Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

September 28, 2004

Libraries and Me

I happen to work in a library (this one). I also live right down the street from my town's public library. I strolled down there yesterday and browsed the small religion section. Came away with a book called Pontius Pilate, by Ann Wroe. Now, I never expected to be reading this book, had never heard of it before yesterday, but as I walked home with the book in hand, I felt sublimely happy. Like I used to feel when I was just a kid, walking home from the library. Walking home with treasures.

The first library I ever remember visiting was called the Osterhout Free Library, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. My brother took me there, holding my hand all the long way. The Osterhout looked like a church, with a high arching ceiling that inspired wonder in a small boy. The children's books were shelved just under the towering (well, it seemed to me then) cathedral-like windows in front. There was an awesome hush in the air. Everything there seemed beautiful and slightly mysterious. And that's also where I discovered Dr. Seuss.

A few years later, after we'd moved to a new town, I used to ride my bike to the Hoyt Library, then ride home clutching the handlebars with one hand, a brace of books against my side with the other. In those days I liked books about football, books about space travel, and books about Naval combat. Here I discovered Ray Bradbury for the first time. Also, I remember reading Mutiny on the Bounty during this period and vowing it was the best book ever written.

Later still, I frequented the legendary Boston Public Library. There I found a quiet interior garden, with trickling fountains and rare flowers. A place apart from the city's clash and clangor.

Wherever I have lived, I have joined the library. And still today, when I walk home with a new book in my hand, there is a stirring in me as of that little boy, excited about great adventures and distant places, and his special way of seeing and feeling comes alive in me as I walk. It's only for a moment, and it's only a kind of hint or afterglow, but it's lovely, and I'm grateful.


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