I recently visited Carol A. Clark and Bonnie Gordon at the Los Alamos Daily Post office to congratulate them on the inaugural print issue of their newspaper.
As a fellow hard-hitting journalist, I know how challenging it is to maintain a high quality press publication [Editor’s Note: Writing a few hundred words every few months does not a “hard-hitting” journalist make]. I asked them how they would fill up a full size weekly once the number of submissions with pictures of hummingbirds, bears and rainbows, or letters about banning bags or pooping dogs had died down, and when I realized that they had not contemplated such an event, I suggested that I write a regular column for them to fill up some space.
I took their stunned silence as “Yes, we’d love to!”[E.N. Stunned is correct] My previous contributions dealt with roundabouts, donuts during Passover, men’s clothing, and coming to America, so I took this as freedom to address a similarly broad set of subjects in the future, from my experiences as a county councilor, to science, to parenting, to Donald Trump [E.N. Nope], to the Iran nuclear deal [DOE: Nope, Nope].
So welcome to “An Open Book,” my attempt at regular ruminations (I guess in both senses of the word) on life, science, politics, and everything in between. The topic of my first installment is in celebration of the beautiful new library in White Rock. Hope you enjoy it.
I was introduced to the concept of a library, like I was introduced to the concept of traveling at 60 mph, chocolate milk shakes, and self-opening doors, all miracles of modern American life, when we immigrated to this country at the age of 11. I had never visited one in Uruguay, as they were closed-shelf libraries. Browsing is integral to the library experience, and my father was eager to take us to the local one soon as we arrived.
He had learned much of his English by reading Perry Mason novels he had borrowed there (no kidding!). Detective novels have a lot of dialogue, and assisted by a Spanish-English dictionary, he found this a most enjoyable way to learn vocabulary and American idiomatic usage. Imagine growing up with a father whose normal conversation sounds like a cross-examination, and you would understand my teenage years.
For enjoyment, he read Isaac Asimov, but only his collections essays on science, not his science fiction novels. I can only imagine what my teenage years would have been like had he known about that part of Asimov’s literary output.
I still remember the book I took home during this initial visit to the library. Since I knew almost no English those first months, I went to the small Spanish-language section. There, to my delight, I found a James Bond novel. The reason why this book is memorable to me is because for the first time in my life, in Spanish or English, I read a description of a woman taking a luxurious bath; whether Mr. Bond assisted her or not I do not remember, but for some reason I also recall that the beautiful, and very clean Bond girl used Camay-brand soap. Needless to say, I have loved libraries ever since.
A year later we were living in Brentwood, New York, and the Brentwood library is really the one that I grew up with. Like the old White Rock library, it was overflowing with books. The oversize book section especially seemed to be almost bursting, but since it was mostly art and photography books, it was just an aisle to be carefully maneuvered between the two sections that became my home away from home, science/math and science fiction.
In the science fiction section, I discovered Asimov’s others works, and in the math section I discovered all sorts of strange symbols which took me several years of college mathematics to eventually understand (Hebrew letters used in math! integral signs with a little circle in the middle!), but which intrigued me from the age of 13, and probably inspired me most directly to my field of study and eventual career in engineering.
Our community has bucked the trend in most modern libraries; we wanted more bookshelves rather than more computer stations. Los Alamos loves learning, and consequently loves books. We want our children to be awed by books, especially by long shelves full of books. This is more awe-inspiring to a beginning reader than a big computer screen. Along these shelves is mystery, adventure and knowledge. Let them be awed; someday they may be awed by what is still to learn in the world and be inspired to their own discovery and creativity.
Let me close with my favorite new amenity in our new library, which I thanked the architect for including; namely, a fireplace in the reading area. I first saw this is in the new Aspen School library, and I was struck by just how natural a fireplace fits into what we want a library to be. Because, even more than light, a fireplace provides warmth and joy. To my White Rock neighbors, may you be enlightened, warmed and filled with joy by your beautiful new library.