Thursday, October 27, 2005

In praise of Libraries.

Alfie's lovely post from Wednesday had me thinking back. I remember my 3rd grade teacher reading our class Where the Red Fern Grows and sobbing our collective eyes out. Later, in college waiting tables for the summer, I got to serve the author. Gave me my best tips ever--though not the writing kind. I didn't have the nerve to tell him that was my goal, even then, to write books.

I don't really remember any one particular book though. I remember going to the Idaho Falls Public Library every Saturday and checking out four books and hating it because even in 2nd and 3rd grade, four books wasn't enough. And when I was sick and Mama went to check out the books, she always got biographies and "improving" books instead of the fairy tales and animal stories I wanted.

I read every single Walter Farley horse book, every Albert Payson Terhune collie book, every color of fairy tale book, all the Mary Poppins books... I read almost everything they had in that library before we moved to Houston in time for me to start 5th grade. I was in book heaven, because in Houston, they didn't limit the number of books a girl could check out.

I remember riding my bicycle to the Sharpstown branch library and trying to maneuver my way home again with ten books in the basket on the front. It was in the late 60s, a time that was rapidly becoming less innocent, but I'm still amazed my mother let me pedal through all that traffic (awful, even back then) at 14 or 15 years old just because I NEEDED more books.

I'm still a binge reader. I find a new author I like, and I grab hold of everything they've published and slam it down. Which is why I have a mountainous TBR pile. Since graduating college and getting married, I've lived in small rural towns with small libraries. I tend to rip through their shelves in a few months and then have to go back to buying my own books. A lot of them get donated to the local library. I'm currently serving on the local library board and have been president of the Friends of the Library. (A much easier task than it might be when you live in a town of 1800--and yes, we have a fine library.)

I believe in libraries. Where else can a child discover how to dream?


JoAnn Ross said...

I grew up in ranching country, where the highlight of my life every two weeks was the arrival of the bookmobile down at Lein's grocery store parking lot.

Walking into that amazing library on wheels was like arriving in the Emerald City!!! All those books filled with the magical power to transport me to all different time periods, anywhere and everywhere in the world. And occasionally -- as in the case of Mrs. Pickerell goes to Mars -- out of it. I was, and still am, a dreamer. And there, lined up along the outer walls of that large step-van surrounded by miles and miles of open grazing land, were shelves overbrimming with dreams just waiting, it seemed at the time, especially for me.

Fast forward several years. I was a young, stay-at- home mom living in a brand new subdivision on the edge of Phoenix's desert, not knowing anyone and feeling very isolated. Then one day I went to the grocery store, and, lo and behold in the parking lot, THERE WAS A BOOKMOBILE!!!! I swear, the mountains of Gothics I'd check out every other week saved my sanity during my kid's Terrible Twos. And may have, on occasion, saved his life. (Just kidding!)

Recently I drove down to Wetumpka, AL (where, they tell me, the movie Big Fish was filmed) for the first ever Friends of the Wetumpka Library Moveable Feast romance luncheon fundraiser. We drew a great crowd, a good time was had by all, and I especially enjoyed knowing that I was helping give a new generation of little girls access to their own bright and magical dreams and harried moms a few hours escape from their demanding lives.

Terry B. said...

Through out elementary school, I'd walk to the library every Friday and get a arm load of books. In the sixth grade our teacher read Huckleberry Finn to us -- what I remember most not understanding why Huck's father didn't want him to get an education. My parents grew up in the depression and alway wanted me and my brothers to go to school to have a better life.

I don't know how anyone can live without books. As a child I read Swallows and Amazons series, so later in life I leaned to sail. As a adult I read Tai Pan, and eventually got to visit Hong Kong. I loved the book Third Man on the Mountain (and the movie didn't hurt either), so am still hoping for a chance at the Matterhorn.

Candice Gilmer said...

My mom told me a story once about me coming home from school, moping about the house.

My mother worked a full time job, and didn't know a thing about my school schedule, and probably lived in happy bliss not knowing when I went to the library.

She asked me what was wrong, and I replied, "I supposed you noticed I didnt' bring home a library book."

Mom, being clueless played along. "I did, I was wondering about that."

At this point, I'm in tears. "Well, Mom, I got taken out of the library for talking, but really, it was Billy's fault because he just wouldn't be quiet, and I kept trying to tell him...."

"Well, next time, we'll know to let the teacher handle those things won't we." Mom is trying not to laugh out loud at me.

"Okay." I snuffed my tears in a paper towel she'd handed me.

Mom sent me to my room to think about it.

For Mom, she was blessed with horridly honest children. For me, I remember enough of this moment to know that it truly broke my heart to not have a new book. And later, Mom did tell me, even though she thought it was hilarious, did feel sorry for me for not getting a book, because even as a little girl, (I was about seven when this happened), I loved to read.

Which is why when I had to cut back on expenses, discontinuing my two book clubs brought tears to my eyes. BUT, there is a new library just a few blocks from my house...

gailbarrett said...

Going to the library has always been a huge part of my life. When I was growing up, we spent winters in a small town in Michigan and summers out at a lake (where there was NO TELEVISION!). During the winter, my mother and I would walk uptown to the library every week to get books. During the summer, we'd drive into the nearest town to do our wash and get our reading material for the week. I still remember being curled up in bed reading a good book while a summer lightning storm lit up the skies outside. Even when I decided to get serious about my goal to write a book, I depended on my local library for resources. I can't imagine my life without libraries and books!

Colleen Thompson said...

This brings back so many memories. When I was a kid, money was in short supply for our family, but those weekly trips to the library (and occasional exciting visits from the Bookmobile) saved my life. I loved animals so much, I started with nonfiction on every kind of bug and bird and mammal, then migrated to fiction stories written about animals.

Thank heaven for Walter Farley, Marguerite Henry, and Mary O'Hara. Who knows how many horse-loving little girls (and boys) they inspired?

Terry Z McDermid said...

Ah, libraries! In The Artist's Way, when she talks about filling your well, I always think of libraries. Something about walking into that hallowed place of books that keeps me centered. I may not even check out a book, just walk around, look at the titles (check to see if my books are on the shelves or checked out!), and then walk out, refreshed, remembering all the other libraries I've visited over the years, the possibilities in the books, the joy of seeing others reading.

And Marguerite Henry's Misty of Chinconteague. . . what a wonderful story. I've introduced countless young readers to her books. My own reluctant reader son keeps Brighty of the Grand Canyon on his bookshelf.

JoAnn Ross said...

>>My own reluctant reader son keeps Brighty of the Grand Canyon on his bookshelf.

Wow! Someone else who knows this book! When I was interviewed for the Authors at Sea newsletter and the interviewer asked the first book I remembered having an impact on me, it was that one. (Had no idea when I was reading it over and over again that I'd end up living in AZ with a husband who hiked into all the hidden corners of the canyon.) I saved that book and gave it to my grandbabies. The second book I loved to pieces, and gave to the babies was Old Bones, The Wonder Horse.