Toward the end of my granddaughter’s summer visit, she asked if I would take her to the local library. Her request surprised me as she came with a backpack full of books. We went to Barnes and Noble, where I bought her several more, one of which I will discuss later.
Her ask took me back to my childhood when I recalled asking my mother if I could go to the library, fully expecting her to say no.
My mother suffered from depression, and there were times when a minor thing would upset her, and I would be on the receiving end of her wrath; other times, she was the loving and caring mother and all the Hell I experienced the day or weeks before would be forgotten.
So, the day I asked if I could go to the library, I was surprised at the rapidity of her yes response. I was out the door in a flash because she could change her mind just as quickly.
On my way, I realized I had never been inside the library. While walking, I wondered what to do when I got there. Will they let me in? What if I get lost? Before I knew it, I was at the entrance, unprepared for what awaited me.
I was utterly in awe at what I witnessed for the first time. I was also scared as I didn’t have any money. As I turned around to head out the door, a voice came out of nowhere.
It was one of the librarians asking if I needed help. I suppose the look of confusion on my face answered the question as she took me to the children’s section. Looking at the titles of the books, so many books, it was just astonishing.
I found a book that caught my attention, pulled it from the shelf, and leafed through it, reading a paragraph, then another and another, allowing it to take me to a place in a faraway land full of adventure and intrigue. When I heard a hushed voice asking if I had found something that interested me, looking up, it was the same lady who guided me to the section I was in. I recall nodding, and then she asked me the question that impacted me for life, ‘Would you like to check it out?’ With total puzzlement on my face, she explained that I could check the book out and read it at home.
We went to the checkout desk, and she asked if I had a library card. The look on my face gave her the answer. With her help, I filled out the form for my first Library card. The Librarian told me my card would be ready when I returned the books I checked out.
It was always cool in the library because of its high ceilings, so I spent the hot, muggy Syracuse summers in the library, lost in my world of books and often would lose track of time and have to hurry home, usually with several books I checked out.
As I grew and got older, my reading choices changed. I was moving toward more mature material. I had a paperback I was reading when my mother noticed the cover. She asked what I was reading and demanded to see the book before I could answer. She looked at the title and noticed the author. She inquired where I got the book. When I told her I bought it, she was surprised and disturbed, which meant trouble for me because the author laid out an explicit sex scene between a couple at a party they were attending.
Usually, when I had this type of encounter with my mother, it didn’t go well for me. So, I braced myself for what was about to happen. But what took place was completely unexpected. Instead of an angry tirade, in a calm but firm voice, my mother said the following:
“I’m happy to see you reading, and it’s good for you. But at your age some books aren’t appropriate for you now this is one of those books. So, I will hold on to this when the time is right for you to read this.” She took the book, and I never saw it again.
I was upset with her taking the book (which I kept to myself; after all, I bought the book with my own money), but I understood her explanation and rationale, and she praised me for my desire to read and stretch my mind. She said she would return it to me when the time was right, but you can guess how that went.
As we left, I asked my granddaughter what she thought of our town library. She said it was much bigger than the one near her town. She told me her library and the selection of books is small. To top it off, she lives in a state where the governor has bought into all the nonsense around book banning. So I wonder when they will close up the libraries like they are considering doing in a rural county in eastern Washington state because library officials refuse to remove 11 books that deal with LGBTQ+ and themes on racism.
“Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them, at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.
The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies. “So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life.”
Writers such as James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi, and Nikole Hannah-Jones are just a few of the names found on book ban lists. Why? Because they are good writers and ‘touch life often.’
When a good writer touches life in a way that makes you want to read what they say, that helps you gain clarity of purpose, guides you in a direction that causes you to take action, reaches into your soul, and wakes you and shakes you. You become an object of fear and concern. You become a reckoning force and an instrument of change to dare to question, stand in opposition, and right the un-rightable wrong. All because you dared to read and think for yourself.
That is why we need our libraries. That is why those who know the proper functioning of a library should be allowed to determine what books should be on the shelves, not some Trump sycophant whose only desire is to turn people into lifeless automatons.
Libraries must be free of undue influence by those who seek total control and obedience.
Libraries are for the people, and it’s time the likes of Trump and all the Trump wannabes understand that. And those who don’t, well, they can go to Hell and rot.