Book it! Pop-ups help satisfy Covid reading craze

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by Tom Van Dusen

The pop-up, street-side library! For a reader caught in COVID-19’s cramping of traditional library access and hours, this clever idea allowing the user to borrow a book free of charge any time of the day or night with no return date from a couple of shelves of donations is Heaven- sent.

A global phenomenon, the pop-up is outdoors. You don’t need a mask or sanitizer. During lock-down and stay-at-home intervention, stopping by a bright little pop-up book dispenser is one of the most relaxing things you can do in a day.

All the borrower is asked to do is bring the chosen book back at some point or drop off another one. The service isn’t policed in any way but I doubt very much if vandalism is ever committed against a pop-up library. It’d be akin to beating up your grandmother!

Covid or not, I’m an avid reader, not obsessive about it, but somebody who always has more than one book on the go. I don’t lie around in a sunny nook all day thumbing through the pages… I’m almost exclusively a bedtime reader, holding a tome under the light after pulling up the covers and likely picking it up again for an hour in the middle of the night when sleep eludes me.

That can be a nuisance because, while I’m hoping near-dawn reading will help me get back to buzz-sawing, if the story and writing are good enough, I can get hooked and sleep be damned.

I have two beds, one in Prescott and one in Russell, with a small stack of books beside or above each. At the top of the heap in Russell right now is Larry McMurtry’s gripping Western “Comanche Moon” while, in Prescott, I just finished “Pray For Us Sinners”, a novel of the so-called Irish troubles, by Patrick Taylor. Today’s best sellers are rarely found in either pile… especially cash-grabbing ones by famous authors co-written by somebody else.

While most of my selections are fiction, my taste is eclectic. I like thrillers and cop stories, historical novels, the classics; I like stories with a country setting and authors I choose are about half male and half female. While I lean towards Canadian writers, they can be from anywhere; ultimately, it’s about the quality.

As a veteran writer and editor myself — albeit a lowly journalist — I read the prose of others with a critical eye, looking for typos, awkward grammatical turns, and dullness. In fact, I can tell in the first three paragraphs if a book might be worth the effort and, if not, I cast it aside. There are too many other books I haven’t read yet.

My house in Prescott is stuffed with hundreds of books of all vintages and all topics, many inherited from my father, others acquired at sales and library giveaways. I’ve read many of them, parts of others, dozens I’ll never get to, some others I’ll read if I can ever find them.

Meanwhile, Thursday I stopped by the orderly pop-up on Henry Street in Prescott with its adult and children’s sections, behind a glass door. Attractive as well as functional! I dropped off the novel set among the Belfast bombings and picked up another, Harvest Nights by Pamela Evans who can efficiently string words together, set in 1920 England; a woman with a dead end job in a London teashop goes to work in an orchard in Kent where she makes a discovery that “threatens to tear the family apart.”

One review describes it this way: “Nostalgia, heartbreak, danger and war: All the ingredients of an engrossing novel.” We’ll soon see! If it bogs down or gets too sappy, it’ll quickly go back to the Henry Street pop-up.

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