Thursday, July 31, 2008

Eating Up Free Books

NPR's All Things Considered featured a story yesterday about the boom libraries are experiencing this year - presumably due to the glummy economy. People are buying less new books, ending newspaper and magazine subscriptions, renting less movies, and instead are using the free services at the library. Kids programs are more successful than ever, computer use is at an all-time high, and, in this weather, you can't blame the people who stumble in to appreciate the free air-conditioning.

I'm all for the Public Library. My older sister and I were "Volunteens" at our local branch - my little sister is still putting in the hours - spending our summers making posters, cutting out bookmarks, and assembling pro-literacy buttons with a fancy button maker. Our librarians were our mentors, our honorary aunts, and we still get big hugs and surprised exclamations about how much we've grown. The murals in the downstairs children's section of my childhood library celebrating the citrus heritage of my hometown will always stick with me, even though they disappeared when the old building was completely renovated a few years ago.

Library appreciation is in my blood, but I have to admit I've always had a thing for bookstores - most of my high school years were spent sprawled in "my chair" at the local Barnes & Nobel, reading everything from art books to AP US History guides - and Portland has her share of the best spots for bibliophiles. Bookstores, I once argued, were far superior to the Libraries with their antiquated Dewey Decimal system. In a bookstore, I know where the cookbook section is because it's labeled COOKBOOKS, not because it's in the aisle between numbers 581.302 and 864.001. And I am inexplicably drawn to that new book smell. The truth is, however, a trip to Powell's can be quite a shock to my wallet, as I find myself tempted to pull everything off the shelves, all those shiny, colorful colors, the employee picks on the shelves, all the new releases of my favorite authors... It's not unheard of for me to throw down fifty bucks on "sale" books on a whim. As a college student on a budget, this adds up, let me tell you.

NPR hit it right on the nose - libraries are wonderful, and even better, they are free. Multnomah County has a great library system, which is, interestingly, the oldest library system west of the Mississippi! For the past few months, I've been making weekly stops at my local branch, and while I still spend a good amount of time at Fresh Pot, the coffee shop connected to the Powell's on Hawthorne, leafing through food magazines and journals, I think I've reclaiming my love for the library.

Today I went crazy in the food section - pulling out anything and everything that looked interesting - and walked out with a stack of great books. I'll be gobbling up:

The Real Food Revival: Aisle By Aisle, Morsel by Morsel by Sherry Brookes Vinton and Ann Clark Esuelas
In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food
by Stewart Lee Allen
Extreme Cuisine: The Weird & Wonderful Foods that People Eat by Jerry Hopkins, Anthony Bourdain (my celebrity crush), and Michael Freeman
Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally
by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon
Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater by Alan Richman

I'll let you in on any great facts or stories I find. As I walked out of the library today, aside from being freed of the guilt that hits me after a "bookstore binge", I was struck with how sustainable the Public Library system is. I know this is a bit obvious, but it makes so much sense that I should borrow shared books instead of buying new ones. I can still get that great smell from the New Books section, and I know that I'm not adding more waste to the system. Now, if only they'd get rid of that silly decimal system...

I'm off to cuddle up with a good book and some lunch. Got a Library Card? Go use it, and let me know if you find any great books to eat read!

Eat, and Read, Well.

This is also a submission to Joelen's Culinary Adventures Tools and Cookbooks challenge. She rocks!


  1. I'm a total library nerd. There's something so satisfying about being surrounded by all those books. I never tired of it. Plus our local library has a terrific collection of old and foreign films which I also appreciate.

  2. I have a confession to make. I used to be a librarian in elementary school. I love love books, and I have to have some sort of publication with me wherever I go. Yeah, I'm serious. Even around the house. I have the current edition of the Australian Gourmet Traveller tucked under my keyboard right as I am writing this. And my new handbag fits a magazine/book pretty well.

    The recession's hitting Australia too; and my boyfriend thinks it's worse here, with the higher inflation and stuff. Oh, and on splurging $50 on sale books...over here you have to expect to spend $50 on one on-sale cooking book. Talk about a rip-off. I should peruse the public library more often if not for the fact that the nearest one to my house is the State Library of Victoria, which does not allow the borrowing of books because everything's so rare and expensive. Oh, and they don't actually display them either. You have to search through a database and pick up your book 10 minutes later. Sigh, i want to move to Portland...

  3. I've just finished Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love, and The Huckleberry Cookbook, both courtesy of Multnomah County Library. I gladly rack up overdues just to give them a little extra cash. The library is your friend, people.

  4. I grew up going to the Multomah County Library (Hillsdale branch!), and when I started cooking more seriously I was THRILLED at the selection of cookbooks they have!

  5. Oakley--thanks for your great endorsement of the library! We may quote you in one of our publications--

    Penny Hummel
    Multnomah County Library