Libraries were my drug dealers; books were my gateway drug.
I don't remember reading to escape my lonely childhood as much to people it with fascinating characters. Reading fiction scripted the movie that books created within my active brain. Reading non-fiction cast some light upon the world that I couldn't understand.
It seems like I was born with a birth certificate and a library card. It was my magic key. I still remember the feel of one particular library card though I don't remember whether it was from my childhood in Princeton NJ or adolescence in Houston. Made of cardboard with rounded corners, it had a gray metal insert in the lower center that identified me as a reader.
I always read. Whether toiletries in bathrooms, or The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle at a family gathering of boring adults. So it was curious that in about 4th grade my mother was called to speak to my teacher at Valley Road Elementary school because I wasn't reading. Apparently we were to keep a list of books we read, but I hadn't. I didn't see the point. I knew what I read, so why the list?
When my period began my mother handed me a box of Kotex, a sanitary belt and a book about it. I knew it was dirty, given no one even spoke aloud about it. My mother verbalized I smelled, handing me a white glass jar of Mum deodorant that I was to rub on my arm pits. It was all so gross to a 12-year-old.
When I was 19 and learned that 'knocked up' didn't mean having sex, rather than risk asking my peers, who I viewed as naive or erroneous as I, I began to consciously study what I didn't know (but needed to). In this case the 1969 book Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) by David R. Reuben M.D., it became my sex ed class.
Though nice girls didn't learn about sex in class at my Houston high school in 1967, careful girls did learn about it by the time I bought my first sex book. The times we a-changing, as the radio said.
When I moved to Lima, Peru in 1972 to live and marry my boyfriend, I brought a years worth of birth control pills and extra bottles of my favorite shampoo, but never thought to bring extra books. I'd never lived without a library nearby until that first move abroad. It was what I missed most from America.
After a few months, we housesat and dog sat for American missionaries. There I found and re-read once more The Bible. In English, the Old Testament was a rip-roaring bodice ripper; the New Testament a bore. Just like in college in 1967 when I first read it cover to cover, with the Apocrypha. Next finding a 20-year old encyclopedia on a shelf, I gobbled up to the letter C. Anything in English was manna for my word hungry eyes.
The move to Paraguay was too quickly executed in 1979, so I totally missed bringing unread books. But I encountered something new, the bookclub. The point wasn't to chat about books in English, but to have access them. So books were pooled among a group, who'd monthly check out what they wanted to read. Taking home Ghost Story by Peter Straub, I pigged out on it in a day, unable to tear myself away from the engrossing tale. Borrowing The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by William S. Baring-Gould from a friend, it was a perfect accompaniment on steamy hot summer nights when the power went off and I lit our kerosine lamps.
By the time we moved to Curacao in 1983, I brought the books we had in Connecticut with our household goods. But it wasn't enough for the 3.5 years we lived there. Without an English library and with the English bookclub oversubscribed with members, it was a choice of buying overpriced English books or doing without. To my reading rescue came my new friend, Rivkah. At the English book club she'd borrow books to share with me. Sort of a library sublet that became one of the cornerstones of our friendship.
Asked if I'd volunteer to update a guidebook about living on the island, I did. Thus Bon Bini Ya'll was published and again it was Rivkah who had it placed in Curacao boekhandel (bookstores). From there it traveled to a library in Holland where was later listed on Amazon. Not bad for a 25 page booklet.
When our family moved back to America, one of the first things I did was to find the library and get a library card. In the beginning it was always the same. I'd greedily take too many books home, it was so tempting. So I forced myself to walk to the library, the weight of the books would limit the amount I could take home.
Once we moved back to the USA for what we thought was forever, I still kept books on shelves that I bought to house all of those books. The reference books were next to TBRs (To Be Reads) that were next to books I'd read. Why keep them? Because I'd spent almost 20 years abroad scouring my small world for books, and I couldn't believe the reality that I now lived in a land of cheap books, often sold by the pound.
When I finally accepted that if I didn't use a book everyday, like a dictionary, I accepted that I could go to the gigantic 9-floor Chicago Public Library and get a copy of almost any book on my groaning shelves. So I finally my superfluous copies of books toddled off to the Newberry Library annual book sale.
Soon I realized I no longer needed a hardcopy of an unabridged dictionary, given this new resource called the internet. My expatriate friends cooed over what I would have loved in my expatriate days, Kindle and E-books. A way to hold a world of books in one hand, that is if the electricity was working long enough to recharge the gizmo.
Today my drug dealer in Northampton MA, is Forbes Library, a late 19th century architectural structure looking like the club in The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. I volunteer there, hide out there near the huge windows in the magazine area and have found my home among my fellow bibliophiles. Known by some librarians by face and/or name, "We keep a shelf here for your books on hold", Wednesdays it offers a gentle yoga class too.
I still have my TBRs stashed away, in case the library is burned down as detailed in The Library Book by Susan Orlean. Speaking of which it's time to get back to that book, for a day without reading is worse than a day without sun or chocolate or food.
Books feed me, heart, mind and soul.