Thursday, April 12, 2012

National Library Week

Volcano National Park - Ferns Coming Back

It's National Library Week and here is a short list of favorite books that I borrowed from the hometown library in Connecticut.  A bit of framing may be in order before revealing my list.

  • This list is reflective of what I was likely reading between the ages of 8 and 18 (at which point I left for college and the list and the access to books totally changed (different blog post that is for sure).
  • I think I graduated from the children's to the adult library around age 10 in terms of borrowing (and I think my parents may have had to say that was OK before I could do so).
  • I was a reader and I grew up in a time when we had ever widening geographic circles of "where we could go independent of parents."  At some point, I had permission to cross Fern Street, Trout Book, and Farmington Avenue to get to that Library in West Hartford Center on my bike.  It was mecca and I was in heaven (freely mixing a couple of metaphors).
  • I consumed an average of 10 books a week in the hey day of my reading adventures.  How sad am I that I now consume an average of ONE book a month, if that.
  • For the most part, my family did not buy books -- we borrowed books from the library. 
  • As an adult, I buy books and do not borrow books -- how times have changed!
  • As an adult, I now carry a veritable library of books with me and I add to that library if the whim strikes me (Kindle and iPad have changed my world).
  • I have tried to be truthful here -- these are the books that I remember with fondness, they are not the books that I think it would be good if I said I had read during this phase (aka, I confess that I did not read War and Peace until much later in life).
  • I have memories of trolling those stacks, memories of that little library card with MY NAME on it and how independent that made me feel.
  • I have memories of parents who placed no boundaries on what I could read and for that I am very, very grateful for they essentially were placing no boundaries on what I could think because they allowed me to be informed not only by what they thought I should learn but also by what I chose to learn through the books that I chose to read.
So, here are the titles and authors that have stuck with me over the years (and apologies that I link the majority of these to Amazon rather than a public library -- simplest way to link you to more information and I am pretty certain that MOST books on this list are non-controversial and would be available in your public library):
Quiet Seas
This is just the top of the mind list of the the books or authors that form my memories of that public library when it comes to the recreational reading of my youth.  They are emblematic of 100s of books that I carefully placed in the basket of my bike and ferried home where I would then proceed to consume them -- just like I would consume a bag of candy corn or orange slice gum drops.  They are the books that kept me up at night and caused many a parentally arbitrated (adult word) disagreement with my sister with whom I shared a room over just HOW late that light would be on.

I am sure there are other books and plays buried somewhere in the vast filing cabinet that is my brain (a filing cabinet that I will never claim to understand nor even particularly want to).   Books from four years as an English major at a liberal arts college, books from the years of limiting my reading to the "great dead authors", books from a long ago book club (my one assignment to the group -- Iron John -- is likely worthy of another blog post if I have the courage), books from the current run of escapist literature.  Books upon books upon books.  Books that I've chronicled in other posts here that informed my growth into knowing something in my heart as opposed to in my head.
Old Church (Big Island)

During those early public library years, I was fairly indiscriminate in my choices (the books were free after all) but I was committed to finishing a book if I had started it no matter whether I liked it or not.  These days, and perhaps this is the sign of an older, more pressed for time reader, I will abandon a book if it is not "grabbing my attention."  More freeing, I have returned to the days of reading that are exemplified by this little list o' mine.   I gravitate towards what makes me want more of the story and not towards what I think (or others think) I should be reading.  I've returned to the idea of of books as a great escape as opposed to an opportunity to learn.

I am grateful to have grown up in a town that had a robust public library -- it nurtured my curiosity, my imagination, my recognition that the world was larger than me.  I am rooting that public libraries (where books and thoughts are free to all comers) will survive this era of eBooks and Web content.  They truly are a resource that we need to protect.

Libraries -- and librarians -- I salute you.

Simply Lovely (Hawaii)


  1. I was not a reader for most of my elementary school years. In fact, some weeks it was a struggle to check out one required book at Library class in school. I did not go to the Public Library. But my sister and I had plenty of books at home. She read all the time! Eventually I discovered biographies. I liked learning about real people. There was a particular children's series Signature Books published by Grosset & Dunlap that introduced me to a myriad of famous folk. I have one on my shelf today about Mark Twain. I have fond memories of learning about Mozart, Queen Elizabeth I and Helen Keller! By High School I was discovering other reading material, in particular Hemingway.
    I confess it wasn't until my mother was a Public Librarian in Vermont that I availed myself of such a facility.
    Once I moved from NYC to Vermont myself and became a parent, I began to use a number of public libraries in my vicinity. Today, 26 years later, I am a card-carrying member of my local public library! I have led the annual fund-raiser for the institution and fully support its on-going effort to be a hub of activity in our town.
    Oh - and I am fortunate enough to be able to support my wonderful Independent bookseller too!

  2. Linda, love this story and that you have come full circle to not only using your library but also leading the annual fundraiser. I miss my hometown library -- a lot -- and miss a lot of independent booksellers here in NYC too (Shakespeare & Company on Broadway perhaps being the most memorable). It's funny, NYC has one of the best public library systems going but I just never cottoned to it. I am watching closely the way eBooks and libraries are negotiating around libraries being able to lend those out. That still won't bring back those lazy Saturday afternoons spent perusing the stacks. Nancy