The Courage of the Bookmobile Lady

Yinishye - Santa Fe, New Mexico
Entered on July 11, 2005
Age Group: 50 - 65
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I was in the first grade when the librarian of the bookmobile secretly started slipping me the books of Ernest Hemingway. As a stupid child, I was supposed to be reading Dick and Jane, but this particular librarian knew I had graduated fast from that sophomoric reading level because she had arrived with her elephantine and lumbering bookmobile the previous summer at the migrant camp where I was living with my father and my brother. We were migrant workers. We weren’t supposed to know things either.

That summer I was her only customer at the migrant camp and we spend hours together discussing books and what we liked to read. I had no idea then that I was stupid and was supposed to be reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears when, in fact, I was pouring over every word in “As I Lay Dying” by Faulkner as the whole notion of racism was one that compelled me to know more and more. I saw racism every day in migrant camps. But Faulkner could articulate how it worked in characters. The Bookmobile Lady and I were fast friends.

I believe a book can change your life.

I will never forget having my copy of “The Sun Also Rises” removed from my person and the sharp sound of Dick and Jane being slammed on my desk. I was not there for the chewing out of the Bookmobile Lady but I know it happened because she was black and mainly powerless over even such decisions as to where to park the Bookmobile. I never saw her again and the Bookmobile no longer arrived at the migrant camp.

But the damage had been done.

I would steal books when I could get my hands on them. I still steal books. I steal them from bookstores and then I give them to children whether they can read them or not. Those children need those ideas more than bookstores.

I believe books can set you on a path in life that lifts you above the murderous, the mundane, and the migrant camp.

Hemingway pushed me all over the planet. I mean that literally. I have never stopped traveling nor do I intend to. I will always kick around the dust and the deserts of life. I rejected becoming a migrant worker; it was not for me and if that was arrogance then so was writing. I wrote my first novel at the age of twelve.

Faulkner and Hemingway took my hand and courageously showed me the shadows and darker spaces of the human character that I had suspected all along were there but was unable to articulate as reality. These writers took my hand into another reality. One that made immediate and visceral sense to me. I still read them. They said look here, and over here at that, and so I did.

Book publishing today is still Dick and Jane. Books are made to sell, not challenge. They don’t take on the first grade teacher and their soldiership does not march past the editorial convention and authority of the book proposal. Where all of them propose, very few deliver deliverance. Today, I am ashamed to be a writer. It is nothing to be proud of.

But I still believe books can push you like the wind if only the writer and the reader, the boy in the bookmobile and the bullfighter in the blood-soaked arenas of Spain can stretch out hand-to-hand to fight their common battles.

I still believe in the outdated notion of courage. I once knew a Bookmobile Lady who possessed more of it than anyone I have ever known.