As the grim spectre of library closures and other insane budget-wacking measures hover over our city like so many Dementors (dreamt up by our illiterate Mayor and a city council with no…um…backbone), I’ve been thinking a lot about books. Were it not for my love of reading books, I surely might not have embarked on any attempt to write them.
Books have always been an integral part of my life. My mother, when she wasn’t needlepointing, feeding our menagerie, or enjoying a bit o vodka, could be found with a cigarette in one hand (bad) and a book in the other (good). We were fortunate enough to have an entire room (albeit small) in our house lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves. I dream of having such a room in my house some day. Oh, sorry Mayor Ford: b-o-o-k, bound paper with printed words, some big, some small. We’ll start you out with small words and lots of pictures.
I don’t recall my mother actually reading to me; instead there were weekly trips to our local library. I was deposited in the children’s section while my mother went upstairs to the grown-up floor. I spent a lot of time in the stacks of various libraries all over Maryland, beginning with the Falls Road branch in Bethesda. There was no limit on the number of books I could check out. A particular favourite: The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren. God, how I loved that book (it was one of the first books I read to my daughter).
Books encouraged me to write as well. When I was ten my sister gave me Little Women for Christmas. That book almost caused me to miss Christmas dinner. From that very day, I wanted to be a writer. Reading fired my curiosity about people, places, and things far outside my little suburban Washington, DC world. Women authors from earlier times fascinated me because the odds against them were staggering. The fact that the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson to name a few penned works that are still read today is nothing short of a miracle. These gifted, determined women lit the path for the rest of us.
My husband’s family moved constantly; often his only companions in a new home (Africa, Korea) were his books. Even though he reads at a snail’s pace compared to me, he loves to read – something instilled in him by his parents. We are proud to say that both our children are accomplished, avid readers (and writers!) even in this day of electronics addiction. When they were little, we read to them and made sure there were books at hand. By the time they were toddlers, they were at the library, with me following them around saying “Shhhh” the whole time. Nonetheless, they were exposed to lots of books early.
In these dodgy economic times, we’ve had to employ some austerity measures of our own and the library has been a godsend. My kids can blast through a book in a day; as much as I love supporting our local bookstores, I also love food and a roof over my head. Bookstores can be expensive; checking out a book is not (although returning it late can be).
When I bitch and moan about our libraries I feel guilty. I hate waiting; if there’s a book I want, give it to me NOW. I get frustrated when care is not taken in the stacks – books out of order, computers that say the branch has five copies of something but they don’t have any, a travel “section” with three books about Costa Rica dating from the 1980’s, librarians who don’t care…I care very deeply about my local libraries. I want them to be well-stocked, well-organized, and well-used. They usually score one out of three: our local libraries are always teeming with people.
What city council and our Mayor have to realize is that libraries are an integral part of any healthy community. Community is a very important word. The city of Toronto is NOT just a bunch of buildings strung together by highways. Libraries provide not only an affordable alternative to book stores but they play host to a wide range of community events – seminars, play n read groups for little ones, community meetings, readings, etc. If nothing else, they provide a safe haven for children after school (as opposed to having them wander the streets).
Save our Libraries, Mayor Ford and maybe (just maybe) Santa will bring you a Dr. Seuss book for Christmas.