Saturday, April 4, 2020
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Books, Buildings and Botany

Sifting through the stacks, you double check the convoluted code you’ve copied from the computer and make sure all your numbers are in order. Where is it? Did someone not put it back in the right place? Or am I just losing my mind?

No, it’s there and you finally found it. Satisfaction drowns you. You slide the book out, noticing the interesting cover design. You open it and the spine cracks. The pages are musty. The plastic covering crinkles. You are ready to immerse yourself in a thrilling, fictitious world.

This is the magical moment offered every time you enter a library. In Orange County, add to that the aesthetic appeal of Huntington Beach Public Library and you are fulfilling all of your #wordnerd dreams.

When first moving to Irvine two years ago, I expected Orange County to have very little in terms of grandiose entertainment. Let’s not fool ourselves, this isn’t Los Angeles. However, there’s something pure and delightful about spending an afternoon at HB Lib that beats any wild LA escapade.

Huntington Beach Library, with its humbly plain exterior, is a Cornell box of interior secrets and surprises. Its multi-leveled floor plan — designed by famed architects Richard and Dion Neutra — plunges visitors into a literary labyrinth. Endless staircases connect the levels, intersecting at odd diagonals and giving the impression that they’re going to start moving in Harry Potter fashion at any moment. Emerging between the levels, reflecting off the floor-to-ceiling windows, spilling green into the room are plants: tall, robust trees mixed with spindly, delicate vines.

Plants and pages.

Let me romanticize this prosaic library experience further. My earliest memories took place at my local library, where my mom worked. Children’s reading programs were the highlight of my summers. I was friends with my school’s irritable, claustrophobic librarian. I would write my own versions of my favorite kids’ books. Does this make little-kid-me totally lame? Of course it does, but I was happiest surrounded by books.

So now, twenty-years-old and swimming in adult limbo, I forget how easy it used to be to find joy. My favorite part of the Huntington Beach Library isn’t all the exotic plants or pleasing linear design. It’s not the used bookstore where I can buy a 1980s computer software how-to guide for a nickel. It’s the children’s section.

Goosebumps, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Magic Tree House— they’re all there along with dozens of enthusiastic grass-stained kids who have no idea of the journey that awaits them. They also have no idea as to how the moments cultivated in this library and with these books will shape their minds and hearts in the future, but we do. We can go to the library and be reminded of how far we’ve come and, more importantly, where we started.