What is there to say? I'm not very interesting. I'm not a good writer. I don't even dress well. If you insist on knowing something about me just wander through the archives. It's all there.

Monday, November 07, 2005

On my first library

I was an early reader. During the summer between kindergarten and first grade, we lived in a small midwestern town. Our house sat on the corner across from a one-block square town park. The park was nothing more than grass, a few trees, and a slightly rickety wooden bandstand that I don’t recall ever being used. Across that park, on the corner opposite from our house was the county library.

It was a great old library. It has broad stone stairs set in a Federalist façade. Inside it had tall ceilings, floor to ceiling multi-paned windows with a worn wooden floor and dark wood shelves. It looked like a library. It smelled like a library. If Norman Rockwell had wanted to paint a library, he would have chosen this one as the model.

At the beginning of that summer, each day I would wake up, brush my teeth, eat breakfast and walk across the park to that library. I, usually, got there before it opened and sat on the front steps until the librarian mysteriously appeared from inside and unlocked the front door. I think at the time, I thought that she just lived there and I was waiting for her to wake up. In retrospect, she probably parked in the back alleyway and came in through a rear entrance.

Even at the time, it was a really old-fashioned library. The “children” section did not have little chairs, tables, or colorful decorations. It was just an alcove off the main entrance that had a lot of windows and shorter than usual shelves. Two long, low shelves of children’s books bound it. For the first few weeks, I would make my selection; take them and my newly acquired library card to the front desk. The librarian would use a rubber stamp to stamp each one after she handwrote my name and book titles into her registry. She would admonish me to, “be careful crossing the street”. As I had been taught and as my parents would expect, I would thank her. Carrying my pile of books, I would journey back across the park to my house where I would read each book cover to cover before the sun had set.

After awhile, I got tired of lugging a pile of books each and every day. I started lying on the wooden floor of the alcove in the sun and would just read them right there. As is my nature, I began at one end of the first shelf and started reading each book in the children’s section in order. It was glorious. I learned to love reading. Time would pass so quickly. The world would shrink to fit onto the page in front of me. I was catatonic until I had reached the back cover and reached for the next one.

This was a very small town. My parents were public figures in the town. Everyone knew them and by extension, me. I can remember the librarian periodically looking in on me. She would occasionally remind me that I should “go home and eat some lunch now”. I am sure that she and my mother were in cahoots and that phone calls were exchanged for my benefit.

Even now, I am saddened by the fact that I was never able to fulfill my goal of finishing all the books on those shelves. We moved away in mid-August of that summer. I did put a pretty good dent in them though. I still remember a lot of the stories that I read there.

Dr Seuss (T.S. Geisel) was my absolute favorite author. I credit him with teaching me to love wordplay and verbal silliness. I used to get myself warmed up for a day’s worth of hard reading by zipping once again through “Hop On Pop” or “If I Ran The Circus.” I liked stories about boys who could fly and/or be invisible. I didn’t like stories about girls, dolls, or bears. Stories based on mythology and the sciences were the best and most interesting ones. Books with too many pictures or about fairy tales seemed too much like “baby” books for my discerning six-year-old palette. I thought that all stories about bunnies were stupid.

When my son, who is now a book-devouring machine, was in the first grade; he really struggled with reading. He and I started a daily half-hour reading session. I would read to him from one page then he would read to me from the next one. By unanimous acclaim, our favorite book to get us warmed up for reading in alternation was “Hop On Pop”.


Blogger Glory said...

My Sunday paper had a horrid article about a new study which seems to show that there is no relationship between parental reading with preschoolers and their eventual ability to become readers. I was apalled: that they were wasting my tax dollars on such a study, that they thought any good could be gained by publishing such dubious conclusions (which will undoubtedly be nullified by another study), and that someone, somewhere, may read it and stop reading to their child. Grrrrrrrrr.

7/11/05 12:23 PM  

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