An overdue leopard and other book trouble

The Berkeley Public Library copy of "The Leopard"

This week I had the humiliating experience of leading a kindergarten field trip to the local library only to be outed, once there, as scofflaw borrower with a lengthy rap sheet of overdue library books.

The librarian, who gently tolerated our loud and exuberant group, patiently checked out books for 20 kids and then when it was our turn, handed me a long printout where my reading habits for the past few months were set down in black and white. It was quite a reckoning.

Did I really read “The Lost Symbol,” by Dan Brown, for which I owe the Berkeley Public Library 50 cents? I vaguely remember of a bunch of strenuous Masonic hugger-mugger in Washington, so I must have.

I more clearly remember “Blood Oath,” by Christopher Farnsworth, in which it’s revealed that the president of the United States has a personal vampire secret service agent. I think that premise alone was worth the 50-cent fine.

Then there was “The Mood Cure: The 4-Step Program to Take Charge of Your Emotions Today” coming in at $4 (!) in overdue charges. This, I must have checked out when I was searching for a way out of the despair, lethargy, and crabbiness which waylay my life these days. (The cure, in case you are wondering, is an alphabet soup of amino acids). Someday I might still pursue The Mood Cure, although I may decide instead to put $4 worth of future fines toward dark chocolate, which also seems to do the trick.

But the book for which I have racked up the most fines ($5 and counting) I still have no intention of returning. It is Guiseppe di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard” and I have been savoring every moment spent in its company.

And here is the problem with books from the library. Three weeks – which is the time allotted to you when you check out a book from the Berkeley Public Library – is not close to the amount of time it takes to enjoy “The Leopard,” a book I think I would like to keep checked out for the next couple years.

Consider this line, describing a moment in the Jesuit Father Pirrone’s return to the small Sicilian village of his birth: “Soon they moved off to church for the commemorative Mass. That day San Cono looked its best, basking almost proudly in its exhibition of different manures.”

How perfectly that captures the author’s sly humor, his balance of sacred and profane, his evocation of Sicily: stubborn, unchanging, and proud. This book has given me countless pleasures. I love the pomp and grandeur of the Salinas, the squalor of peasants and small towns, the melancholy ruminations, the political digressions, the descriptions of landscape, the air of “carnality” that swirls around the young lovers, the corpse of the soldier discovered in the garden.

Why do I not buy “The Leopard”? Because reading material already covers every surface in our house like a shaggy mold. And I’ve been virtuously resisting the urge to buy a Kindle, partly out of a characteristic tendency to overthink any technology purchase, partly because I’m wondering how good ebooks are for publishing, and partly because it’s inevitable that I will own one and so therefore can take my time.

Plus, if I get “The Leopard” I want to buy the Berkeley Public Library edition, which I’ve grown fond of, not the least because on its the back cover there is an ancient Post-It with the cryptic words “stealth pathogens” written down along with a note in my doctor’s handwriting to try Tony Horton’s P90X exercise routine. This, right there, neatly encapsulates the current state of affairs chez moi with a precision that approaches the poetic.

I guess I could just move the Post-It to my Kindle. But it wouldn’t be the same.


  1. Miriam says

    I very much enjoyed this post, Heather. Here in Portland, we have courtesy emails and Web-based renewal, so I think I’ve paid a total of maybe a dollar in fines over the years we’ve lived here, despite being heavy library users. In fact, if you already owe fines and renew your book online, the fines magically disappear. Yet another reason for living in Portland.

  2. Heather says

    Sometimes I think I need another reason to move to Portland like I need a hole in the head. Seriously, I am always catching myself wishing that we had moved there – magically disappearing library fines would just be icing on the cake. Thanks for reading. I am enjoying your adventures in exercise. Give Me Strength is inspirational!

  3. Anita Mackey says

    Searching for my Brother in Sicily born to my father Wilson Mackey of the United States! He was a soldier in the war as a Buffalo Soldier! Please contact me at 903-305-1965! Thank you, Anita Mackey

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