When I first moved to Paris, one of the most challenging things for me was getting my hands on English-language books. As a lifelong book nerd, I usually had stacks of waiting-to-be-read books: ones I bought, ones friends lent me, ones from the local library. Of course, I had to leave all those behind when I made my trans-atlantic move and I didn't really think much about it at the time.
You don't realize the importance of easy access to literature until you don't have it anymore. These were the days before Kindle, before I had any Anglophone friends and before I had a real job. The English-language books at WH Smith and Brentano's were double what they cost in the States and the membership fees for the American Library in Paris were far beyond my budget. I made do by reading every English language book my now-husband had in his collection (which is how I discovered Phillip K. Dick, so no complaints there), buying the occasional used book and finally, learning to read in French.
When I did eventually get a real job, I thought about joining the American Library, but in truth its location was a pain in the butt to get to, and by then I had enough friends to keep me in borrowed books. I could even splurge on a new one from time to time, which I could then lend out myself. When we moved to the suburb of Boulogne, I rediscovered the joys of belonging to a library. The one here is spacious and comfortable and has a decent English book section. Like for any book lover, libraries have always been magical places for me. A refuge from awkward social interactions, an excuse to NOT go outside and play, a treasure trove of stories providing adventure and escape.
Since the advent of the Kindle, I admit I started going to the library less and less. I had already gone through a lot of the available English-language books and the staff there was not particularly interested in getting more. And it was just so easy to click on Amazon and get the exact book I wanted for less than the price of a hardcover! (I know Amazon's bookselling practices are somewhat controversial and I am not trying to defend them, but when you have been in a book desert, it's hard not to embrace the oasis that appears before you).
Then something happened that shouldn't really be a surprise to me. My daughter became a book nerd. And an aspiring writer. Looking for after-school activities for her, I found out the American Library has a teen writing group once a month. So I took her to check it out and we both fell in love. Free books! Fellow readers! Activities for children! Talks by prominent authors! Why had I waited so long to come back here?
It's still not an easy place for me to get to, nor is membership cheap. But the resources, friendly staff and sheer amount of books available make it worthwhile for us. Special mention goes to Celeste Rhoads, the children's librarian, who organizes the teen activities and is exactly like the impossibly cool older friend you always wished you had in school (nevermind that I'm twice her age). Even if I wasn't getting so much out of the library myself, I would sing its praises for the refuge it's given to my artistic-but-sometimes-outcast daughter.
For those around during the Toussaint holidays, the American Library is hosting a Halloween extravaganza on Saturday the 25 with stories, crafts, trick-or-treating and a Haunted Library Tour for the older kids (which my daughter will be taking part in, but I will say no more about it). There is a small fee for non-members, but it could be the perfect opportunity to check out the place if you haven't yet or if, like me, you simply need to be reminded of the wonders of a good library.