The Book's Lover

The Book's Lover
Damiano Cali

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Homage to a Library: Naomi

Some people love bookstores.  I like bookstores a lot.  They make me happy.  Almost all of them now have coffee shops attached, which makes them smell yummy, and most of them have comfy chairs where you can sit down and try out a new book before you buy it.  
Bookstores are great.  

I’m a library person.

I LOVE libraries.  I think it’s because when I was a little girl, the library was my happy place.  My Mommy took me to the library every Friday and I was allowed to roam around to my heart’s content.  My childhood library was a beautiful building built in 1907, with a huge dome above the circulation desk, and marble pillars, with the hush and sacred feel of a temple or a church.  As one progressed back into the “working” parts of the library—the general fiction stacks, the periodicals, the nonfiction second floor loge—it became less lovely and more ‘70s utilitarian.  It was still a magical place.  
I had a Mommy-imposed limit of 10 books.  I wasn’t allowed to take any more home than that, because it was hard enough to keep track of ten when the due-date came around.  Even now, years and years later, I feel overburdened if I have more than 10 library books out at a time.  You can’t imagine the daily guilt I lived with in grad school, when I sometimes had to check out 15 or 20 books for one paper.   

Leaving Mom in the dust, I would toddle down the stairs to the basement Children’s Department.  Two of my very favorite people worked there: Sue and Claudine.  Sue was lovely, with waist-length blonde hair and pretty Laura Ashley dresses (it was the 1980s, Gentle Readers.  She was chic.).  And then there was Claudine, who was one of the single most important influences on my life, because she helped me learn to pick out books.  Is there any better way to shape a child?  Sometimes she had a special book hidden behind the circulation desk for me, and regardless of what it was, if she recommended it, I read it.  She helped me work my way through every book in the library on Arthurian myths, answered questions on how to pronounce the names of Greek gods, and taught me that “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was just the gateway to Baum’s world.  For years, even after we moved away, our families exchanged Christmas cards.  I promised her that I would dedicate a book to her.  Sadly, she passed away a few years ago, and she didn’t get her book.  Claudine, I owe you.  For so many things.  

  [In a side note, both Sue and Claudine moonlighted (moonlit?) as clowns.  Knowing that the clowns who showed up at craft fairs and school festivals were the nice ladies who gave me books made sure I was immune to fearing clowns, no matter how many times I’ve read “IT.” Thanks, librarians; I have no fear of clowns, and a vast fear of overdue library notices.]  
The library was a safe place, full of dangerous ideas.  I don’t remember my parents restricting my reading at all, believing that if I was old enough to choose the book, I was OK to read it.  I do remember having to fight to move from the Children’s Department downstairs to the Young Adult section upstairs.  Then again, considering that I began a year-long diet of Sweet Valley High books, maybe my folks were right!  (Lila was my favorite.  She, too, loved purple.)  But I could wander the library, pick out my books and then meet Dad in the Westerns, or Mom in Fiction.  I happened upon some great books, all by accident, because I liked the title, or the front cover, or because I randomly pulled it off the shelf.  It was a wonderful playground. 

And it shaped my reading habits more than I ever realized.  It is very rare, even now, that I walk into a bookstore knowing what I want to buy, or into a library knowing what I want to check out.  I have always found the best stuff when I am looking for nothing in particular: Your eye is caught by a photograph.  You like a title.  You recognize a book you’ve read before by the cover art and see if the author has done anything new.  You misread a title and pull it off the shelf.  You accidentally knock a book out of place, and as you replace it, you start reading the blurb. 

One of my problems with e-readers is that it pretty much kills the art of the accidental book.  Yep, that might make me a Luddite, but that’s OK.  You can find me curled up in the fiction section with the rest of the weirdos. 

1 comment:

  1. I loved that library, too, but I didn't get there often and spent more time in my school libraries. I admit to falling head over heels for my e-reader, but that's mostly because I gravitate toward LARGE, HEAVY, 1000-page tomes and they are pretty hard on the wrists. It's nice to have the complete works of a dozen prolific writers in your back pocket.