Thursday, July 27, 2006
To The Library -- With Love and Lament
You would think that a bookseller flailing eyebrow deep in a sea of books would never darken the door of the public library except to attend book sales, but such is not the case. Or at least, not the case with this bookseller. I have harbored a deep and abiding love for libraries ever since I made my maiden voyage to the Goodyear branch of the Akron Public Library one cold, rainy Friday evening in October, 1957. (And no, I am not using poetic license to add details. I was six years old and I remember.) Probably the main reason this memory lives in technicolor is the fact that my aunt and my mother, neither of whom are, or were, readers, instigated this foray into the world of culture. Growing up in south Akron, reading material at our house consisted of the daily Akron Beacon Journal, Reader’s Digest and Popular Mechanics, all of which were read only by my father. So to be escorted into the serene, oak-tabled splendor of the Goodyear branch library was an event of epic proportions.
What I remember most is the hush -- rather reminiscent of the old lady, the comb and the brush, and the bowlful of mush in Goodnight Moon. In those days you whispered in the library, even in the children’s section. The other thing I vividly remember is that my friend, Isabelle, who was with us, picked out a book called B Is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood. One look at brown-braided Betsy earnestly gazing back at me from the red buckram cover and I was sure I would die if I didn’t read that book. Izzy promised I could have it later when she was done, but even a promise from my very bestest friend in the whole wide world was faint consolation. As it turned out though, later came much sooner than I’d imagined, as she never read it at all. That week the future was pretty well determined -- Izzy became an abstainer and I became a junkie.
But something else even more memorable occurred that night we first went to the library. On the way home, in the backseat of my aunt’s turquoise and white 1956 Crown Victoria, I latched onto Betsy for a quick read by neon light as we whizzed past stores and restaurants home to Kenyon Steet (and another sorrows). Betsy’s world was as alien to my experience as a visit from the Pope, but it didn’t matter. A timeless something living inside Betsy also lived inside me. Deep in the marrow of my bones I knew this to be true, just as I knew that books unleashed a power greater even than Superman’s. I also realized that night that Betsy did not magically turn up on paper by accident. Somebody had to invent her. Somebody had to write it all down. And that somebody was Carolyn Haywood, who was an author – a writer of stories who got paid to do the most magical, miraculous job in the entire universe!
“When I grow up I’m going to be an author,” I announced from the backseat.
“I don’t think so,“ replied one of the occupants of the front seat. “Writing books is not a real job. You would starve to death.”
“I don’t care,” I said. “I’m going to do it anyway."
And I did. For awhile. Sort of. Except that I quit a couple years ago and am now a very happy bookseller. I wonder though. Is it possible that even the happiest of booksellers still yearns, maybe just a little bit, to write something that would make a child feel the way I did on that cold, rainy night in 1957?
Maybe. Well, if I'm being totally honest -- yes, I do sort of yearn. I just wish I didn't. Writing books can break your heart.