Bookshelf Porn

It’s almost cliché to say that one likes the musty smell of old books.  It also has a scientific basis of sorts.  Proust was definitely on to something with his tisane and madeleines.  But I had never really thought about the sight of books as being a source of sentimental joy.  This website posts pictures of collections of books: from messy reading nooks with piles of books on the floor to giant sterile libraries.  Some are quite innovative and might even get an eyebrow raise from interior design folks.  Check it out!



The Travels of Beth and (parts of) Henrietta Lacks

Beth was generous enough to share with us her latest literary Muni adventure, involving the story of the (geographically and temporally) lengthy travels of one woman’s cancer cells.  Beth is not only a prolific muni rider (count the number of lines she uses!!), but also a prolific writer, whose own work can be found  at, and all over.

Aside from peering and squinting at the print in the hands of other Muni riders, my main method of finding books to read is to have them recommended by NPR, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, has been all over NPR. At least three separate podcasts had convinced me that the adorable and clever Ms. Skloot had written an amazing book featuring the astounding story of clandestine cancer cells stolen from Henrietta Lacks, grown in perpetuity in petri dishes without the knowledge of her family. So imagine my surprise when I managed to get my grubby little hands on a copy of the fresh hardcover from the public library within a couple of weeks.

Most days, I take the 22 Fillmore from my home in the Mission to the 5 Fulton and ride it all the way to 18th Ave and the school of my young nannying charge, where we play and frolic until evening when I hop on a 1 from their house in Laurel Heights back to the 22 home. But on special days, when the Mission Branch of the San Francisco Public Library alerts me that there is a new treasure with my name on it, I walk to the library snatch my newest paper companion and ride BART from 24th St to Powell, where the 5 shoots me all the way into the Richmond while I fondle the new read.

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La librarie ou la bibliothèque?

One trend I have consistently seen on the bus and in the tunnels is a large number of people reading books with “SF Public Library” stamped on them.   And these public books do not seem to discriminate, finding themselves in the hands of hipsters, suits, and the guy wearing the pith helmet on the back of the 6 Parnassus.

Now I’m generally a buyer of books.  I like supporting writers and having the option of taking my sweet time reading something, and underlying or highlighting passages (that I’ll probably never go back and read anyway).  But I’ve always wondered just how easy it would be to utilize SF’s public library system and what it would have to offer.  After a brief visit today, the answers are 1) really easy, and 2) quite a bit.

I went to the main branch of the library today, got a library card and found and checked out a book in about 30 minutes.  The book was a little hard to find.  The online card catalog (that you can access online from anywhere) said it was on the fourth floor, but when I got to the fourth floor, a little sticker told me that the section of the Dewey decimal system in which I was interested was actually on the fifth floor.  And the collection is so large, you have to make sure you’re in the right section.  Even on the fifth floor, the number beginning “340.023” could actually be in several different places depending on subject matter.

And the staff was incredibly helpful and friendly to this newbie, which is kind of surprising given that a large percentage of their patrons at this location are trying to live there.  Although I did forget to ask when I had to return my book.

But that’s actually no problem since you can actually access your library account online, and renew your books without having to set foot in the library.   And even if you wanted to do so, the main branch is open until 8 pm Tuesday-Thursday.  And from my count, they have 19 different branches around the city.  Plus you get your choice of really cool library cards.  Here’s the one I chose, apparently designed by Chloe, who is currently considering her future educational options:

And while having too many people buy War and Peace is probably the world’s least vexing environmental problem at the moment, the fact that hundreds of people could enjoy the same book over and over without killing any more trees does resonate with some, e.g., me.

So thanks SF public library, I’ll be back for sure!

P.S.  It’s also quite a pretty building.  And, on behalf of your mother, take some hand sanitizer with you.