And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Right now, my very best friend is a book I’m reading. Ever read a book like that? It’s not like I’m in love with the book. But even when I’m not reading it, it’s nearby, so that I can pick it up at any available moment. Five minutes between clients, read. Watering the plants, hold the watering pot in one hand, the book in the other, read. Go to the bathroom…you get the picture. The book is The Bookish Life Of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman. And the thing is, what’s most important about this book isn’t that I’m learning great things, or the world is moving beneath my feet. It’s that I’m honestly flat-out ENJOYING it.
Yesterday, when I read this at lunchtime, the only time in my day that I make myself sit down for a meal and read, I came across this section:
“Libraries were her favorite places, and when she traveled, she would start out at the local library, thus immediately identifying herself as a total nerd. They say you always remember your first time, and Nina definitely did. Walking into the Los Angeles Central Library to get her first library card, when she was eight or so, was still a memory she treasured. The entry hall of the library was as beautiful as any cathedral, and Nina had looked around and realized she would never run out of things to read, and that certainty filled her with peace and satisfaction. It didn’t matter what hit the fan; as long as there were unread books in the world, she would be fine.”
And right then, right there, I was off. My kitchen disappeared, my lunch disappeared, my current world disappeared, and I was running through all the libraries I’ve ever loved. The books I’ve loved. And that kept me company.
The first public library I went to was in Cloquet, Minnesota, when I was six years old. It was relatively small, but I was small, and so it was big to me. There was a second level, and the floor was made of glass blocks, which meant I could see the footsteps of people looking for books. I would stand under it, choose a set of feet, and follow them. I made up stories about who owned the feet, what they were doing, what they were looking for.
In that library, I read for the first time A Candle In Her Room by Ruth M. Arthur. And then I read it several hundred times. I checked it out so often that, the last time I went to return the book, the librarian handed it back to me. “It’s yours,” she said. I still have that book, but not my original copy. I unfortunately lent it to a student who never returned it. But I bought another copy, because my life wouldn’t be complete without it.
That same librarian, upon realizing that I was reading well above my age level, took me, at 7 years old, to the young adult section. She introduced me to Walter Farley, and all of the Black Stallion books. Thus continued my love of reading, and a new love for horses, which ultimately led to my meeting Secretariat face to face in 1983.
Cloquet’s library led to Stoughton, Wisconsin’s library, to Cedarburg, Wisconsin’s library, to Waukesha, Wisconsin’s library. And then on to Madison, where I attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison, which held oh so many libraries. I stood in each one, clasped books to my chest, read them with ardor, and stood in front of the shelves where I dreamed my own books would be.
And now, that’s where they are.
Downstairs, in the AllWriters’ classroom, there is an entire wall of books, and shorter bookshelves in front of the floor to ceiling windows. Books lay sideways on top of rows of other books, because there isn’t enough shelf space. Just outside the door to the studio, in the entryway, there is a shelf holding the books of students, all published by traditional publishers. Outside the front door, there is a Little Free Library, watched over by a concrete lion, the fourth of his lineage in that spot.
And on my left hand, my pointer finger, there is a ring, given to me by a student after I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. It’s a spinner ring, meant to alieve anxiety with repetitive motion, using my thumb to spin the ring. The student asked my husband for a favorite quote to put on it, and so when I spin, I see the words, “Keep passing the open windows.” This is from John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, my answer to “If you could only have one book on a desert island, what would it be?” I own a signed copy.
And just a short time ago, in Waldport, Oregon, I walked into a used bookstore, checked to make sure my books weren’t there (they weren’t – and I want them held lovingly in homes that can’t imagine giving them up), then glanced into a locked cabinet to see Ray Bradbury’s The Complete Poems Of Ray Bradbury. In the middle of a town where I knew no one, I found a friend, a writer I held close to my heart since I was seventeen years old. The book was signed. I bought it, kept it next to me throughout my trip, and now it’s just to the left of my writing desk.
That line in this book, “It didn’t matter what hit the fan; as long as there were unread books in the world, she would be fine,” led me one step further. It doesn’t matter what hits the fan; as long as there are unread books in the world, I will never be alone. I will always be making new friends.”
I came back into my kitchen, finished my lunch, hugged the book, then carried it with me as I returned to work, so that I could read some more with every passing chance.
And yes, that helps. Despite Anyway.