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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 8:59 pm | Fair 53º


Paul Burri: Getting to the Library

Money and transportation were obstacles, but there was a way around them

We’ve all heard the story about the father who tells his son about how hard he had it as a child. He had to walk 11 miles to school every morning, and it was uphill both ways.

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

Well, I had to walk about two miles to school, but it was uphill only one way. But I do have a story about how hard it was to borrow a book from the library when I was a kid living in the Bronx.

(How come they always call it the Bronx? They don’t say the Manhattan, the Brooklyn or the Queens. Just wondering.)

Growing up in less than palatial circumstances, buying books was not an option, so if you wanted a book you went to the nearest public library. It was 5½ miles from where I lived. Taking a bus was an option, but it took about 45 minutes and it cost 5 cents each way — also a serious consideration in my childhood.

So I used to roller-skate to the library every time I wanted to borrow a book. That meant a round trip of 11 miles — weaving in and out of busy city traffic all the way — just to borrow and then return a book. This was when we used strap-on, steel-wheeled skates that you clamped onto your regular shoes using the all-important skate key that you wore on shoe string tied around your neck. They were slow, cumbersome and sometimes painful.

Of course, I would always borrow several books at a time so the “mileage per book” was not as bad as it might first appear. Still, one had to be a dedicated reader to spend that kind of effort carrying four or five books while skating 11 miles.

Now I’ll reminisce about my reading tastes. I would get interested in a particular subject and I would read every book the library had on it. Then I’d read every book available on the next subject of interest.

My first interest was dog stories, and I was particularly fond of an author named Albert Payson Terhune, who raised collies. I read every one of his books, each one usually about one particular collie of his. Terhune lived on his estate, Sunnybank, in Wayne, N.J., that is now a public park. Many of the dogs mentioned in his books are buried there.

Then I got interested in astronomy and read all the library had on that subject. I was an astronomy expert at the time.

Then, a few years later when I was about 14, I developed an interest in what you might call a predictable subject for someone that age — sex. As usual, I read every book the library had on the subject and became an expert on that. (I can tell you now that you can’t learn everything there is to know about it in a book.)

To this day, I am still a regular at the library and always have two or three books “going” at a time. And I can’t resist the recycled books for sale in the lobby. I usually buy one or two at every visit, even though it will take me about 18 years to finish the ones I already own.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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