These past couple weeks have found me deep in reverie, looking back fondly on my childhood and time spent inside a library. For whatever reason, I keep conjuring up the library in San Jose where I basically spent the entire summer of my 14th year. There must be meaning in this somewhere…
The library I remember was not particularly inviting by any means. Picture the most institutional cinder-block gray building of the 1960s with harsh overhead lighting and you know what I mean. I even remember the old school 50s style no-frills large clock above the check-out desk. That clock was an ominous sign as to how long I could spend my entire day at the library.
What do I remember about those days? It was hot and steaming, for one. The library’s ancient air-conditioning system couldn’t quite keep up with the blast furnace going on outside. I didn’t care. That was the summer of jean shorts and the tiniest tops I could get away with. What I cared about was sitting in front of the Young-Adult and Horror sections, scouring the shelves for the latest Stephen King or Dean Koontz novel, which were, inexplicably, casually placed in either genre. I must have read two books a week that summer. I couldn’t seem to get enough of books, and I felt incredibly grown up for reading Koontz and graduating from the Judy Blume’s, the R.L. Stine’s, and The Babysitters Club series (although truth be told, I was a much bigger fan of the lesser known Sleepover Friends series).
Each morning, my dad or step-mom would drive me to the library on his or her way to work and let me out right when the library opened. I stayed all day until about 2 or 3pm when my step-mom picked me up. I can’t ever remember leaving to get food, but the smell of all those books and the feel of the carpet where I set up camp for the day still conjures up fresh memories of pure happiness. Those were “simpler times” to say the least. It was also the first summer I equated books with music. I recall driving home one afternoon and a song came on the radio that completely tied in with one Koontz book I was reading that just so happened to take place during the summer as well.
Do I remember the name of the book or the song? No, but I heard it today I can bet you that I would be thrust right back into the middle of that book and the emotion I felt while reading it.
Books held power for me in that library and nothing was off limits. Having worked my way through all the interesting and new copies in Horror and YA, I wandered over the kids section, probably intending to scoff at was once my “youth”. The entire Dr. Seuss canon was reread that humid summer. I know I tried to read “The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy in the Fiction section, a once restricted area to me until that year when no parents were around, but even I was just a tad too young to really understand what was happening in that novel. No, horror and mysteries were my bailiwick and I couldn’t seem to get enough of anything.
It was also a lonely summer. I had just moved to San Jose to live with my dad and his wife’s family and I felt out of place a lot in that coming year. Despite my love of books and feelings of safety within that library, my life was slowly changing. I was no longer living with my mother and had been taken out of a life and routine I knew by heart. If that summer represented anything it was that fragile cusp between childhood and adolescence and what happens when you transition against your will from one part of your youth- rather carefree and light- into another, which starts to demand more and more of you whether you are ready for it or not. I don’t think it’s any secret why I crossed back and forth between the children’s and young adult’s sections so easily and freely. I still wasn’t quite sure who I was, and at the time I didn’t realize I was being forever shaped by the books I was reading and how I came to perceive literature as my savior and respite from the harsh realities waiting outside in the “real world”, a concept I didn’t fully understand back then.
Perhaps I’m in a reminiscing mood, or perhaps I’m longing for those days when I could very effortlessly be swayed and pulled into a book, but I can’t get over how much I’ve been thinking about that forlorn library lately. It comes to me at seemingly inopportune moments as well. I’ll be sitting at my desk typing away on some project or another and suddenly I’m right back on that carpet, nose stuck in a book, listening to the buzz and hum of those lights, feeling nothing except the emotions of the characters in the book. And hoping against hope that I’ll hear that song again on the way home that reminds me of a particular scene or a piece of the action in a chapter I read and get the chance to relive every moment.