Fanatical About Libraries

The LA Central Library Flower Street Entrance

I have always depended on public libraries for much of my reading material. When I lived on the East Side of Cleveland, I went to the Cleveland Public Library branch on Lee Road, where a fellow Hungarian, Mr. Matyi, was the librarian. He also played the oboe for the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra.

They had a summer reading program in which I participated for so many years that they had to invent a participation certificate at my advanced level. (I wish I still had them.)

Even then, I also visited the main library on Superior Avenue in downtown Cleveland:

It was really quite beautiful, being funded by Andrew Carnegie’s vast fortune. (Can you imagine a modern billionaire doing something like that?)

When I came out West, I started by going to the main library in Santa Monica at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and 6th Street:

Although it was fairly large with two stories full of books, I actually outgrew it. I found that they got rid of too many of their classical titles, replacing them with more recent … well … dreck.

I was elated with the Expo Line connecting Santa Monica to Downtown LA opened in May 2016. At once, I signed up for a senior pass which enabled me to go from the Bundy Station (about a mile south of I lived) to the 7th Street Metro Center, which was three blocks south of the Los Angeles Central Library—for a mere 50¢.

Even with the library building being closed due to the coronavirus, the LA Library has started a “Library to Go” program which enabled me to put a hold on the books I want to read. Within a few days, I get an e-mail saying they are holding them for me, and I just take the train downtown to pick them up.

Over the last week I have been busy reading these three books:

  • Kōbō Abe’s Inter Ice Age 4, a 1958 sci-fi novel about global warming
  • Ivan Klíma’s Waiting for the Darkness, Waiting for the Light, about Czechoslovakia’s rocky path from Communism to Capitalism
  • Tim Butcher’s Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart, about an English writer who re-traces Henry M. Stanley’s journey along the length of the Congo River in the 1870s.

By Rail to the Past

Selected Gems amnd Minerals

Selected Gems and Minerals

I should have written this post last Sunday, when Martine and I took Los Angeles’s relatively new Expo Light Rail Line to the Natural History Museum, just south of the University of Southern California. We go there, on the average, once every year or two. It was good that we went last week because the Traveling the Silk Road exhibit was still running (it goes until April 13). It was well worth spending an hour or two to see.

It was fun taking the Expo Line because parking at the museum has always been a bit of a drag. Even though we had to catch the line at its temporary terminus in Culver City, we look forward to its extension westward to the beach in Santa Monica. There will be a station just one mile south of where we live, and it will take us all the way downtown and a number of interesting stopping points in between. It will run roughly along the line of Exposition Boulevard, where once the old Pacific Red Car ran in the days when Southern California was better served by public transportation. (If you’ve ever seen the 1988 cartoon/live action feature Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, you know what happened to the Red Car line.)

Triceratops on the Loose!

Triceratops on the Loose!

Of the museum’s permanent exhibits are the dinosaur hall (see above) and the gems and minerals (see illustration at top). There are other exhibits of note, but it would take two days to see them all. Also noteworthy are the exhibits of stuffed North American and African mammals, and a California history exhibit, which deserves to be seen by more visitors. After tax season, I wouldn’t mind checking out the collections again.

My favorite Natural History Museum program of all time was back in 2002, when they had an exhibit and a program of lectures about the Vikings. This was just after my 2001 trip to Iceland, and I was still buzzed—plus I got a chance to meet Jesse L. Byock, Professor of Old Norse and Medieval Scandinavian at UCLA, and Gisli Sigurðsson of the Árni  Magnússon Institute in Rekjavík (whose exhibit on “Vikings and the New World” I had seen at the Culture House in Rekjavík just months before). That was the high point of my relationship with the Natural History Museum: I even became a member for a year or two. Since then, I have been waiting and watching for another special event so in line with my interests.