I have for many years — many more, indeed, than I would prefer — harbored an irrational fear of being stuck with nothing good to read.
This sensation is similar to the disquieting feeling I sometimes have just after awakening from a dream in which I have failed to meet some crucial deadline.
But at least that post-dream discomfort is fleeting, ephemeral in the way that dreams themselves most often are.
By contrast, my phobia about reading material — perhaps this is a touch of exaggeration, but phobia seems to me the word that best captures the flavor of the thing — can be dogged, and all the more annoying for its persistence.
That I recognize this, in periods of particular lucidity, as irrational in no way eases the sense of dread that plagues me when I’m nearing the final chapter but have no volume waiting to cut in, as a fresh dance partner might.
There are at least two reasons why this affliction ought not interfere with my equilibrium as acutely as it sometimes does.
First, we have a fair number of books in our home, a selection which dozens of times has proved capable of satiating my appetite for a nourishing bit of prose.
Second, we live little more than a mile from the Baker County Library, where the literary larder is of course considerably weightier.
Yet even though I realize that I haven’t ever actually been left bereft of anything worth reading for long, that nagging sense that the next time might be different creeps in, as unwanted as a burglar. I can never quite suppress the notion that once I flip past the last page I will have no recourse but to ponder the way the corners of the moulding boards around a door don’t line up quite right, or engage in some similarly inane pastime.
I had occasion to ponder this peculiar problem the other evening when I passed half an hour or so at the library.
This is rather longer than I typically linger.
Usually I either arrive bearing a mental list of specific targets, or else I peruse the new nonfiction shelves where I’m all but certain to quickly find something intriguing.
On this evening, though, I was waiting for my daughter, Olivia, who was attending a Battle of the Books meeting.
(A competition, by the way, which doesn’t involve the exchange of actual blows, no matter its martial title. Participants instead answer questions about books they have read — ideally, anyway.)
I had already claimed my library copy of Bill Bryson’s latest masterpiece — “The Body: A Guide For Occupants” — so I wandered to the north part of the building where the magazines are kept.
I selected a couple issues of “Skeptical Inquirer” and then I did something I almost never do at the library.
I sat down.
There was an empty nook and I picked a chair that looked comfortable.
I sat there for maybe 20 minutes and I thought it was an uncommonly pleasant time — this, even though I have a great affection for libraries, one of long standing.
It was of course quiet, as libraries are supposed to be.
But I was struck by how comforting it was simply to sit there in the warmth and the light and to ponder the great riches packed into their orderly rows, so near and so numerous.
Like other places that are reliable, the library is easy to take for granted, it seems to me.
But it is no small thing to have such unfettered access to so much information — and, perhaps more important, to so much of the inimitable pleasure that reading can convey.
I know better than to hope my interlude in the library was an epiphany.
I will, I’m certain, continue to be prone to melancholy, if not something closer to panic, when the stack of pages on the wrong side of the bookmark gets perilously thin and I have not yet set my eyes on a succeeding volume.
But I’ll try to remember those tranquil minutes in the library.
I need to make that memory a sort of security blanket — the equivalent to that most gratifying period just after my birthday each year, when I typically spend on books most of the money my parents send in the mail.
For a few weeks I can wholly banish my fear simply by glancing at the bedside table and its stack of books, each a potential treasure, and none yet plundered.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.