I believe in a house of books.
I spent my grade school years on the poor side of town in a neighborhood that had a library within walking distance. The library was a beautiful, old, two-story, brick building that stood majestically on a tranquil town square surrounded by trees and green grass. The cool, quiet interior of the library served as refuge on hot summer days where I spent many hours thumbing through books, not always reading them, just getting to know them, like a stranger in a vast kingdom with many roads and passages to discover, it was important for me to go at my own pace.
During the summer months, I walked to the library almost every day. One time, my little brother asked to go along. “What? You want to go to the house of books? Oh, you mean the library. Come on.” We both came home carrying our books as if they were treasures from ancient archaeological digs. We cherished our new finds. We were in the age of discovery and this was a gold mine.
In the second grade, I entered the annual summer reading contest. A prize was to be awarded to the child who read the most books. I read like mad. I couldn’t wait for that prize. I conjured up images of trips and cars like on The Price is Right. And I was severely disappointed when the librarian, at the end of summer, awarded me the prize, another book. I felt like a person who’d just finished a pie-eating contest and the prize was … another pie! All this forced reading had taken the fun out of it. I never entered another contest.
Years went by, and we moved away from my little library. Boys, distance, family problems, and teenage hairdo’s took the place of libraries and books. For a long time I didn’t even pick up a book, unless forced to in high school English classes. When I got older, I thought to myself, why don’t I read anymore, I always loved it as a kid? And that’s when it occurred to me that when we moved away from the library is when I stopped reading. I missed the sanctity of the library. The discovery of books. The one true pleasure of finding that perfect thing to read. So, I began building a library of my own. I went to used book sales, bought books off the Internet, and even splurged on a few from Barnes and Noble. And today, I am proud to say, that I love reading and take pride in my little library at home.
Looking back on my childhood, I have fond memories of the library, what it did for me, and the convenience of having it so close by. I was fortunate. I realize that a child does not need to be forced, coerced, or even bribed in order to get them to read. He primarily needs accessibility to books. It’s the freedom and knowledge and joy of discovery that comes from entering the world of books that entices a child to read. And that is why, I believe, everyone should live in, or nearby, a house of books.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.