At Last: Librarians With First-Strike Capability

I should really activate the parental controls on the TV in my bedroom. I’m not concerned about limiting my access to sex and violence so much as controlling the times that I can get sucked into great movies that I’ve never seen before. Friday morning’s casualty was “Infamous.” In one of those weird things that sometimes happens in Hollywood, two movies about author Truman Capote got made at about the same time, and both movies focused on the same period of Capote’s life: the research and writing of “In Cold Blood.”

“Infamous” started up just as I was making the bed and starting my long commute downstairs to my office. I’d seen “Capote” (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman) in a theaters and I was a bit curious to see how Toby Jones approached the same character.

And the next thing I knew, it was lunchtime. “Infamous” is the more intense of the two movies by far. It’s understood that the intensity of researching and writing “In Cold Blood” (a process that involved forging a very close relationship with one of the killers) had a profound effect on the author. “Capote” presents it as a kind of transformation, albeit not for the good. “Infamous” left me feeling as though he had suffered a death of self without a subsequent rebirth.

Which is why I found myself scrambling to start my day a couple of hours late. I didn’t even bother to move to the room with the sofa and the good TV; I didn’t even think to get off of the half-made bed.

Afterward, I was eager to read some more of his works. I’d read a couple of his short novels. I’d never read “In Cold Blood” (I feel like I shouldn’t tackle it until the spring, when there are more hours of sunlight in the day). But I found a collection of nonfiction essays that I was immediately keen to read: Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote (Modern Library Paperbacks)

It’s not available for the Kindle. Dash it. And then, as the mouse pointer hovered over the “Buy With 1-Click” button, I realized that I didn’t even want to wait until Monday to start reading it.

So I grabbed my bag, put on my shoes, and headed for my local library, after checking online and verifying that they had it.

I love libraries. And here’s something I love just as much, if not even more: creating the false impression that I use libraries every day. In truth, this was the first book I’ve checked out of my local library in over a year. If I’m interested in a book, I’ll buy the Kindle edition. If it’s not available digitally, Google or Amazon will help me find another book that’ll satisfy a similar itch.

Yes, it’s a terrible and myopic relationship with books. It limits me to the subset of English literature that’s either in the public domain or copyrighted works that are still commercial enough to merit a digital edition.

In my defense, however, Day Two with the dead treeware edition of this book reminds me of the life I left behind when I began my relationship with ebooks. For all of the romantic praise that’s been lavished on printed books — the smell of the glue, the crackle of the binding, the dogears and light stains acquired through several generations of love and use — you won’t carry a three-inch-thick stack of paper with you unless you really, really know you’ll need it. I’m in a coffeeshop right now. The perfect spot to do a little reading before or after work. My usual daily carry bag won’t accommodate Truman Capote; I had to scrounge through the office for a promotional canvas bag that came with a loaner Nokia tablet.

Or, I can sling my usual bag (thick enough for a 13″ notebook and an iPad but little else) and carry the book by itself. Holding it low by my hip triggers painful flashbacks to junior high. Carrying it high makes me look like I’ve hollowed it out and am using it to smuggle a recording device into a movie theater or a loaded gun into one of the majority of places where packing heat is regarded as a serious social faux pas.

The experience did make me realize something: I’ve discovered the justification for commercial drones. I really did want that book right away. This is the perfect item to be delivered by autonomous octocopter: it’s light and takes up little volume.

It has the added twist of being something that I maybe shouldn’t have just bought sight unseen, even if it had been available as a digital download. I was taking a flutter on this book. If I’m honest, I’ve had to skip over Capote’s earliest work, which I found too obsessively lyrical for my taste.

The multistate lottery jackpot is up to $500,000,000. My sensible policy regarding lotteries is that I’ll buy one or two quick picks if the payout can legitimately described as a fraction of a billion dollars.

If I win, I have big plans for my local library. I’m going to buy them a fleet of drones. When you visit their website and find the book you were looking for, there’ll be a new button next to “Reserve”: “Airdrop.” Twenty minutes later, you’ll hear a rrrrrrrrrrrrRRRZZZZZZZZZ that increases in pitch and volume, and then a soft thunk outside your door. Presto: literature.

Later generations of these library drones will include two features that I consider essential to robotic package delivery: the drone should ring your doorbell by extending a white-gloved four-fingered hand on a scissor-tong. And when it acknowledges that a human has received the package, that same hand should remove a small brown bowler hat from atop the drone and tip it to the recipient before buzzing back to base. The hat will have no purpose other than to make this vital courtesy possible.

Ultimately, we’ll weaponize them to enforce collection of library fines and also ensure that the Amazon drones stay within their territories and leave the library’s air corridors alone, if they don’t want an airborne repeat of the bootlegger wars of 1920s Chicago.

But that’s for the future. First step is to win that lottery. Then, we start a pilot program. Or, if you will, a pilotless program.

I’ve suddenly realized what I’ll enjoy the most about this: I’ll be able to make terrible jokes like that one and people will pretty much have to laugh. I’ll be a half-a-billionare, which means that such things will be magically thought of as Quirky and not Gratingly Annoying. Also, I’m making it possible for everybody in the community to receive the full benefits of their local library without leaving their homes, so everyone will be willing to humor me. They probably okayed the library drone program because they thought they’d be able to hit me up for funds to long-overdue bridge repairs and upgrades to water treatment plant capacity later on.

Also, when someone during the town meeting Q&A asked me if I will have an override code that allows me to commandeer this fleet of armed drones to enforce my will upon a defenseless population, I’ll offer an answer that’s exactly what they want to hear, but just evasive enough to instill a slight concern that all will remember. It’s going to be great.