Love Letters to Books from a Librarian, Part 2
Book Buzz is a blog produced in collaboration with neighborhood librarians from Houston Public Library, Harris County Public Library and the Bellaire Library.
A continuation of the previous article inspired by the book Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian's Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life because it turns out I still have lots of book feels. For better or worse, these are a small handful of books that have had an impact on my life. First, a couple of break-ups…
Sometimes the book break-up is because you just don’t click…
Dear Old Man and the Sea,
You still remain one of the handful of books I was never able to finish, a point of much confusion and frustration to my eighth grade English teacher as you were only 127 pages long. I took the failed content quiz on you like a champ and went back to re-reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (three times your length and the better book by far.) Every few years I’ll have the idle thought ‘You know, maybe I should give it another try. I was young. My tastes may have changed.’ I don’t think I’ve ever made it halfway through. It’s not you, it’s me and by me, I mean the fact that I really don’t care about a guy talking baseball to a giant fish.
And as long as we’re in a confessional mood I must admit it - not only have I never finished you, I’ve never been able to finish any books by Ernest Hemingway, actively avoid authors who are described as Hemingway-esque and have made a passionate hatred of his works one of my ‘I think we can be friends’ criteria.
Sorry not sorry,
Sometimes it’s a very bitter break-up…
Dear Holden Caufield,
Like every angsty teenager, I dutifully read Catcher in the Rye in high school. Mostly I just remember being livid at how you willfully flunked out of an elite boarding school because you were bored and no one understood you - an educational opportunity my middle class, public school attending nerdy self would have given my eyeteeth for. As you careened from one conflict to the next I wondered, did it ever cross your mind that a single negative experience may be unfortunate but when it happens over and over maybe it’s you?
I somehow forced myself to finish the book and thought I was done forever only to discover in college, much to my horror, that the only thing more obnoxious than your poor little rich boy angst are guys who will corner you at parties to discuss in excruciating detail how they like, totally identify with you. Sometimes, if I ever give you any thought, I like to imagine that your sister Phoebe (the only character I didn’t actively loathe by the end of the book) tired of the emotional labor of being your one person cheering section and is now living her best life in Europe after a dazzling academic career at one of the Seven Sisters. And you? Well, if you didn’t go into a career in politics since you’re so good at using a lot of words to say very little, I figure that the threat of being cut off by your parents led you to dutifully settle down into a life of quiet desperation selling insurance. Or perhaps teaching high school English where your students cheerfully tune you out and mock you behind your back for being well...a total phony. But I don’t want to do that to kids. High school English students have suffered enough because of you.
But the break-ups are worth it for those books that change your life…
In elementary school I would always finish my work early and start reading a book or I’d completely forget about my classwork and read while the teacher was talking which led to meetings with my parents and a compromise - they started sending me to the library to assist the librarian, Ms. Davenport. Organizing the card catalog, shelving, general busy work. For my efforts, I had my pick of discarded books.
The library was my safe place and you were my first paycheck. A bit worse for wear with a torn cover and dog-eared pages but, you were mine to keep. You were also one of my first literary heroines. Like you, I was small for my age, had dark hair and loved to read. I gloried as you pursued righteous revenge against all the mean adults who took advantage of the simple fact they were grownups to make kids miserable - taken of course to fabulous, over the top, dark humored, throwing a girl over the fence by her hair extremes with Ms. Trunchbull (still one of the best book villains of all time). I still remember that any time I thought my parents were being horribly unfair about something I’d sit in my room and stare very hard and try to tap into my own latent telekinetic powers. It of course never worked (maybe they weren’t mean enough) but, I won’t hold that against you.
Love from the stacks,
And leave you with happy memories for years to come…
Dear Laura Ingalls Wilder,
The Little House books were my ultimate comfort read. For years I kept one near my bed to grab if I woke up from a nightmare or had trouble falling asleep. Somehow you made endless toil and deprivation sound so...cozy. I first discovered the series when I was nine during a summer vacation with my grandparents in Virginia. A weekly trip to the library with my grandmother, holding her hand as we walked to and from the parking lot, how she’d introduce me to friends as her granddaughter visiting all the way from Texas - making it sound perhaps as if I also had arrived via covered wagon. I’d read them on the porch swing, the air hot and sticky and the swing leaving imprints on the back of my legs. Not that I’d ever complain, of course. Good pioneers are made of tougher stuff than that.
I honestly forgot about you until one day I was checking items in for a customer. I picked up These Happy Golden Years and the memory of that summer came back to me, diamond sharp clear. Library trips, creaky porch swing, holding Grammy’s hand and the memories on top of that - the smell of their house, the shuffle of cards when we’d play Rummy, how cuddly she was when we’d watch movies together (and bless her patience since it was probably the Shirley Temple version of A Little Princess for the hundredth time). I had a full on Proustian Remembrance of Things Past moment right then and there, fighting back tears even though she’s been gone for years. I don’t get to do it very often but, sometimes I’ll be filling in at the Kids room desk and I’ll see a child checking out one of your books. Maybe it will be their go-to comfort read too.
Yours in pioneer spirit,
On the lookout for a book that will inspire (hopefully positive) strong feelings and change your life? Don’t know where to start? Ask your friendly librarian!
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