It doesn’t look like much, but as soon as I saw the photo, posted on the Facebook group page for the small town we lived in when I was a small child, I immediately time-traveled to the very moment I first climbed those rickety stairs and entered that little building.
Inside, I found the world.
I know, it’s tiny and more than a little run-down, but back then, to my six-year-old self, it was pure heaven.
Mismatched shelves, jam-packed with books, more than my eyes could take in, filled the minuscule space, almost to overflowing.
I was dazzled.
I’d never dreamed there could be so very many books! I wanted to inhale them, to know each and every word written in each and every one of them.
The librarian, Mrs. Cunningham, knew a kindred soul when she saw one. She seemed to instantly, magically know exactly the right book.
Even though I wanted ALL of them, I was only allowed to check out a few at a time. But that was okay. It just meant I got to go there, to that captivating place, more often.
I don’t think I went there every day, but I expect I wanted to. If I could have, I’d have ditched school and just moved into the library.
School had rules and math and we had to read dumb books about Dick and Jane and Sally, boring kids who never did anything fun. I wanted the chapter books, the adventurous stories, like the ones at the library.
I was a fairly precocious reader and, once I showed her I could read them, I got to take home books like The Bobbsey Twins, books filled with mystery and excitement.
When we moved to Virginia, in the summer after I finished second grade, one of the first places my mom took me, or at least that I remember her taking me, was to the town library.
If my love affair with books was ignited in Arkansas, it flourished in Virginia.
For many, many years I proudly carried around that first library card issued by the kind librarians there. I still have the second, fancier one with its raised numbers that they ran through a device like a credit card imprinter.
The third one, the first with a bar code, is in a drawer in my kitchen. I had it in my purse as an emergency back-up until last year, when I realized they just had to do a quick search and my info was all there in the computer. I no longer even needed the card to check out a book.
Now, of course, I can download books right to my computer from the library or from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
But, still, I go to the library, to that place of enchantment.
I love to sit at a table in the back, in the “stacks”, such as they are, engrossed in a story. I love to run my hands over the books as I meander up and down the aisles, remembering my old friends I’ve already read and anticipating the new adventures yet to come.
Okay, so, I don’t do that very often anymore. Many of the books I read are on the Kindle app on my phone. But I still love a “real” book. It’s one of the reasons I also made my novels into paperbacks.
There’s still almost nothing in the world I like as much as holding a book in my hands, taking a deep breath, and diving in.
Thank you, Mr. Cooper, for posting that photo. Thank you, Mrs. Cunningham, for loving books and children so very much.
“It is not true we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.” ~ S.I. Hayakawa