I find them sanctuaries away from the real world. As a child I was brought to my local library and given my very own library ticket. At 6 this was a huge deal. My grandmother and I would go every Saturday afternoon, the library ticket with my name on it clutched in my hand and we would pick books. When you’re 6 the responsibility and the amazement that comes with owning your very own key to free books is huge. I very proudly would hold it whilst I scoured the shelves.
The children’s section was like a vast world apart from anything else I’d known. In reality now its just a corner of the library with some smaller plastic seats, but to me it was everything.
I’d look at the books that we read in school, I’d look for the ones that the kids in my class always hogged, the ones which had a waiting list because they were the funniest. There they were though, on the shelf. Waiting just for me. No waiting list, no worrying about when I would get it. It was in front of me. I could pick it up and take it home then and there.
It escalated from there. The book of the moment Trouble with the Fiend was a comedic book about a friend that was essentially awful. Think the Cramp Twins from the CBBC show and you’re there. But in my class we could not get enough of that book. When the library van came to our school we all clamoured to see if there were more as rumour had it there might be a series of them. Like the books of the time they used to display the first few pages of the next book at the back. But here I was in the town library and in front of me were ALL SIX of the series.
I can tell you right now, I can still recall the glee of that moment. It has been rivalled only by my arrival in Las Vegas, nerdy but true that’s how excited it made me.
These were the days before Amazon, ok there was a local book shop that I would frequent every week with my pocket money when I was 10 and 11 and they would order me things that they didn’t stock, but this was before that.
Books were the most enthralling things to me. As a kid I used to drag about my box set of Beatrix Potter, or my current instalment of Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree. Being able to read by myself introduced me to worlds I’d never known before. The wonder of being able to pick up a book and go on an adventure, or learn something that you didn’t know before, to me it just seemed amazing.
So throughout my years I travelled to the lands at the top of the tree with Moonface and Silky, I went through Wonderland with Alice, stole crops with Peter Rabbit and into Narnia with Aslan. I went on all these journeys just with a book in my hand and it’s stayed with me all my life.
My fondness (read obsession) with Alice in Wonderland and so many of my childhood favourites, is when I pick them up again I get all of the excitement that I had the first time I read them. Maybe I’m old, maybe I snuck in before the prevalence of video games. But my Sega Megadrive and my Game Boy never matched the books that I had. Over the years and many degrees later I don’t get much time to read fiction. Years of writing a PhD thesis have taught me speed reading and how to cut through a density of text, oh and exactly how much I can take before I have a stonking headache. These days reading for me is work, it’s trying to work out exactly what a long dead philosopher meant when they were talking about their own made up concept. It is trying to desperately tear through books at as fast a pace as possible to glean their information so I can move through the pile staring at me in unread smugness and try to work out if I’ve left anything out in my bibliography.
The enjoyment for me has been put on hold. But when I step inside a town library it all comes soaring back. The children’s corner, the little stacks, the quiet and the potential. Always the potential for knowledge and learning. It heartens me. When I’m blue that’s usually where I can be found, sitting scaring the children on the plastic seats.
Libraries present the best things in life. They’re full of stories and wonder, potential and relative calm, it makes you feel like nothing bad could ever happen here. (Doctor Who fans may point out the Vashna Nerada, but I haven’t seen them recently.) They’re like little calm portals away from the hectic outside world and I love them.
Now I may need to move as this pink plastic chair is cutting off circulation to my hips.