You would have thought I'd have gotten over it by now, but I haven't. All the years I was in school, the only books I read were either text books or books as required reading for one specific course or another.
Now in the wisdom (ahem) of my later years, I'm a voracious reader.
So, why didn't I fill all those hours (years!) while in grade school, junior high, high school and beyond devouring book after book that interested me?
This may explain.
When I was growing up, nearly every elementary school had a good sized library as a part of the school building. This was the "public library" that served all library patrons in the surrounding school district. My childhood home was kitty-corner to the grade school I attended. The library was in a bump-out wing of the school building with its own separate entrance.
I think I was about ten years old when one long summer day, I asked permission to go to the library thinking I might find a book to read to pass the time.
I had no idea how our neighborhood library was set up or just where I might find an interesting book in it, so once inside I started wandering around looking at shelf after shelf when Mrs. Ewing, the librarian, came up behind me and scared the bejeebers out of me by
demanding asking in a not too friendly voice, "What are you looking for?"
Being a shy child, I'm sure I replied in an almost inaudible voice something to the effect of, "A book to read."
Mrs. Ewing then said (and I'll probably never forget her words or tone of voice), "Well, you're not supposed to be in this section. Books for your age are over there." She pointed to an alcove across from where I was standing.
Going to that area, the first books I saw were a series of biographies of famous people written for young readers. I can still picture those books with the orange bindings lined up on the shelf. I chose one and started to walk out of the library with it.
Oh, dear. You can imagine my mortification when immediately accosted by
the evil Mrs. Ewing. Somehow, I managed to get signed up for a library card and leave with the book in my sweaty little hands.
A couple of days later, after reading the book and enjoying it immensely, I got up enough courage to venture into the library again and check out another one of the biographies. I worked my way through every one of the series on the shelf, but never went back for any other books for fear of being reprimanded for straying out of the section I was supposed to be in. (Did I mention I was very shy?)
The next library that gave me bad dreams was in my high school. It was a very large library staffed by a husband and wife team, Mr. and Mrs. Whiteside. They looked to be in their eighties (in reality probably only in their early sixties), were both short, squat, round and dour. He was always dressed in a three-piece black suit, she in a black matronly dress. They both had white hair. He looked much like Winston Churchill. So did she.
Upon entering the door to the library, Mr. Whiteside functioned as the official
warden greeter, reminding you that there was to be no visiting while you were there, you were to find the material needed, take a set and be silent or check out your book, provided it was one that was allowed to be checked out, and immediately exit the premises. (I'm not making this up, I promise.) To say it was not an environment that encouraged young readers or anyone looking for materials that might further their education would be an understatement.
Fast forward several years to when I was first married and got up the gumption to give a library where I might find something interesting to read another try. (I made my husband go with me.)
We lived outside a small town which had a small but adequate library and, lo and behold, a librarian who couldn't have been more well-suited for her profession or helpful, pleasant and friendly. Papa Pea and I started making one night a week our library night and spent happy hours browsing to our heart's content and checking out stacks of books that interested us.
That started my years of devouring books one after another. To this day, I always have a book (I still prefer the kind with pages to turn and that you can actually hold in your hands) I'm reading (sometime two at once, but my mind isn't really strong enough to do that too often), and I always also have an audio book I'm listening to when doing less than stimulating tasks such as washing dishes or weeding in the garden.
I have ready access to and can read as many books as I can find time for these days.
And yet, I still think of and bemoan all those formative pre-teen and teen years when I had the time to read as much as my little heart would have desired, but didn't. What a waste.
A pox upon all men and women who choose library science as an occupation and should not, and blessings upon those who make the same choice but are able to present libraries and their books to children and everyone else in a way that opens for them the big, wide, wonderful world of reading.