I don’t know what part of this is living on a busy highway rather than, say, along an enticing greenway or rail trail or even a bucolic country road, but I find that I don’t routinely just saddle up and “go out for a bike ride.”
I need a destination. And now that we’ve got one car per driver again and I’m no longer peddling somewhere out of necessity, I find I need to invent little excursions to get out on the bike.
Tuesday was a beautiful day for a ride, and with no run planned, I needed a midday break from a troublesome writing assignment. Seemed like a perfect time to return a book to the Little Free Library in Zanesville, about 11.5 miles away, for a 23-mile round trip.
A few weeks ago I picked up a keeper there, a really nice softcover copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House. Being a huge Vonnegut fan, I don’t want to give it back. So I needed to take something there that wasn’t just a piece of wordy garbage.
I came up with a copy of Olive Ann Burns’ Cold Sassy Tree, which I picked up around the time I drove up to Lansing, Mich., to interview Dick Estell, NPR’s “Radio Reader,” back in 1994. This was one of the novels Estell was recommending at the time, and I remember hearing him read it on the air. I don’t remember too much about the novel itself, other than the fact that I’d enjoyed it. But it was still in decent shape and I’m not inclined to read it again just to refresh my memory.
Just in case I saw something else there that I wanted to bring home, I also packed up a duplicate copy of Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. (I had one and so did my late mother-in-law, so I decided to keep the one with her name in it.)
It felt amazing to ride good and hard after a pretty easy effort accompanying our 12-year-old at the Tour de Donut. The sky was autumn blue and there wasn’t too much wind. When I got to Zanesville, a couple of the Lions Club guys were restocking the little outdoor closet that functions as their 24/7 free library.
Turns out that closet – they call it “the outhouse” – is really just the tip of the iceberg. Inside the building where they host their fundraiser dinners and so forth are several more overstuffed cabinets and bookcases, along with another 1,500 books in another building, said library founder Melba Edwards, the Zanesville town historian, who’d been doing some work in the back.
She’d initially planned to do their library as a one of those birdhouse projects, but ultimately decided that would be too small.
“That couldn’t possibly work in Zanesville,” she said. “It’s got like 20 books in it. We’ve got gobs of kids and grandkids around. All it would take is one family with a few kids and they’d empty it right out.”
Melba put her son to work building some kind of outdoor cabinet they could keep the books in so that they would be available 24/7.
“When he got done,” she said, “he had an outhouse instead of a birdhouse.”
Though they’ve clearly had more books coming in than going out, Melba said they can tell people are taking books because the ones in the “outhouse” are moved around every single day. The Lions Club rotates books from inside the building into the “outhouse” to refresh the stock. And one member who’d been in failing health boxed up all his books about three months before he died, “so they would be ready for us.”
I didn’t take any books home with me because I was in kind of a hurry to get home before school let out, dumping a bunch of traffic on the road to our house.
But I just love this not-so-little free library, and I’ll definitely be going back – probably on another bike ride.