Lending libraries in every harbor


That ain’t no way to treat a Clancy, now is it?

VHS tapes, really? Where's the beta?

VHS tapes, really? Where’s the beta?

Novels for the taking in the heart of trendy, touristy Estero Island's Ft. Myers Beach community.

Novels for the taking in the heart of trendy, touristy Estero Island’s Ft. Myers Beach community.

Lending libraries are one of the best things about cruising on a sailboat, as I’ve been doing for several months of every year almost every year since 1995. While I do go into device withdrawal, treated by judicious use of MIFI, free WIFI spots and a gas-powered generator and solar panel to keep phone, Kindle, laptop, iPad and various other gadgets charged up, being unplugged for a great many hours of the day leaves me free to write longhand and best of all read until I’ve reached that glutted, dreamlike state in which the world in the pages feels more real than the water flowing by outside the cockpit.

I was raised to treasure the written word. People who abandon lending library books on the shower room floor remind me of the same folks who are too lazy to hit the center of a trashcan or toilet bowl. There’s a perfectly good bookshelf  in the Laundromat at Ft. Myers Beach mooring field shore headquarters that’s set aside for media swapping, although at times I’ve thought the materials left there don’t live up to the quality of the furnishings. Some of the VHS tapes have been in residence since we started visiting this cruising outpost in 2005 or thereabouts. And on a scientific-historical note, there really are bookworms, meaning I’m not going to touch that grotty old black-spotted copy of “Mary Queen of Scots” even if it is the most intriguing selection currently (perpetually) in stock. In fact, next time I see it I may put it in the garbage can in lieu of the ubiquitous Clancys, which along with detective mysteries and Westerns are the cruising man’s time-honored author of choice. Cruising women tend to be more eclectic. I’m a sucker for anything with an Oprah Book Club or any type of awardlike seal on the cover. Right up there with that irresistible “New York Times Bestselling” tag.

The Ft. Myers Beach Mooring field lending library is not the most extensive or stellar of its ilk. Marathon in the Keys and Englewood in West Florida are my current nominees for that honor. But it’s not the worst – that would be boater lounges with no books at all. New selections here tend to disappear quickly, never to return, which thwarts the whole circulating concept. I dropped Walter Mosley’s marvelous “The Wave” into the mix a few weeks ago and it seems to have gone under after a brief resurfacing about a week ago.

Boater book proclivities aside, this is an expansive reading town, with a gorgeous new public library on the main drag. On a hot day the carefully manicured white sands are covered with umbrella-shaded, beach-chair ensconced readers enjoying the latest romances, biographies, murder mysteries, literary fiction and pop-advice tomes. Little book nooks appear unexpectedly from season to season, on the front porch of a mini-mall where a freewill donation to community causes yields the novel or non-fiction book of your choice from a robust selection to local artist Chester Rogers. For many years Rogers has been setting up his easel for custom charcoal portraits under the trees next to the Surf Club, right in the center of things on the bustling beach strip. “Sure, take a picture. Take a book,” he encourages, when I ask him if I can advertise the giveaway.

“Like I always tell people, the only requirement is you have to be able to read,” he says, managing to smile engagingly at both me and the cute little boy he’s sketching. Then gesturing at the youngster’s parents. “Do you know any German? Can you ask if they need a matte with this?”

“Sprechen ze Deutsch,” I blurt, quickly adding, “No, sorry, that’s about it. Danke.” As the parents look at me with an equal measure of hope and confusion I back away before I get myself into any more trouble flirting with languages I only know enough of to get myself in trouble, a Patricia Cornwell tucked in my backpack.

Where’s your favorite lending library or book exchange? When and how do you make time to sink into the luxury of reading?

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