Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Lara Temple: Why the smell of libraries can still make me cry

When I was in high school I used to run away from school. My parents never learned of this because somehow, without even negotiating, I must have reached an agreement with my teachers – I had good grades (I was a complete science nerd) and so long as the grades stayed up there in the stratosphere and when I did come to school I was dressed neatly and relatively clean, they said not a word about my disappearances.

I wish they had questioned me though. At least wondered where I went. It wasn’t a secret. Instead of turning right to school, I would turn left to the bus stop and take the bus into the largest library in the city. For two years I escaped our less than stellar family situation and entered the wonderful world of The Public Library.

I discovered two amazing entities during those two years: romance novels and Scientific American (I already mentioned I was a nerd right? But I think even non nerds might find that periodical amazing).

For three, four, five hours at a stretch I sat cramped and squashed into a corner with a pile of both genres gathered around me, and left my world for others far grander, exciting, and much safer worlds than my own. I read every Georgette Heyer and Harlequin I could find and interspersed them with the esoteric world of elementary particles and alternate dimensions. They all felt far more manageable than mine.

Every time I walked through that glass paned door and was hugged to the bosom smelling of decaying books and hushed carpets, my jangled nerves would unjangle and my jackrabbit-hopping brain would channel small burrowing creatures. I would head to my quiet corners, pad my nest with that day’s collection of books and periodicals, and sail away like Max in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. I became wild, daring, brave, brilliant, and vulnerable. Inside those doors I could be anything. Sometimes even myself.

I probably would have survived those years even without my library. I had books at home and there was an amazing second hand bookstore not far from my house, but it would never have been as good, as safe, as deep and as meaningful without that island of sanity, beauty, and genius that welcomed me without a word, with hardly a sound, with no demand but that I share the silence and respect the book.

I take my children to libraries but I don’t think they will ever have quite that relationship with that institution and I feel a little sorry for them. I hope that they will be there if they need them. I certainly know they were there when I needed them.

But sometimes I just go alone and stand between the stacks and breathe and wish I could go back to how complicated and simple it was.

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1 comment:

dstoutholcomb said...

the library was my sanctuary in college