Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.
— Cornelia Funke, Inkspell
The library was my favorite place and books were my childhood best friends. I spent as much time escaping into other worlds through the Northern Lights with Lyra from His Dark Materials, and through Minnesota fields with Candy from Abarat, as running around playgrounds or soccer fields. My first memories of reading were classic titles like Are you my mother?, The Kissing Hand, Shel Silverstein, the Paper Bag Princess and Princess Smartypants. When I moved onto chapterbooks, I delighted in the Bailey School Kids, and struggled when I was rewarded with harder texts like Where the Red Fern Grows and the Incredible Journey.
While we occasionally ventured to Walden books at the mall, the library was our regular sanctuary – endless books to borrow?! Our mother would leave us in the children’s room to get lost while she went into the stacks. We marveled at the books – and the ferrets who enviously made their home there. Years later, I’d have the honor of working nearby the librarian who probably gave me my first library card. How lucky, to later work alongside, in the magical place where it began, one of the people who brought children’s books to life in a way that they were “remembered long after the last page” (Gonzalez, in Vardell, 42). In high school, I was such a regular, albeit quiet, library patron that another librarian – who would later hire me – forgave more than twenty dollars in overdue fines on books about the space race and USSR. My sisters and I dreamed of playing hide and seek in its many nooks and crannies, its many worlds and escapes.
I remember memorizing short books as a call and response with my dad at bed time, (always, as long as you’re living) a nightly echo reading. I remember hiding a flashlight under my pillow so I could stay up finishing whatever book and one day my dad jokingly threatened to take my pillow away so I could use my book as a pillow. I remember one uncle being flabbergasted when my mother threatened to take our reading time away if we didn’t follow directions. Really we must not have gotten into much trouble, with our noses always in books. I remember sitting down to eat dinner or lunch and asking if this particular time we were allowed to read and hoping eagerly it was. I remember reading more than some cousins and feeling inferior to those who were older and read thicker tomes. I remember reading Lord of the Rings before it was at my level because I wanted to read what my elder sister was. And I remember the frustration of my sisters both being faster readers, finishing freshly released contemporaries well before I did, every single time.
Of course, it wasn’t all roses and fluffy cottontails. There were times that we had to learn about bookcare the hard way, to pay fines, repair bindings. And there were times more recently that upon learning better, we let go of former favs that we found to be problematic and would be embarrassed now to read to a child (Vardell, 61): a certain non-medical Dr., a folk tale about a long long name that wasn’t actually a folk tale, and a wizard whose creator isn’t actually inclusive and fighting for the oppressed at all.
I was, and still am, a slow reader, but I relished every word and every plot twist, however perhaps unfortunate the events. I imagined the happenstance of Spiderwick and Magic Tree House would come to us, dreamt about faeries and dragons appearing in our backyard, and wondered whether Poppy and Rye or the rats of Nimh ever made it through our yard. Sick days home from school were spent sneaking into the Metropolitan or flitting off with the Greek Gods (listening over and over again to tape versions of The Mixed Files of Mrs.Basil E. Frankweiler and D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths). In middle school and high school, I swapped books with friends, and absolutely envied the friend who could read straight on through a class of geometry and still pass the tests. How unfair, I had to save my reading for after studying math. Books were more than books. They have shaped my worldview and, even, perhaps, demeanor. My bookish memories are neverending, my sisters and I still referencing quotes from childhood literature constantly and revisiting rebels like Peter Rabbit (Vardell) with new readers in the family. There are characters we wonder about years later. And what greater peace of mind now than wondering fondly through the hundred acre wood. The memories could fill Alexandria.