Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center
Ah, books. The comfort, challenge, and glory of books is their ability to trigger our imaginations and thoughts. Novel or biography, science or sci-fi, realism or romance, books inform us and transport us into a wider world. And being transported from the everyday here and now has never felt more necessary.
I enjoy reading, but I also love books as objects. The weight, color, page texture, and even the smell of a book is part of the experience for me. Back in my college years I collected the works of now forgotten turn-of-the-century novelist George Barr McCutcheon. McCutcheon wrote light adventure and romance fiction - anyone remember the mythical kingdom Graustark? For me, a digital copy of a book – although handy to take traveling with you – just isn’t the same as holding the volume in your hands. McCutcheon himself was a book fan; his last book, published posthumously in 1931, was an essay on the joys of book collecting entitled “Books Once Were Men,” musing about how each unique volume is made special not only by the words printed in it, but by the hands it has passed through during its existence.
Which leads us to libraries, the ultimate repository for “used” books. Pretty much every book at a library has passed through many hands. Such a book might be hundreds (or even thousands) of years old at a research library like the Huntington or the Getty. Or it might be the latest best-seller with a wait-list of readers at the local public library.
The Pasadena Senior Center has always had a library. This postcard image from the early 1960s shows the Center’s library, looking for all the world like a room in a private home. It’s quite charming; the nicely arranged bouquet of roses matches the floral rose print on the comfy armchairs. A lady sits in a rocking chair, chatting with a gent who has a scrapbook open on his lap. Indicative of the era when this photo was taken, there is a writing desk in the room, set out neatly with paper, desk pad, ball point pen in a holder, and – it is the 1960s – an ashtray.
We have computer terminals in our library now instead of a writing desk, and smoking is most definitely not allowed. The chintz-covered chairs and decorative end-table have been replaced by a long table and straight-back chairs. There are more books in the library as well: three walls have bookshelves instead of just one. A constant stream of book donations ensures that the shelves are always full.
The library at the Center looks quite different than it did sixty years ago and will undoubtedly look different again sixty years into the future. But however much decorative taste and communication technology may change over the years, there are some things I hope never do: the idea of the library as a place where members find inspiration and quiet companionship, and where they are surrounded by delightfully non-virtual, turn-an-actual-page, don’t-judge-by-its-cover, books.