Monday, April 22, 2019

libraries I have loved

It began with orange carpet. Only the 70's could have produced such a shade. There were miles and miles of it in my elementary school from K-4th Grade. While other wings of Love Park Elementary boasted more old-school brick architecture spanning back to the early parts of the century, the library, or "learning center"  was located in a newer addition cursed by not only the miles of orange, but the open-plan concept that meant no walls between classrooms., only rude assortments of cabinets and bookshelves delineating each "room".  It made for easy distractions, but also great theater.  The teacher next door to my 4th grade class was notorious for yelling louder as the week wore on.   

The learning center, however,  was supposed to be quiet.  Children passing through the annex were quickly hushed into silence.   The classrooms formed a border around a sunken area in the middle.  Each week, for "library time" we would line up to sit on the orange stairs and politely wait for our instructions.  First it was to choose one book, then in upper grades two.  I can still feel the scratch of that carpet on bare legs as I fidgeted--anxious to get to the books. Later, I would work in a library that was very similarly arranged, and realized what a horrible placement of resources.  Yes, it was the centered and prominent, but it was hardly a good place for concentration with no walls and the distractions of students filing through to get to the lunch room in another wing. That library, too, would be a similar orange even 20 odd years later, with a similar in the round set up and no real walls. 

The books were the usual fare--picture books for the youngest. Longer books with chapters and non-fiction for the oldest. My favorites, which I sought out early on, were a collection of glossy paged Peter Rabbit books that had their own box set.  I would like to say these books and their contents informed my young readers mind, but I'd be fibbing just a little.  What I remember of their stories is a vague collection of talking animals and some sort of lesson to be learned, but moreso it was the physicality of the books themselves that drew me to the shelf week after week. They felt old, and most likely were, even then--bound in book cloth that varied from green to aqua to grey.  The pages had a sheen to them that was enormously satisfying. I liked the way they lined up neatly on the shelf, uniform in size and in color scheme.   I liked to rub them between my fingers and feel the slightly raised illustrations. The way the text itself, too, was pitch black and slightly raised if you pressed hard enough. They felt old and solid in a way that the orange carpeted floor around me did not.  Classic.


I grew up in a house that had many books.  But at the same time, as a child, held only a very few that interested me in particular. My dad was a voracious reader--rifle and golf magazines, newspapers, books on birding and the old west.  Stacks of National Geographic.   I remember my own first book in the weird way you remember the years before the consciousness cements--a black and white checked sizeable volume of Mother Goose Tales that was most likely a gift.  In my memory, I carried it around a lot even before I learned to read it, but I remember the illustrations told much of the stories even without the words. I also remember a few scattered Little Golden Books that fell prey to a lot of crayon marks.  Mother Goose, too, surely met a similar fate, her binding cracking and littered with marks. No doubt sticky with jam and chocolate, since I loved, even then, to eat and read at the same time. My favorite stories within are hard to recall from this distance, but I remember a fascination with the The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. With Little Miss Muffet and her fateful tuffet. The cow that ran away with the spoon. 

My father's books were housed in a single tall book case--a strange dark not-quite-wood that again, only the 70's could have created. I spent a lot of time arranging and rearranging his volumes, and since this was obviously where the books should go, shelving my own few titles amongst them.--Mother Goose and the growing collection of battered Little Goldens, many procured by my mother at garage sales once she realized I was going to be a reader. It felt so very adult, to place the books on the shelf instead of toy box where everything else of childhood lived. Even though they were in increasingly poor shape. Like they were the most exquisite of dolls. 

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