Friday, April 08, 2005

Last year summer I was mulling over the travel books at the local Chapters Bookstore. While I was silently comparing the merits of the various guides to Portugal, a girl - who I would guess was in high school - rushed over to a nearby clerk, also being of high school age. I still remember the urgency in her voice when she dramatically approached the clerk and quietly confessed "I have never read a book before. And I need a book..."

I have worked in libraries for almost 10 years now. In my tenure, no one has ever dared to confess to me that they have never read a book. I know I have helped such folk, but they have never thought to trust me with their secret. It's too bad because I think I still understand that sliver of panic that I thought I heard in that girl's voice.

There was a time in which I would stand in the middle of the bookmobile, surrounded by books (and jostling classmates) and feeling that I unable to move much less pick a book. I knew I wanted to only read something that I wanted to read but I didn't know what I wanted. Many many times, I would just pick up a Peanuts anthology and make my way to the door. I know that I did read other books (I can only seem to recall Julie of the Wolves at the moment ... no wait, more are coming back to me... ) but I can't remember how I ever broke that deadlock and how I decided to read the books that I did.

I don't think I have ever lost that feeling completely. I still catch myself in front of library bookshelves acutely aware of the choices behind the choice of picking a book. Is it time to read a work of fiction again? Do I want something challenging or something enjoyable? How to do other people suddenly decide that they are going to read Mrs. Dalloway by Virgina Woolf on their own volition?

It used to be worse. I used to get a feeling of overwhelming dispair whenever I stepped into any library larger than my familar bookmobile. At that time, a library was a scene of silent tragedy - each room filled with books and each book a testament to years of poverty and toil of writing and - this was the sickening part - these books were (seemingly) never, ever read.

I like to think lost that feeling of dispair once I was able to find the books that brought me joy in the library. But when I can't decide on a book to read, that sense of panic does start creeping back...

...As for the girl at Chapters... the clerk steered her immediately to Tuesdays With Morrie.

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