A Love Letter (of Sorts)

Although I sat down at my desk this morning to focus on the work in progress, I found myself browsing Etsy for my father’s Christmas gift and then scrolling through my Facebook feed. Writers are excellent procrastinators (or at least this one is). While scanning Facebook, I came across the Literary Mama journal prompt for today. Since I had actually started a post about books and reading last week, I thought I’d dust it off, finish it up and share it. Finalizing and ordering my impossible to shop for father’s gift and getting some writing done, even if it wasn’t what I intended…that’s some pretty productive procrastination, if I do say so myself.

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I fell in love with books as a kid. I devoured them. I couldn’t get enough. Beverly Cleary, the Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, Choose Your Own Adventures, C.S. Lewis, Little Women, E.B. White, Judy Blume, Sweet Valley High, fairy tales, Where the Red Fern Grows…. I had the shelves of our local library memorized, able to hone in on the section or book I wanted within minutes, scanning for new covers, returned titles, old favorites. Stepping into the cramped space of the book mobile in the busy Food Lion parking lot on a Saturday morning was like stepping into another world where I was envious of the driver who got to spend time with so many books and the strangely intoxicating scent of their plastic-wrapped covers. A small, independent bookstore in a nearby shopping center was cozy, dimly lit and full of magical possibilities to a bookworm like me. I wanted to move in and live there. Sleep with the books, wake with them, eat with them, breathe them in at all times. I ate many a free personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut in my elementary school years thanks to their BookIt! program (by the way, did you know BookIt! was still around!? I didn’t.).

With a more flexible schedule this year, I signed up to help in my son’s elementary school library a few mornings a month. I can’t even express to you how happy I am in that space. I love the books, the covers, the old familiar favorites that are still checked out as eagerly as they were when I was a child. Re-shelving returned books, I can touch and feel new-to-me series, find out about new authors, see stories about magic and powerful girls and strange creatures and mysteries to be solved. Helping the kids check out books, I secretly want to pocket all of their choices. Instead, I exclaim things like “Oh! This looks so good!” Or, “My son loved this, I hope you like it!” Or “I loved this as a kid!” Or “And have you read…?” They kind of look at me sideways, stamp their due dates, smile politely then high tail it back to their classroom. Stocking newly arrived books means I get a front row seat to the classics of tomorrow. Wonder and Sisters and Jacqueline Woodson.

I want to read them all. I want to open each cover and dig in. Perhaps, more honestly, I want my old Pink Panthers pink plastic framed classes. I want a quiet spot on my twin bed, a rainy afternoon and a stack of these books. I want the innocence and wonder of magical worlds and endless time with little responsibility other than to show up at the table when my mother called me down for dinner. I want stiff legs and lost afternoons. I want that feeling of rebirth to the real world by stepping outside into the reality of kids on roller skates and bikes and jump ropes after being immersed in the haze of some other person’s far away fictional reality.

I still experience magic when I read. I still can be immersed in a story. I have cried at the end of a book, not because it was sad or tragic, but because it was over (most recently, Tell the Wolves I’m Home). I have felt lost in the days after a great book, afraid to start a new one that it wouldn’t compare to the greatness I’d just imbibed.

But that initial magic that the titles of my youth still hold over me? That newly minted miracle of words is special and reserved for the younger readers among us. The novices. The rookies. They are in the midst of falling in love, experiencing that mystical, heady time when they are engulfed and obsessed and can’t possibly fathom what life was like before…before they could read, before Harry Potter’s scar, before a wimpy kid’s diary, before a magical tree house or a principal donned underpants. As an adult, I still love books, but it’s like a long relationship – sometimes you take them for granted or are disappointed or simply forget to call.

Then I spend a morning at the elementary school library and remember what it felt like to fall in love with books. I already know which shelves are home to my favorites. I keep a list of ones to recommend to the 8 year old. I hold their weight and remember what it felt like to roam and wander and seek and discover. I breathe in the ease that being surrounded by words provides. I am home in that library. Any library.

I have the unique privilege of watching my boys fall in love one word at a time. The 8 year old comes home every day with five new books from his classroom library or we catch him under the covers well past his bedtime reading by the light of a tiny book lamp. The five year old has started sounding out words, spotting sight words and imitating his favorite characters (Mo Willems’ Pigeon, Elephant and Piggie being favorites).

It’s true that money can’t buy you love. But perhaps, just maybe, a library card can.

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