading area means that I have a new place to roost each morning since I'm usually on campus nearly 45 minutes before the workday begins. A nice alternative to cooling my heels at my desk. My routine when I arrive is always the same: remove my jacket, get out my reading glasses and settle down with a book for 30 minutes or so.
But this idyllic scenario begs the question: Whose book should I be reading? One I bring from home? One I purloin from a shelf in the store? And if the latter, how much am I allowed to read? A few sample pages, to see if it's something I'd like to purchase and own? (And I won't even get into the issue of whether or not one should be reading unpaid-for books whilst eating a scone with buttery fingers.)
For awhile, the thought of taking down new books from the store's shelves and curling up to enjoy them was too guilt-laden, and so I would trundle back and forth from home with whatever book I was reading at the time. This worked well for the smallish volumes, but occasionally I would be in the middle of some mighty tome. (Think "Mary Chestnut's Civil War Diary". I mean it did go on for four years, after all.) And there was the issue of how to comport myself when it came time to pack up and leave. Do they think I'm stealing this book? Do they know I brought it from home? I decided not to worry about this, my copies being sufficiently dog-eared to pass muster should I be frisked for any reason. (And who in their right mind would be cheeky enough to have their own bookplate in a book if it wasn't their own?)
Several months passed and one morning I was "between books" -- a place a voracious reader hates and loves all at once -- and I plucked up the courage to wander through the store's shelves to see if there was something there I might like to peruse. I was immediately drawn to a book I'd actually hoped to purchase one day: Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. I stood, somewhat guiltily, reading through the opening pages, not even allowing myself the luxury of sitting to read it. As luck would have it, I was enchanted by the author's style and topic -- and by the sale price, a mere $4.99 -- and so I brought it to the counter and purchased it. So far so good. I had used their generous reading policy for the purpose of being tempted to buy something.
The next step down the slippery slope was inevitable: finding a book on their shelves that I had wanted to read for some time but wasn't that keen on buying, at least not at full price. I began by reading the first chapter one morning, slipping it dutifully back onto the shelf when it came time to leave. The following morning I read a bit more, managing to get through all of Chapter Two. I am now on Chapter Nine. The reading is slow going, thanks to the prisoner-like allotment of 30 min. each morning, and in my advancing years I sometimes have to go back and absorb the last paragraph of the previous chapter to refresh my memory of what came before.
And then yesterday a new crisis of conscience: a chapter was too long to finish in the allotted time, and I knew I would never remember where I'd left off when I came in this morning to pick it up again. After rustling about in my bag, I tore a small scrap of white paper from a shopping list and sureptitiously placed it between the pages.
Now the anxiety really begins: will someone buy the book before I finish? It's the only copy on the shelves. Should I hide it?
From bring-your-own-book to placing page markers in books that don't belong to me. In less than a 4 months.
Why is it so hot in here, and why am I sitting in a handbasket?