I didn’t always love books. (I’m going to pause a moment while the people who know me in real life stand back up after falling over. Ok, everyone good?)
No one who knows me well will know what to do with the fact that as a child I thought that reading was horribly boring and that I used to do just about anything to get out of it. I didn’t like any of the books that everyone said were good and I wanted to be out playing with my friends or climbing trees or riding my bike. Literally anything was better than being stuck in a stuffy room sitting still and reading. And so it is a great irony to me that I spent a big portion of yesterday putting bookcases together and organizing the shelves of my very own library and loving it.
One of the books that I put away, lovingly, was a tattered copy of The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. It is the Newbery Medal winning fantasy novel that tells the story of a socially awkward princess whose largest offense was that she was born a girl and not a boy. She tries desperately to be good enough, the whole time acutely aware that she is an embarrassment as she prefers adventure to more ladylike pursuits and she ultimately does the unthinkable, saving her kingdom from disaster. I loved Aerin immediately; in my mundane suburban experience I wondered if I could ever be as powerful as her. I loved that book so much that it started my passion for reading; I loved it so much that I actually didn’t give it back.
(Sorry, Mrs. Aubrey, I promise I’ve taken really good care of it.)
After that my love of reading was unstoppable. I bought books with any spare cash I had and became a frequent flier at the school and public libraries. Do you know that there is a limit on the number of books you can check out at any one time? I did, and it annoyed me. I found ways to sneak a flashlight into my room so that I could read under the blankets, I tucked books inside text books and would read during class. My seventh grade pre-Algebra teacher actually called me out for not paying attention many times and told me to put them away; I complied until I couldn’t help myself and then would do it again.
By the time I graduated from high school I had collected a library of over 200 books, most bought with money earned babysitting that most other kids would have spent on clothes or going out. As I headed off to college to study English at a top ranked liberal arts college, I donated most of them to our local library, carrying in bags and bags of books hoping that other kids would love them as much as I had. I thought that I was beyond the juvenile experiences of that little girl. When my own daughter hit middle school I wished briefly that I hadn’t been so short-sighted, but I relished the fact that I put aside a few of the series that I thought were ‘adult enough’ to keep. I can see them, the foundation of my library commingled with books collected in college and even newer ones from my last decade.
Sitting in my library, still incomplete and with much work yet to do, I am content and I am thankful. I am building a room of my own where my passion has a place of prominence, where I can be surrounded by my love of words without apology. Looking over at the bookcases I am reminded of that young girl who awoke to a love of reading and never gave it up. Not through middle or high school. Not through college. Not through graduate school. Not through working or marriage or the rigors of day-to-day life. Not even when my books were boxed up in the back of closet or double or triple deep on a single bookcase. That young girl had patience and she waited to have a room of her own.
And this room is hers as much as it is mine.