Goodnight Irene

I’ve spent the last five days preparing for, riding out, and then trying to pick up after the passage of Hurricane Irene. Here in the Hampton Roads of Virginia, we’re becoming wary of “I” storms. Eight years ago, just as I started at Williamsburg Regional Library, we got walloped by Isabel. For a while, Irene looked like our region’s “big one,” but thankfully, didn’t end up being quite as bad as advertised. In this case, however, “not so bad” is plenty.

This third day after the storm is the first with power in our libraries, and many of us will go home to darkened homes again this evening. Folks are flocking in for Internet, wireless access, and a charging opportunity. Books are every bit as popular, and as the day draws to a close, our new bookshelf is depleted. A broken T1 line has left us without a catalog, and our checkout clerks have spent the day dauntlessly writing checkouts by hand, while items waiting check-in stack up, circuitously making a trip up to our other building (where the circulation system still works) then back to the shelves here.

As everything does, Irene has me thinking of books and book groups. A favorite former group, which I gave up reluctantly because of overcommitment and the driving distance,  is on the water in little Poquoson, where I’m sure they held their regular meeting last Wednesday night. Poquoson faced scary evacuation orders and flooding predictions, but from all I’ve heard, came through safely.

As days without power stretch out, and as portable devices extinguish as their battery life flickers out, I’m grateful for the durability of books in print. I prepared to weather the storm at the home of a friend in a neighborhood with fewer big trees, overfilling a bag with titles that I romanticized I would read as I waited out the howling winds and water.

At the end of two long days since the storm, exhausted from cutting and moving the two big oaks that came down in my backyard, I’ve spent the evenings enjoying the happy chatty voice of Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which has kindly taken me about as far away from hurricanes as I could go.

I continue to delve into George R. R. Martin’s latest, A Dance with Dragons, whose snowy treks and epic adventures are greatly enhanced by dramatic weather. My old friend Rick Steves is helping me plan my upcoming trip to England and Scotland, and dreams about that upcoming vacation kept me going through the plumbing leak, the hours of toting wood, the cold showers, the smashed fences, and the refrigerator full of perished food.

In the car, driving around in a fruitless search for ice and “D” batteries, I’ve been soothed by John Lee’s wonderful reading of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger. As I took my chances with downed trees, broken traffic lights, and the dangerous choices of other drivers, it’s been oddly comforting to listen to a book narrated by a driver in circumstances infinitely more challenging than mine.

So here’s to my old friend the book, which requires only a candle or tiny flashlight on even the darkest of nights. And goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene, we’ll see you in our dreams.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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