Why I’ve Decided To Stop Bingeing The Crown

The first show I ever binged was Orange is the New Black.

Bingeing is watching several episodes (sometimes more than several) in one viewing session, and watching the entire season over a few days and perhaps the entire series in a few weeks.  I’ll also add that to me, bingeing refers specifically to a show that you’re watching for the first time.

Rewatching a few old Gilmore Girls episodes for the fifth time is not bingeing to me, as you’re revisiting an old show that you consumed in what used to be the normal manner—week by week.

But back to Orange is the New Black.  This might not have been the first show where Netflix dropped all the episodes at once, but it was the first show that really caught on.  Everyone was talking about it—and yet, we couldn’t say anything specific, because everyone was on a different stage of the journey.

We went from, “hey did you see last night’s episode, I can’t believe x happened” to “what episode are you on?”

If you weren’t on the same episode, the conversation stopped dead.

Prior to Orange is the New Black, the only bingeing I had ever done was watching five consecutive episodes of General Hospital when returning from a week long beach vacation. 

Those were sweet, sweet binges.  But then again, I often couldn’t watch all five in a row because I would be watching in July in a house with no air conditioning and the VCR would overheat after episode three.  I’d have to let it cool down or risk the tape in the VHS cassette melting and lose my precious Sonny and Brenda episodes forever. 

But back to Orange is the New Black.  At the time I was watching, I was obsessed.  I thought it was the best show I’d ever seen.  And the thrill of watching episode after episode of a brand new show!  To go from an episode cliffhanger right into the resolution in seconds.  I heard the theme song five times a day or more…the “skip intro” button hadn’t been invented yet, and I wouldn’t have used it if it had.

But here’s the thing.

After thinking it was the greatest season of television ever after season one, I lost interest almost overnight and abandoned it completely somewhere around season 3.  (Orange is the New Black went on for 7 seasons.)

I’d burned out on my binge.

The truth is, binge is not really the right word for the way I consumed this show, and others afterward.  I went on an Orange is the New Black bender.

And just like a drinking bender, I don’t remember a moment of it.

Seriously, I don’t remember a single individual scene from that show.  The show I once thought was the greatest show ever made!

I remember the characters and the actors who played them, but they’re not in my heart.

I tried to figure out exactly when I stopped watching by reading the episode descriptions on IMDB, but few of them registered with me at all.

As fun as it is in the moment, there’s something very unsatisfying about gorging on episode after episode.  There’s no time to let the plot develop, to let the action sink in.  I used to mull on an episode of a show for an entire week, anticipating the follow up.  The story was doled out to me in tiny bits, and this is the agony and the ecstasy of series television.

And yet I can’t stop bingeing.  It’s why I don’t keep ice cream in the house—I can’t have just a bowl, I’ll eat it until the box is gone.

That’s why I’m so hesitant to start a new TV series—even if its mediocre, I’ll keep watching episode after episode, not really enjoying the process but somehow unable to stop.

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

Which brings me back around to The Crown, which I discussed last week.  Now this is a show that I do love, but I think it is particularly unsuited to the binge.

It’s a slow moving show, packed with history and each episode would benefit greatly from a week to breathe.  A week to settle in my brain, and a week me for me to fact check all the historical elements shown, which is something I love to do when watching this type of show or film.

But instead, I stayed up late, and by the time I got to the end of the binge, I’d forgotten what I wanted to look up from the first episode.

And after season one, I’ve already forgotten what has happened.

I remember an African safari, a fog, and a pissed off Margaret who didn’t get to marry her love.

That’s it.

And so I’ve decided that I’m going to slow down The Crown.

I’m going to start back at the beginning, and watch one episode and one episode only on Sunday nights, just like an old school show with a schedule.  With 60 episodes, that will take me over a year (and they’ll be more by the time I get there.)

A year seems an incredibly long time to stretch out watching a show, but in the old days, four seasons would take four years.

So a year seems a good compromise.

Time to slow down.  Savor.  Remember.

The question is will I have the willpower to stop after one episode?

Only time will tell.

How I Learned to Love The Crown

Matt Smith and Claire Foy as Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown

For six years, people have been telling me to watch The Crown.

If you don’t know, it’s the ongoing Netflix series chronicling the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II, who recently celebrated her Platinum Jubilee.

Actually, people don’t start out telling me to watch The Crown—they assume I already do.

I’ve always been obsessed with the British royals.  For a middle school assignment to write about someone you admired, I chose Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson.  (In my defense, this was before her divorce, her stint as a Weight Watchers spokesperson, and her strange co-dependent relationship with ex-husband Andrew.  And as for Andrew, the less said the better.)

When William and Kate married in 2011, I took the morning off work to watch the ceremony while eating biscuits and drinking coffee.  (I can’t do hot tea, even for Kate.) 

While my coworkers were always streaming March Madness basketball, in 2013 I had a browser window dedicated to the live stream camera waiting for William and Kate to come out and show the newly born Prince George off to the world.

In 2020, I revived this very blog after an extended hiatus to write about Megxit.

I devoured Sally Bedell Smith’s wonderful biography of the Queen, the royal I love most of all.

And yet I resisted watching The Crown.  I like movies better than television shows, which seem to go on long after the thrill is gone (I’m looking at you, Mrs. Maisel.)  And quite frankly, the more people tell me to watch a show, the less I want to watch it.  The irony of the fact that I write a weekly blog with the express purpose of convincing people to watch classic films is not lost on me.  My only defense is that I’m much more open to movie recommendations.  I’ll take a flyer on a two-hour film.  A TV show is a huge time commitment just because someone at the water cooler said it was must-see.  No Game of Thrones.  No Stranger Things.  Dodged the bullet that was Tiger King.

If I don’t stumble upon it myself, it feels like homework.

Years after everyone’s forgotten about a show is when I start watching.  That way, even if I’ve been spoiled I’ve forgotten about it. 

But this past weekend, I did it.  I started season one of The Crown.

So what changed?

The Palace Papers.

I all but kicked in the door of my local bookstore (okay, not true—I was there with my bookworm protégé  and trying to set a good example) to get a copy of Tina Brown’s latest chronicle of the royal gossip.  It picks up where she left off in 2008’s The Diana Chronicles.  In Brown’s inimitable style, she dishes on the longevity of Camilla, the steadfastness of Kate, and the inevitable and possibly unavoidable clash between Harry, Meghan, and the royal family.

I gobbled it up like a plate of Twinkies.

I read in every spare moment.  Brushing my teeth, drying my hair, waiting for coffee to brew.  My life was on hold until I reached the last page.

And when I looked up, I still wasn’t finished.  I needed more royals.

But I’ve read everything there was to read.

Which is how I find myself up at 3 in the morning binging season one of The Crown.

No regrets.

Time to clear my calendar and prepare for season two.

Locked Out

Photo by Ashish via Pexels

Last week, we had the hottest day of the year so far.  The temperature was pushing ninety degrees, and the humidity was off the charts.  It was one of those days when the air conditioning had trouble keeping up, and my upstairs office was stuffy no matter what I did.

I was working from home, and around noon I decided to take a break.  The mail had arrived early, so I slipped on my worn out boat shoes and headed to the mailbox.  As I walked out, I automatically pulled the front door closed behind me to preserve the cool air. 

An instant after the door clicked shut, I was gripped by a panic.

“Oh no,” I thought.  Please let me be wrong.

I turned the knob, push the door, and the door didn’t open.

I’d locked myself out.

No keys, no phone.  And a meeting starting in 30 minutes.

My mind raced.  My car was in the driveway, with its remote garage door opener, but the car was locked and I didn’t have a key.  I knocked on a few doors, but none of my immediate neighbors were home.

I decided almost immediately that I’d walk to my parent’s house.  The good news was that they lived about 3 miles away.  The bad news was that the trip would include going down and then up a brutally steep hill, one along a busy highway.  And did I mention the heat?

The sun was high overhead and I began sweating almost immediately.  The sun was beating down on the back of my neck.  No hat, no sunscreen.  My flimsy shoes were not really up for the task, but the only other option was to wait for a neighbor to come home, which could be hours.

I set off.

Cars flew by me as I walked along the highway.  Coke bottles, beer cans, and other trash that I never noticed from the car littered the side of the road.

I was practically done-in when I reached the final ascent into my parent’s neighborhood.  I reached their house hot and thirsty.

Reader, they weren’t home.

I’m a bit embarrassed to say I never considered this possibility.  And of course, all their neighbors that I knew weren’t home either.

There was nothing to do but wait.  They had a shaded porch that protected me from the sun’s relentless heat.

The problem was thirst. 

After the walk, I needed water.  I could do without food, or air conditioning, but I was going to be absolutely miserable without water.

I couldn’t get into the house, but I knew where they hid a key to the garage.  There’s no way to enter the house from the garage, but there was a hose they use to water their garden.

I pushed my way in and searched for anything I could use as a cup.  Nothing.

Desperate, hot, and dehydrated, I turned on the water and drank from the hose like a dog.

The relief was intense.  Suitably revived, I laid down in the shade of the porch and took a nap.  In that heat, there was nothing else to do.

Eventually my parents came home, and gave me a ride back up to my house and I used their spare key to let myself in.

I logged back onto my computer just in time for yet another meeting.

“We missed you at the meeting earlier,” someone said.

“Oh,” I demurred.  “I had to step away for a moment.”

It was more or less the truth.

Two Bookworms Walk into a Bookstore…

The term “bookworm” used to have a more negative connotation—the idea that the person in question wanted to hide from life through reading.  But now that everyone hides from life on their phones, “bookworms” have acquired some social cachet. 

But really, it’s a word needed to distinguish someone who is literate from one who is a reader.  A literate person reads all the time—the internet, e-mail, street signs, insurance forms.  They’re even known to read a book now and then, mostly to pass the time on a beach or when they’re on a long flight without Wi-Fi.  They choose what to read indiscriminately—from a pile that friends have given them, the front rack of the airport bookstore, or the author that was last featured on the latest morning show.

But a reader is someone different—a reader is always in the middle of at least one, often more, books.  Actively reading multiple books doesn’t stop them from thinking—nearly constantly—about other books they’d like to read.  Readers compulsively make lists of books they’ve read books and list of book they’d like to read.  Most readers spend what to non-readers would seem an inordinate amount of time honing systems about where they’ll acquire their books—from libraries, bookstores, or Amazon.

The most agonizing decision of any reader’s life is whether to spring for the hardback or wait for the paperback.  (The number of unread books on your shelves at home is normally not a determining factor.)

Readers understand what Erasmus meant when he wrote, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”

My best friend’s ten-year old daughter Adrienne is a reader. 

So am I.

A few weeks ago when rain cancelled her soccer game and she didn’t have any birthday parties to go to, I picked her up and we spent the afternoon in bookstores.

Her eyes widened at the rows and rows of books.  She ran for titles she knew, books she’d read, and books she wanted to read.  She cross-checked her list, but soon discovered other titles she wanted to read that she’d forgotten to write down, and some through pure serendipity.

Our booklists….

“Do we have to hurry?” she asked me at one point.

“No,” I told her.  Bookstores are to be savored, not rushed.

She slowed down and started methodically looking through all the books.  She’d occasionally ask me to reach for a book from the top shelf.  She’d study it—the back, the flyleaf, and either add it to her stack or hand it back to me to re-shelve.  We talked about the books she loved and why she loved them—she shies away from love stories, prefers stories of kids bonding with animals.  I pulled down some of the books I loved when I was her age—Nancy Drew, Where the Red Fern Grows.  I told her about them—I wasn’t pushing them on her, it was just fun to remember and to talk books with someone who understood.

I did successfully talk her into buying Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries, but otherwise I let her pick her own books.

She had a stack bigger than the money her mother had given her, so we found a corner in the back, sat on the floor and spread out all the books.  I’d intended to give her enough money to buy all the books, but I changed my mind as I watched her separate them into three piles—definitely, maybe, and put back.  I decided to let this process play out—part of the ritual of the bookstore is knowing you can’t have them all, and deciding which to leave for next time.

She tallied up the cost in her head, and we reshelved the ones she was going to leave for next time.

Then we got hot chocolate.

Then we headed over to the adult book section and repeated the whole process.

We both left with a stack of books we called our “summer reading program” and when I dropped her off, she held up each book to her mother like it was a trophy.

That night, two happy bookworms retreated to their beds and cracked open brand new stories.

I can’t wait to hear about what she reads next.

The Push Button Start & Its Discontents

My nemesis…

On New Year’s Eve, I purchased my first Honda Accord.  Shopping for a car in the midst of the Great Global Supply Chain Issues is a very simple process. 

(Side Note:  As someone who has worked in supply chain for my entire career, it’s very funny to hear people bandying about the words “supply chain.”  Before this, most people basically said “huh?” and changed the subject when I brought up what I do at parties.  But now you know that if you ever want to buy something with a computer chip in it again, you better be nice to me and my kind.)

But back to the car.  At the Honda Dealer, there were only three Accords available—all slightly used, all looking brand new.  My choices were the red one, the white one, or the black one.

I chose the black one.

See—simple.

I couldn’t be happier with this car—except for the Push Button Start.

I’ve been driving for nearly 25 years.  I’ve entered a car, slide the key into the ignition and turned it on at least 10,000 times without issue. 

No more.

Now I enter the car, press the break with my foot and push the button.

I can’t get used to this.

Where do I put my keys?  (For those who haven’t had the pleasure of this non-advancement, the key needs to be in proximity of the car or it won’t start.) 

Do I put the keys in my purse?  Then I won’t forget them, but if I need to get into my house (which I often do after getting out of the car) then I have to dig around to find them.  I also need them to lock the doors after I get out of the car.

Do I put them in the cupholder?  This keeps them handy when I’m getting out, but I have forgotten them multiple times.  Yes, the car chirps at you when this happens, but it’s still annoying.

You know a great place for car keys?  The ignition. 

You always know where they are, they’re close at hand, and you can’t put the car in park without removing them.

Oh, yes.

For those of you who think I’m just whining (admittedly, I am), I have discovered through personal experience that you can turn off the ignition, open the door, and start to get out of the car WHEN IT IS STILL IN DRIVE.

What could go wrong?

But the last straw came yesterday morning.  I got into the car, pushed the button, and a new warning light came on – “KEY FOB BATTERY LOW.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Just when I was starting to make my peace with the Push Button Start, I find out that I need to replace the battery in my key. 

So I spent yesterday afternoon looking up You Tube videos of how to take my key apart and find the battery.  Then I figured out what battery I needed, and drove all over town (hoping the car would start every time) until I finally found the required batteries at CVS. 

Curious as to what would’ve happened if the battery had gone truly dead, I looked it up on the Car and Driver website, where they assured me:

Keyless ignition systems allow you to start your engine even when your key fob’s battery is dead. The easiest way to unlock your car in such cases is to contact your manufacturer through their emergency service center. You can reach out to your carmaker via a phone call or on the brand’s mobile app.

I pity the poor Honda Customer Service representative who answers if I ever have to make such a call.

Readers, with Push Button Starts—am I alone here?

Is this really an improvement?

Anyone?

Summer Snake-Proofing

It was this time a year ago that a snake breached my defenses and worked his way into my laundry room.  Despite all my best efforts, he slithered into a hole in the wall and was never heard from again.

Whether or not this is good or bad is hard to say.

But as we enter this year’s snake season (also occasionally referred to as “summer”) I will be better prepared.  This weekend I fully implemented Operation Snake Proof.

After some internet research (and reading a harrowing piece of clickbait my friend sent me called “5 Frightening Ways Snakes Can Enter Your Home”) I was ready to begin.

Step 1:  Making the Basement Less Enticing to Snakes

According to the articles, snakes like cool, damp, dark spaces with places to slither and hide.  Step one was making my basement as unlike this as possible.  There’s not much I can do about the dark and cool.  It is a basement with concrete block walls, but I did buy a dehumidifier I now run 24 hours a day to keep it as dry as possible.

To remove tempting hiding spots, I got as much stuff off the floor as possible.  This meant installing another rack to hang brooms and the weedwhacker. 

But what to do with the myriad of painting supplies, basic tools, and gardening tools that I had on the floor and in a big wooden dresser?

The dresser was the biggest issue.  It was on wheels, which meant there was about an inch of space beneath it—a perfect dark space for hiding.  And, critically, the back of the bottom drawer was missing, meaning a snake could easily crawl into the bottom drawer and surprise us both when I opened the drawer.  (I had multiple nightmares involving this exact scenario.)

The dresser had to go. 

So I gathered everything up, threw away what I could, and put the rest in clear, sealed, snake-impenetrable storage boxes.  I minimized the impacted surface area by stacking them on top of one another.  Now I have a much clearer floor.

I then used expanding foam to seal any crack or open space.  If light came through, I sealed it up.

Step 2:  Early Detection Warning Systems

Since the first snake many years ago, I keep an industrial flashlight outside the laundry room and do a full, sweeping inspection with the spotlight upon entry.  But this year I also laid a trail of mounded baby powder across potential entry points…if the baby powder is disturbed, I’ll know there’s an intruder in the midst.

Foam-sealed cracks and baby powder tripwire…

Step 3:  Arm to fight to the death

If all else fails and the perimeter is breached, I will be armed and dangerous.  I bought a genuine professional snake picker.  These are used to safely pick up snakes from a distance.  I keep it right by the entry door.

Always within reach….

I’ve been practicing picking up the garden hose.

This summer, I’m ready. 

Bring it on!

Actually, the last thing I want is for the snakes to bring it on.  I would prefer us to live in peaceful ignorance of one another’s presence and never see one another again.

If there are any encounters, you readers will be the first to know!

Office Shape

Photo by Pixabay via Pexels

In the early days of my career, I woke up as soon as my alarm buzzed.  No snoozing.  I rolled out of bed and into the shower.  I dried my hair with my first cup of coffee, and gobbled down an oatmeal breakfast with the second.

I put on full makeup.

On the way out the door, I selected any needed accessories from my stash at the front door—gloves, hats, umbrellas, boots, sneakers.

I loaded up an audiobook and started the hour long drive into downtown Pittsburgh.  I sat in traffic, maneuvered around accidents, and finished off my third cup of coffee.

I parked nearly a mile away and walked to my office.  In the rain, I used the umbrella.  In the frigid cold, I used the hat and gloves.  In the summer, I tried not to sweat.

When I arrived at the office, I stashed my lunch in the company fridge, then booted up my computer and changed out of my walking shoes into office-appropriate footwear.

In the very early days, even occasional work from home was unheard of—I started work at 8, but if I had a 7 am meeting, that meant doing everything an hour earlier.

I’d work a whole day, and then sometimes I’d go to happy hour, or a Pirates baseball game, or dinner.

On Fridays we all went crazy and wore jeans.

I did this five days a week without breaking a sweat.

But this week?

This week I went into the office for four days—not five—and drove twenty minutes without traffic.  Parked so close I didn’t bother with a change of shoes.

Reader, it almost did me in.

I’m out of office shape.

Part of it, of course, was the fact that I was starting a new job.  Everyone was helpful and friendly, but information, systems, and passwords were hitting me like a firehouse to the face.

No melting into the day, taking a shower after my first meeting.  No breaking to cook a steak for lunch (an under-reported work from home perk).  No afternoon nap!

I was fast asleep by 9 on Monday.

Tuesday was even worse.  A friend came over to visit, and I was such scintillating company that I practically fell asleep while we were talking.

But Wednesday, I got up and did it all again.

By Thursday, I’d found my grove.  I watched a movie and stayed awake through most of it.  I also remembered how nice it is to separate your home and work life.  Pulling into the driveway after a hard day is still a pleasure that can’t be replicated with a walk after working from home.

I could get used to this.

But I was still grateful for a Friday at home to rebuild my strength.

I’ve gotta work back up to my fighting weight.

It’s Sunday, so I’m back to doing all the laundry for the week, cleaning the house, and preparing my meals for the week.

Tomorrow starts round two.

Breadmaking Fail

When I moved into my house sixteen years ago, I received a bread machine as a housewarming gift.  This ingenious little gadget mixes, kneads, and bakes bread all by itself.  All I have to do is dump in the ingredients and press a button, and three hours later I have a delicious, fresh loaf of bread.

This was a perfect gift, because it was something I’d never used before and never would’ve bought for myself.  I don’t use it every week, and I still mostly buy fully baked bread from the store, but I’ve used the machine to make quite a few loaves over the years. 

On Thursday, I set the machine to bake a simple loaf of white bread and headed upstairs to my home office.  I had a busy day with few breaks, so I didn’t check on the loaf until the very end of the day.  I opened the top and noticed two things immediately:  (1)  the loaf was much, much higher than it should have been, practically pushing against the top of the glass, and (2) it was still raw dough.

The bread machine went through its entire cycle of mixing, proofing, and baking, but the coils that heated up the machine were shot, so the baking cycle went through without any heat.  As a result, the bread just kept rising.

Out of curiosity, I pressed my finger to the top of the loaf.  It popped like a balloon—the top had risen and left a large air pocket in the bread.

I contemplated what to do for a few moments, then decided to pull the pan out of the bread machine and finish the baking process in my own oven.

Forty minutes later I had a deformed loaf of bread, double dense on the bottom, air in the middle, and a thin crust on top. 

It didn’t look like much, but it still tasted wonderful warm out of the oven. 

A few years ago the bread machine paddle stopped turning, thus preventing the dough from mixing.  My Dad fixed it with a replacement part bought off the internet. 

But this time I think it’s toast.  Sixteen years seems like a good run. Now I’m off to Amazon to find a replacement.

How To Choose The Perfect Bookmark

I just can’t get into the Kindle.  I’ve read a few books on it, and I see the appeal, but for me, nothing beats an old fashioned paperback.  And the gold standard of books will always be those big, gorgeous hardcovers. 

Reading lots of physical books means I need lots of bookmarks.  Fortunately, bookmarks seem to come into my life without much thought.  Many authors and stores give out free bookmarks as promotional materials—I have a great one from the Library of Congress in D.C., and another from Raven Used Books in Harvard Square.  These serve as souvenirs as well as bookmarks.

Then there are the bookmarks I buy from Barnes and Noble and other bookstores.  And when you’re a known reader, you get a lot of bookmarks as gifts.

Not all bookmarks are not created equal.  Readers out there, please tell me you’re with me on this.

First, let’s catalogue my bookmark deal breakers:

  • Too heavy – Bookmarks should be made of cardboard or paper.  I carry my books in my purse everywhere, and those heavy metal bookmarks inevitably fall out and I lose my place.  Kind of defeats the purpose.
  • Too thick—No bookmark, no matter how pretty, is worth damaging the spine of a book.
  • Too long—My bookmarks cannot stick out of either end of the book, unless I want Blinker the Cat to chew the corners to bits and pull them out of my book.  It’s possible this is a niche issue.
  • Post-It Flags—See above.  Cleaning up cat vomit with shredded pink post-it flags in it is a mistake you only make once.
  • Anything that clamps/leaves impression on the page—I rarely write in my books, and never dog ear them.  I don’t want the bookmark damaging them.

No bookmark is safe in my home.

So what makes a great bookmark?  I love the cheap, standard 6 x 2 inch bookmarks you can find just about anywhere.  They usually come with a tassel that I remove immediately—for Blinker reasons outlined above.  I can’t have her eating the tassels, which are apparently made of catnip.

I prefer a seasonally appropriate picture and an inspirational or cute message.  I’ve got beach bookmarks for summer, a gloomy city street bookmark for winter, and lots of bookmarks with cats and books to be used all year round.

I don’t know why so many bookmarks feature cats, but I like books and cats, and apparently a lot of other people do too.

And coffee.  Readers, cats, coffee—the essential trio.

Small, simple, light, and with a bit of whimsy.

As far as bookmarks go, nothing else will do.

The best of the best…well-used and well-loved…

Talking Talkies

Last Tuesday, the Plum Community Library invited me to give a talk about classic films.  They gave me the freedom to structure the talk however I’d like. 

I decided to talk about “pre-code” films, the films made at the dawn of the sound era (“talkies”) and before strict enforcement of the production code that regulated what could be shown to audiences.  It’s a fascinating era which ties together several threads of American history—prohibition and the subsequent emergence of bootlegging gangsters, the impact of the Depression on movie ticket sales, and the Supreme Court case decision that made the threat of federal government censorship very real to Hollywood.

The tale of the pre-code films is a tale of the competing visions of what American movies should be—a reflection of society, an escape from society, or a source of moral teaching.

Also, there are just some stone cold classics that came out of this prolific four year period of 1930-1934.

I’d covered most of the material in the early days of my Wednesday Golden Age of Hollywood series, so if I’ve peaked your interest, you can read more here, here, and here.

This was the first time I’ve lectured publicly on cinema.  I had a small but exceptionally attentive audience.  They played along with my trivia questions, laughed when they were supposed to laugh, and kept their phones in their pockets for the duration.

Reader, it was a thrill.

And a testament to the power and sheer loveliness of libraries. 

Brainstorming on my white board

I remember the first time I went to the library—I don’t think I’d even started school, but my mom took me to the People’s Library in downtown New Kensington for story hour.  The children’s section was a wall in the back that was curved like a rainbow.  There were three long steps that led up to the section.  I sat with the other kids on the floor while the librarian sat on those steps and read to us from a series of books.

Afterward, we were allowed to pick out a stack of books—any books we wanted!—and take them home to read, with a promise that we would bring them back when finished so others could enjoy them.

This was amazing to me then, and amazing to me now. 

Think of it—rooms full of books, CDs, DVDs, newspapers, magazines, and computers that residents can use for free.  Programs for kids, talks on old movies, and classes on how to prepare your taxes or avoid internet fraud.

All at the library.

If they didn’t already exist, and someone wanted to invent them, they’d be laughed off stage as crazy.

If schools are the trunk on the tree of education, then libraries are the branches and leaves.  After you’ve spend twelve years in school, you know all the basics—reading, writing, arithmetic.  You’ve got the skills you need to learn anything you want to know.

Anytime I show my grandmother how to fix her computer, or talk about history, or have a perspective on current events, she inevitably asks me, “Did you learn that in school?”

She’s curious, especially about what I learned in college.

But the vast majority of the time, I tell her that I didn’t learn it during my formal education, that I read it in a book.

A book I most likely checked out of the library.

We’re supremely lucky in the Pittsburgh area to have the entire Carnegie Library system, one of the best in the country, at our fingertips. 

If you haven’t been to your local library lately, you should check it out.  If you think they’re stuffy old buildings filled with dusty books, you’ll be surprised.

At the Plum Library, for instance, in addition to books, you can borrow e-books, stream movies, and even borrow baking supplies and Wi-Fi hotspots for your next road trip or remote work trip.

And maybe even check out an old movie.  If you’re looking for recommendations, you can’t go wrong with Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face (1933).