On assimilation, in a way

The very first piece of mail that I received when I moved to Brooklyn in 2006 was my Brooklyn Public Library card.

I had pre-registered online, so the card came with instructions about using it for the first time—something about a postmarked envelope and a photo ID. I don’t remember exactly what the instructions were because I’ve never followed them. For fifteen months, I’ve lived fifteen minutes from two different branches of the Brooklyn Library, and I haven’t spent even fifteen minutes within the thresholds of either one.

For some reason, the library straddles the line between places to go while I live in New York and places to go because I live in New York. It doesn’t bear the appeal of a destination spot, but it hasn’t become an errand that I run.

It’s not like I’m suffering any great shortage of books on my nightstand, but I associate an incomparable kind of comfort with libraries, one that depends on much more than a lengthy reading list. It feels a little excessive, a little indulgent, to be surrounded by so many books without being obliged to every one. There is a peaceful anonymity to just standing among the books that are and aren’t mine, maybe squinting one eye to let all the titles blur in the deliberate noiselessness.

I have the Brooklyn Library card on my key ring and on any day, I could drop in and activate it. I could look around, smell the books, maybe go a little cross-eyed. I’d let myself be spoiled by literary benevolence. I would, I think, get another point for assimilation. But I think I’m reluctant to feel that comfort at any library but the one I’ve always known.