Quick! Where’s the nearest library?
One of the more believable plot points in a recent, not-so-believable disaster movie was the notion that a group of survivors fleeing imminent doom might seek refuge within the halls of the New York Public Library. Lofty-columned civic monuments or modest suburban storefronts, public libraries are natural havens. There’s something cozy and reassuring about being surrounded by so many books. And all that accumulated wisdom comes in handy if you’re faced with saving humanity from total destruction.
Of course, a library is just a great place to hang out on a lazy Saturday, too — when the only immediate threat to humanity is the brain-wilting heat of late summer.
Okay, but they made me turn off my smartphone . . .
No problem. Safe in the blessedly conditioned air of your local library, put thoughts of global catastrophe aside and indulge in some old-fashioned, non-virtual, random browsing. Be your own search engine, powered by whatever internal algorithm causes you to reach for one book over the other. Is it a keyword in the title? (“Ghost” gets me every time.) A picture of a horse on the jacket? A funky typeface? Are you partial to chubby books . . . or skinny ones? Treasures await!
It was the colorful jacket that drew me as a child to one particular treasure: The 21 Balloons, by William Pène du Bois. These were the days before publishers started stamping gold and silver medallions on book covers — I didn’t realize The 21 Balloons had won the Newbery Medal (in 1948). It was a book I had found on my own. My discovery. That’s the real joy of random browsing.
Focus. I need focus.
So, what if you’re uncomfortable with all this randomness? I’m glad you asked! Although if you are (or used to be) the kind of geeky kid I was, the answer should be obvious: a library scavenger hunt!
Think of it as a set of search parameters. Give yourself some instructions to follow, and see what you find. My ten “rules” are listed below. Feel free to use those, or make up your own. I staked out the Juvenile (middle-grade) fiction section as my territory — nothing beats good ol’ alpha-by-author for ensuring a healthy mix of subject matter and genre. And remember, you don’t have to start with “A” and work your way through the stacks . . . unless you want to.
There are no correct answers; everyone’s collection of finds will be different. But there will be a winner! Keep reading for details about the Random Giveaway — and happy scavenging!