I am not the only person in town, I know, who is extremely excited that the Macon County library has re-opened its doors.
Surely I can speak for the community when I say this: we’re happy to have you back, public place of learning. You look good. We like your new space, your new parking, your new programs.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that there are other people at least as hung up on libraries as I am; I simply love them. The comfort I feel when I’m in a library really goes back to my childhood.
It all began when I was about four. My father took me up into his lap and started taking me through a book called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons that year. The book was true to its word. Six months later or so, I can distinctly remember hopping off his lap after the final lesson.
I was five years old. I could read.
And reading is exactly what I commenced to do. Dr. Suess and picture books gave way to the American Girls books, the Betsy-Tacy series, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess. These gave way to Anne of Green Gables, a whole lot of those Illustrated Classics, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, and lots of YA fiction.
My family couldn’t keep me present in a room because of the books; not only did I love them, but I preferred them to people. People were unpredictable, and made me blush when I talked to them—books only entertained me, taught me, and surprised me. They never embarrassed me.
The other thing my family couldn’t do was keep the supply of books high enough. We didn’t have space in that little Gordonsville farmhouse for all the shelves it would have taken.
So instead, we went to libraries. After we moved to the suburbs of Hermitage, we’d take weekly trips. Mama would load us all into the van, and I still remember the fresh feeling of possibility that hit me, every time the automatic doors slid open and I stepped into the air-conditioned quiet.
The thing about libraries is that no one can ever tell you exactly which books to read. As you wander through the shelves, you just know that you may stumble across a new book at any moment that will be one of your new favorites. When you’re a kid, you never think about reviews and best seller lists—as far as you know, Goodnight, Moon is something that no other kid has ever heard of. All you know is that you, yourself, found it on the library shelf and liked it.
So I read, and read, and read, in a mad rush to read as much as possible and take home as many good ones as could be carried. I tried to stick to a system of reading only the first few pages of a book, even if it was very good, so that I could decide whether to put it in my little pile for taking home.
In the Nashville system, you could only put 25 books on a single library card. At first, when I was very young, I had to put the books on my mom’s card—and picture books run out very quickly. The day that I got my own card was a game changer. I signed the back of it myself. It was a great privilege, I felt, and a great responsibility.
I remember me and my siblings leaving each week with our carefully curated piles, and the consistent problem of not being able to hold my pile upright. I can still hear the books sliding off and smacking the floor with a sound that echoed, to my young mind, in the ears of every librarian.
Later on, libraries served as a school room. I finished my homeschooled high school education in a library (the final test of the final course happened while I was studying there). As an independent young woman, a library card was the first thing I would acquire when I moved somewhere. I currently possess cards in six different counties. (Don’t get bent out of shape; I don’t use them. They’re just mementos.)
Reading has been more than a pastime to me—that much I can say. It has been more than a hobby. It has been more than a means of learning. Reading—for good or for ill—has shaped the way I think and speak and act, the way I do my job and the way I intend to raise children. I believe in books the way that some people believe in football or in organic food. Sometimes I think that I need to be careful, lest my loyalty to the written word become stronger than my loyalty to the living Word.
And if a stadium is the safe place for a football fan, and Whole Foods is the safe place for a whole eater, the library is that place for me. I never feel so relaxed—in my shoulders, my back, my feet, even in my head—as when I’m mindlessly browsing the shelves of a public library.
Because, you see, who knows? I may stumble across a book at any moment that will be one of my new favorites. It could happen today.
At the Macon County Library.