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The Library

I am sitting in the Berkeley Public Library, library of my youth, place where I got my first library card. I never thought I’d feel the nostalgia for the library that you read about so often, because, to be honest, my family liked to hang out in bookstores. Seriously, it would be a Friday night or something, and we’d go over to Cody’s for a couple of hours and browse. I remember the glare of the lights inside the cathedral ceilings, intimate against the night outside.

Cody’s is gone.

And the BPL had been remodeled, so although we’d come here to get books, we always went to what is now the first floor level, but which used to be the basement. The grand front entry of old was closed down. I don’t know what I thought had happened to the double-width marble staircase, the three-story tall, windowed reading room, the long wooden tables . . .

Today, looking for a place to sit and type, I was directed by the security guy to go to the back of the basement (which he calls the first floor) and go up the marble staircase. Lo and behold, here is the library of my youth. The heavy card-catalogs are gone, but the tables matching them are still here, the soaring windows, the light and the books. I hear rumors that the vast children’s room upstairs remains. (Is it still vast? I will have to find out . . .)

Having entered the world of blogging, I find myself clicking around, tuning into each day’s report from this or that writer. New pleasures–or the old pleasure of reading inhabiting a new form. I am even intrigued by the Kindle: to be able to carry ten books without hurting your back . . .!  But I do love the good, old fashioned object itself: a book. My boys already love them, too. All the magic of story, all the friends and places stashed away in these bound pages . . . (Why can I not finish sentences on this subject?)

I remember sitting on a bus. I know that my feet did not reach the floor unless I sat at the very edge of the green seat, not really sitting but sort of perching. So I was maybe six? But then I remember this being on a school bus leaving Longfellow Elementary, which at the time was 4 – 6th grades, so maybe my feet did touch the ground and I was nine. I remember an older person (a sixth grader?) reading a thick, hard-backed library book with a crinkly plastic cover. Out of the corner of my eyes I could read some sentences, and in those sentences was a world–some people, some problem. The details are lost to me now, but I longed for that book.

Perhaps that is why I became a writer–to write the stories I’d missed, or misplaced. Perhaps it was the smell of the inside seam of a book, that gluey, pulpy goodness. Perhaps I imagined that authors, like their books, lived in the airy cathedrals of bookstores and libraries . . . and where else would anyone want to be?

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