Books. I took a class once some time during my grad school career that was all about reading, and our relationship with reading and our brains’ reaction to reading and the importance of reading and how we learn to read. I’d never seriously considered the benefits of reading or my relationship with reading before that class. But ugh I hated that class.
When I’m at a library I feel giddy and safe. It’s a strange combination of adrenaline and comfort. The smell, the hush, the public space where it’s socially acceptable to ignore people. All that knowledge. All that potential in one space. All those lives for me to test and consume.
I didn’t start frequenting libraries until college.
My favorite summer is the summer I lived in San Antonio with my pops (summer of ’95). We were dirt poor that summer and so my dad is always surprised that it’s my most memorable summer. (“Not the summer we went to California? Not the summer we went to Diamondbacks’ games? Not the summer we spent at Justin’s water world?”) For him, it wasn’t his best dad summer. We were so poor we couldn’t afford furniture. Our mattresses were on the floor. I pushed my twin up against the wall below the window and my brothers shared the double a couple feet away. As a treat, my dad would take me to the public library and let me check out as many books as I wanted. AS MANY AS I WANTED. I would carry home a stack of books and pile them next to my bed. I can still see that twin bed on that ugly sea foam green carpet with the foot tall pile of books next to the head. When I wasn’t watching Gullah Gullah island or spying on my older brother (who had his first kiss that summer. Or did he lose his virginity? I forget. Very scandalous), or running around the complex with Ashley, Deborah, Phillip, and David (the one that got away), I would lie in my bed and drill my way down the pile. One book at a time. I frequented the elementary school library in Southern Illinois but I was only allowed one book at a time, and the librarian didn’t approve of my Alvin Schwartz scary story selection or my switch to Fear Street. But at the public library I was anonymous and free.
At mom’s I was given free rein to peruse her many bookcases, but again, my selections were subject to my mother’s eye. She would let me read anything, but if she deemed it inappropriate, I couldn’t return to it. I would never be able to find it on the bookshelf again. She would relocate it to a higher shelf or to the back bookcase in her room. Censored.
I don’t really know if I aspire to see my name on a shelf in a library, to see my words preserved for unsuspecting passersby, but it is a nice dream. To give back to what has sustained me.