There is a funny (to my mind) misconception that many people have about the work of librarians, and that is that we often sit around reading. This may be true of many of us librarians when we are not working, but one of the great tensions of our lives (well, of mine anyway) is that we are surrounded each day by books that we have little time to read. Well, October is National Book Month, and this made me pause and think back to why I was pulled to the profession of librarianship, and I can tell you it was all about the books. Surely others have expressed their love of books or the importance of reading in their lives more eloquently, more passionately, more analytically, more humorously, more engagingly than I, more deeply than I, but nevertheless I want to share.
I loved to read when I was very young. I’m sure I was read-to very often as an infant and toddler, but I mostly recall wanting to do the thing myself. I wanted to hold the book, and I wanted to decipher those symbols, to discover their meaning with my own eyes and mind. I remember sitting one day in the back of the car on a family trip, holding “Horton Hears a Who” in my lap, turning through the pages and telling myself the well-rehearsed story, when I suddenly realized that I knew what each word said, that I was actually doing the thing! I’ve been hooked ever since. But it was several years later at age 9 that I was browsing the book shelves at home and found “Danny the Champion of the World”, a book that had been given to my older brother (who shares the title’s namesake), and that quickly became my very favorite book in the world. I remember reading it, getting to the end, and immediately flipping the book back to its front cover and starting it again, from the title page and dedication all the way through to its exciting, dramatic, and touching conclusion. Ah! I can still feel that excitement and anticipation of a great story masterfully told, with complex, engaging, and troubling characters. I couldn’t have put it in words at the time, but looking back there was some mystery behind the story that I wanted to solve. How did this Roald Dahl, this name typed on a page, captivate my attention? How did he make me see Danny and his father in their caravan eating their dinner so vividly, how did he make me gasp when trouble descended, and laugh with them as they plotted one of the most satisfying revenge stories ever told?
Kate (Kirkwood librarian) and her daughter, with author Michael Chabon in Minneapolis, December 2016. Five hour road trip? Totally worth it.
That mystery is what keeps me reading voraciously to this day; it’s what keeps me up past midnight with a story I can’t put down; it’s what makes me drive for hours to a faraway bookstore where I can meet a favorite author and have them sign my book on the title page that retains my 9-year-old’s magical sense of the author as a person with miraculous abilities somehow tucked in behind that name typed at the front of the book, present but invisible within the words of the story. Author Haruki Murakami said recently that between author and reader “there is a special secret passage between us, and we can send a message to each other.” He too knows this magic that I sensed as a young reader and continue to feel today.
So thank you to all the authors, editors, and publishers that make books possible. And thank you to the librarians and booksellers who make those books available to us. At Kirkwood Libraries we have lots of great books to choose from in our Popular Books collections, and we hope you can find that perfect magical package of printed words on paper that gives you just the story you need.