What I treasure most about books is the gradual, cumulative effect of detail. Reading has much in common with walking. The eye moves from side to side and line to line, in the regular rhythm of a stroll. When you walk, there is no way to get anywhere before you get there. The approach is every bit as illuminating and interesting as the destination and, in fact, is the destination. A word is a step. A sentence a small meander and soon, word by word, sentence by sentence, one recognizes in reading the similarity to a physical journey; pregnant with promise, anticipation, occasional dry patches, and then redeemed by wonder, fear or awe.

Something about the gradualness with what information in a book accumulates is so essential to its pleasure, and cannot be foreshortened or compressed. Occasionally I will watch MTV with my ten-year-old son. The rapidity with which the jittery collage of images accompanying the song lyrics passes before the eye deprives the viewer of reflection and resonance - without which life is essentially meaningless; deprives because both require the unmediated passage of time.

The idea of separating time and space is just that; an idea, made possible only by a trick of language. In reality, February 15, 4:30 p.m., is the Mediterranean light filtering through the blue gum trees on the east-west spine of Mt. Tamalpais where I live. It is the throb of automobile engines muffled by distance, the cries of children whipped away by breeze and rustling leaves. It is also the reflections of all these things in the mind; all that one knows of mountains, children, breezes, and blue gums, similar days and the history of the place where you stand. It is a slurry of imagery, crossing synapses, resonating with other junctures of times, place and memory. Savoring such a moment deepens it, like the experience of a book, gradually.

The world of MTV is a world condemned to first impressions and robbed of history. It is a world severed from the collective history of the species. The world of books pulls the past into the present and dips the present into the hidden streams of the past. We are free to dive into the streams of time where we choose: the February 15 of Cervantes, or Shakespeare, or Jane Austen, or Malcolm X. Once we've picked the point of departure, we set off with our chosen companion, reflecting and resonating, forging a relationship - gradually.

A library of books is the mind of humanity made tangible, a physical environment where the past, present and future are available to any and all who seek. There is only one prerequisite for its use: that you take your time.



To commemorate and celebrate the opening of the new Main Library, Weldon Owen Publishing created A Free Library in This City, an illustrated history of the San Francisco Public Library, that was researched and written by former San Francisco Bay Area Book Council President Peter Booth Wiley. A Free Library in This City is a truly collaborative publishing enterprise, uniting writers and illustrators in a public celebration of the City’s rich artistic heritage. The book includes specially commissioned essays on libraries by 25 of the Bay Area’s leading writers.



paw.gif (1107 bytes)

The Official Peter Coyote Web Site