Back in the mid 1970s through the early 80s, my mother, sister, and I used to walk to our local library in suburban Detroit, taking our to-be-returned library books with us. We would then get a new lot of books, and walk home.
My sister is and for many years has been a medical librarian at a North Carolina university. I studied journalism at Wayne State, worked for a paper in another Detroit suburb and, after moving to England, an internal comms dept in Sheffield. These days, I write, and present “Book It!“, a radio programme featuring author interviews, book reviews, and original stories.
Thank you, Allen Park Public Library. Oh, and thank you also Wayne for your library, and Detroit for your magnificent public library. I spent many a happy hour there when I should have been studying, reading in your stacks.
Wasted hours? I don’t think so. Those books helped make me the writer, presenter, and, above all, person I am today. Yes, I’m flawed, like everyone else. But books didn’t cause those flaws. Instead, they opened informative windows on new horizons, as well as ones I thought I knew, but didn’t.
It’s a long time and a long way from the quiet shelves of AP Public Library, where, much to my mother’s despair, I read so many Walter Farley books that she once made a sarcastic comment about how I’d soon be borrowing “The Black Stallion Has a Tea Party”. (1)
Later, I graduated to the beautifully illustrated works of Marguerite Henry, then early Heinlein, eg, “Have Space Suit, Will Travel”. I found “The Singing Tree”, the sequel to my mother’s copy of “The Good Master” by Kate Seredy. Then there were the Madeleine L’Engle books: “A Wrinkle in Time” and its sequel, “The Arm of the Starfish”. I also fell in love with the novels of EL Konigsburg: “Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth”, “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler”, etc. Then there was the classic “It’s Like this, Cat”, not to mention “The Long Secret”, the sequel to my battered, beloved paperback copy of “Harriet the Spy” by Louise Fitzhugh.
Mom was a children’s librarian. Good quality children’s books were a metaphorical mother’s milk to my sister, and brother, and me.
Aged around 11 or so, I began wandering over to the adult section, where I discovered Dumas Pere’s “Three Musketeers”, “Twenty Years After”, and “The Man in the Iron Mask”. In my late teens and early twenties, I made my way through AP Public’s collection of mysteries, ranging from Agatha Christie, to the Dorothy Sayers “Peter Wimsey” books which my parents hadn’t already purchased during a family holiday. I also came across the “Cat Who Turned On and Off” series.
I don’t remember when I found my first book by British author James Hilton, or decided to check out my mother’s favourite American humourist, James Thurber. My high school friends and I read Harpo Marx’s autobiography “Harpo Speaks!” I don’t know about them, but Harpo’s was just one of many autobiographies and biographies I borrowed from that library.
My adolescence saw me turn to the library’s collection of “Gothic” romances. I read my way through all the Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart and, later, Barbara Michaels’ novels I could find. I stayed with and continued reading Michaels’ work long after moving to Donny in my late 20s.
Since that move, Doncaster Central has been “my” library. I’ve borrowed books, been to events, and attended at least two different writers’ groups there. These days, unless I’m working, you can find me there every first and third Saturday mornings, attending Doncaster Writers’ (3).
Libraries help inform. They also introduce us to new ways of thinking, living, and being.
Reading, or so I’ve read, makes the reader more empathetic. Experience shows that kindness, and knowledge, are needed now, as much as they ever have been.
Britain and America, please: stand up for your local libraries. You have nothing to lose but your library cards.
They’re taking mine from my cold, dead hands. Because that’s the one time I definitely won’t be needing it any more.
(1) No, this title doesn’t exist. Mom was right though: if it did, I would have read it. (2)
(2) This was in the late 60s or early 70s, so should in no way be taken as implying that the Black Stallion has ultra-right leanings.
(3) Every first and third Saturday, 10.30 while 12.30.