Home Is Where the Library Is
My mother knows libraries like some people know shopping malls. When I was young, she held cards to no less than five libraries within a forty-five mile radius of our upstate New York town. Most summers I belonged to at least three summer reading programs. I don’t remember a time when the trunk of our little yellow Subaru didn’t sag with books. My father was a lover of day trips and my mother’s theory was that if she was never far from a library she belonged to, she was never far from home.
She grew up a voracious reader, a child of parents who were at times puzzled by such habits. To this day, my grandmother has been known to sigh, “She was such a good little girl until she learned to read.” What stores the Ridgewood Public library must have held for her, that cavernous old sandstone building with creaking floors and pendant lamps flickering warmly over Black Beauty, Misty of the Chincoteaque and all of the other books about the horses that would never fit in the postage stamp backyard of her row house.
Away from home for the first time at nine, and desperately homesick, I made my way to the Camp Little Notch library, a musty old log cabin with just enough low-slung, book-filled shelves to tide me over. While other girls made leather wallets, I surrendered to the exploits of Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, and Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and for a little while, the world stopped churning.
I believe in libraries. Not only because of their capacity to enlighten, console and inspire but also because, mainly because, they are shrines to the very things I most cherish. Whenever I step into one, whether it’s the historic Nantucket Atheneum or the new Faulkner county library, the presence of all those volumes gathered in one place enfolds me like an embrace. Here are the names of those I recognize as if they were family, Ludwig Bemelmans, Sydney Taylor, Laurie Colwin, Charles Baxter.
My mother lives on Long Island now, where one magnetic strip grants her access to every library from Great Neck to Montauk. The trunk of her Geo Prizm still fairly sags with books and when my sons visit her it is with the knowledge and anticipation that most days will involve a library visit of some kind.
As for me, I live around the corner from the county library, a fact which was a major selling point for our current home. Well, that and the floor to ceiling bookshelves.
Recently my son told me he’d been asked in school to write about his favorite place. I held my breath, hoping his next sentence would not include the words, “on the couch in front of Cartoon Network.”
“So I wrote about the library,” he told me nonchalantly, as only a ten year old can. My heart beat a little faster. “Because it has an X-box,” he continued, “but mostly because of all those books.”
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